When Jodi Smith found out she was expecting a boy, she felt relief. “I was so happy because I had heard little girls could be dramatic, and I thought I’d have it easy,” she said.
She was wrong. By 3-years-old, little Charlie demanded center stage in the household. His marathon tantrums long outlasted his bewildered parents. Jodi and Bruce’s parenting style had dissolved into desperate attempts to avoid piercing screams from their only child. A dropped cookie, a lost toy, or any number of seemingly small events could trigger the next epic meltdown. “We were exhausted from spending all day just trying to keep him happy,” said Bruce, a civil engineer and part-time bass player in a successful band.
Doctors were consulted, therapy was scheduled, medicine was prescribed. They signed him up for sports, took vacations and even changed schools. But as Charlie got older, their home continued to be a place where peace was seldom found.
Striving to Be “Good Parents”
Jodi and Bruce had ideas of what parenting should look like based on their own childhood experiences.
Childhood memories of arriving home from school before her working parents created a determination in Jodi that her own child would never feel alone or unattended as she often had. “I wanted to be completely available as a mom and not allow him any uncomfortable experiences.” A forgotten lunch or jacket had her frantically juggling her job as a kindergarten teacher and running to rescue him more times than she could count. But for all her efforts, Charlie seemed even more unhappy. “I didn’t know what we were doing was wrong. It was so awful,” she remembered, shaking her head.
Bruce was also at a loss. “Back when I was a boy, kids were scared of their dads. I was, and I’m not even sure why.” He wanted a much more positive relationship with his son, but Charlie, now a teenager, had latched on to video games and refused to let go. Bruce recalls, “Spending quality time became a fight to get him off the games or leave him alone and let him play. And to be honest, it was easier to let him keep playing than to make him angry.”
The Path to Hope
Years ago, a counselor had mentioned Eagle Ranch to Jodi. Now, feeling overwhelmed and fearful, those words got louder and louder in her mind and heart. “At the time, Eagle Ranch seemed like an extreme choice. I wasn’t ready to let my son go. But I felt that we had run out of options, and I did not want to continue down that path any longer.”
At their first family assessment, Jodi and Bruce didn’t know what to expect, but the serenity of the Ranch calmed Jodi’s heart. She and Bruce felt hopeful about the qualified staff she met who would be partnering with them. The admissions process was thorough – there had been meetings, interviews, assessments, and papers to sign. The Smiths felt very good about their decision to commit to the program. Bruce recalls, “I felt like we had all lost our way as a family and perhaps this was a way back home for us.”
While Charlie got settled into his Ranch home and school, Bruce and Jodi showed up for their counseling sessions and parent groups. They took notes and stepped out of their comfort zone to share and hear feedback. “The time Charlie was at the Ranch during the week gave us time to heal, grow as a couple and refocus. I don’t know how we could have made progress with him constantly in the home the way things were. The separation turned out to be a good thing,” says Jodi. On the weekends Charlie was home, they practiced what they were learning.
As Charlie’s graduation from the program nears, his interest has expanded to much more than video games. He’s often found in the gym shooting hoops or playing a board game with a group of other kids. “Charlie is not the same kid we brought to Eagle Ranch, and we are not the same family. We now have the tools to face what comes our way. I’m not exaggerating when I say Eagle Ranch saved our family,” says Bruce.
Bruce and Jodi are excited to have Charlie back full time in May. Recently, Bruce let Charlie drive the car home for practice for his driver’s test. As he started the car, Charlie looked serious as Bruce buckled up. “You’ve got this,” said Bruce reassuringly, and Charlie’s face relaxed. Bruce leaned back in his seat. “You can drive us all the way home, son, you know the way.”
To read more about Charlie’s story in our Winter newsletter, click here.