When do you have a difficult conversation with your child? When they’re young and perhaps won’t understand? Do you wait until they’re older and may blame you for not telling them sooner?
This was the dilemma faced by Jason and Christy Fitzwater with their daughter, Lilly. When Lilly was an infant, her birth mother passed away. While she was still in infancy, Lilly’s dad Jason married Christy.
They weren’t really sure when the best time to tell Lilly that Christy, the only mom Lilly knew, was her stepmother. Questions began when Christy became pregnant with daughter, Farrah. “What was it like when I was in your belly?,” Lilly had asked. When she turned 7, the Fitzwaters decided to tell her.
Lilly had a difficult time with the new information. Over the next two years, Lilly’s internal struggles manifested into arguments with Christy, destroying property in their home, running away and developing unhealthy friendships.
“Things continued to escalate, and it became apparent that we needed more professional help,” remembered Christy. “There was a lot of impulsivity and anger in Lilly. We felt like we were failing as parents.”
When Lilly was in 6th grade, the Fitzwaters brought her to the Ranch.
“I’ll never forget the night we dropped her off,” said Christy. “I was crying in the car, and Jason was silent. We kept wondering if we did the right thing. We dropped our 11-year-old daughter off to live with people we didn’t know but had to trust were going to do what’s best for our child. I was terrified and we
doubted ourselves so much.”
Eagle Ranch turned out to be exactly what Lilly needed. She had time, space and guidance to work through her emotions and grieve the loss of a mother she never knew.
“When I first got to the Ranch, I was just trying to get through it. I was angry,” Lilly said. “I started to take little steps. I learned to express my feelings to my parents. I worked through the anxiety, panic attacks and depression I was experiencing. I became more honest with myself and my parents.”
Lilly’s parents grew through the Eagle Ranch program as well.
“It’s truly a family program,” said Jason. “I’m thankful for the work we put in. I feel like it’s made me a better man, a better husband, a better father, a better employee – just all around better through the relationships and through the learning. Lilly has had the opportunity to focus on herself, figure out what she wants her life and future to be like. She has emotional awareness and has reached a maturity level beyond her age.”
“Our houseparents, counselor and program assistant have become part of our family forever,” added Christy. “They loved Lilly and showed us a lot of compassion. The staff encourages children to discover their full potential, and there are many unique opportunities to learn and grow.
We’ve learned so much as a family and have built lasting connections.”
The greatest gains happened for Lilly when she began to recognize her identity through Christ.
“Everything shifted for me. I asked my houseparents a lot of questions about God, read His Word and prayed a lot. I eventually gave my testimony to my classmates and got baptized. I’m thankful for all that God has given me,” said Lilly.
Lilly graduated the Eagle Ranch program and returned home to her family this past spring. Now in high school, Lilly is thriving. Her family is still using the tools they learned while in the program.