Stephanie is a mom of three from the East coast. Her eldest daughter, age 17, is currently enrolled at Shelterwood, so Stephanie knows exactly how it feels to send a child to a residential program due to unexpected circumstances. “Shelterwood isn’t just about sending your kid away and what they need to do. It’s also about what we need to do as a parent. It’s not just the fact that my daughter has changed. I’ve changed.” Meet Stephanie and learn how she has come alongside her daughter to work for change in their family.
Before Shelterwood: Stephanie’s daughter struggled from early on in her school-age years. She had a difficult time connecting with activities, hobbies and other students. Their family tried different school options, from public school, to charter, to homeschooling, but by the time high school came, things weren’t getting any better. A series of damaging choices on her daughter’s part, led Stephanie to consider more in-depth treatment options to help her daughter get healthy and stabilize her life. “She was becoming angry and wasn’t happy, and I became the punching bag of all of her frustration and unhappiness. She’d also struggled with depression and anxiety.”
How she chose Shelterwood for her daughter: Not knowing where to turn, Stephanie was grateful to find Shelterwood’s website. “I wish I could help other parents like myself find out about places like Shelterwood because it’s not something that I was even able to talk about emotionally. I was suffering in silence. I did not want anybody to know. I felt like a failure, especially as a mom. But I knew that I had done everything I could and it wasn’t working.”
What set Shelterwood apart from other therapeutic boarding schools: “First and foremost, it was a Christian place. Hands down, that was extremely important. There was another option much closer to home for us that came highly recommended, but there was no way we were going to do this journey without faith being a part of it, and Shelterwood had that.”
Stephanie also highlighted Shelterwood’s strength in academics. With real classes, teachers and an accredited school, it stood a head above the rest. She also appreciated the mixed gender classes and social environment Shelterwood provided instead of the more common girls-only schools, because she felt that would help her daughter learn how to cope in a healthy way in real life settings. All of this, topped off with advanced therapy programs like Brain Balance, simplified the decision. “As much as my daughter was struggling emotionally, she also needed academic support. Her goal was to come back and go to school. Being able to keep up with academics was really important.”
On decision-making: “We included our daughter in making the decision about boarding school or staying home. In the end, I think she knew as much as we did that it was in her best interest to go. She knew things weren’t working. She said she wanted to go.” By the time they chose Shelterwood, it still took a couple months to take the next step and enroll. It was an arduous decision process, but Stephanie knows that God had the timing in place for her and her family. “It’s hard making decisions. All I could do was continue to take steps forward. It’s not the type of decision where once you decide, you know. I was just as broken as she was for different reasons and had to keep moving forward. It wasn’t a quick and easy decision and it took us a long time to come to it.”
What type of support do you receive from Shelterwood as a parent? “I’ve been really impressed with this aspect of the experience. I have weekly calls with our therapist, who I absolutely love.” She also gets weekly house updates, a weekly phone call with her daughter and she and her husband have attended two parents’ weekends. Stephanie has Shelterwood on speed dial, calls the moment she has a question or concern, and says she leaves those phone calls feeling safe and assured.
On the change she’s seen in her family: “Now, my daughter is doing much better. Her therapist actually asked how she felt about me when she first got there compared to now, almost a year later. My daughter is very forthcoming! She said, ‘I went from hating her to loving her, and I know that she cares about me.’ Even in our conversations, I can sense the change.” Stephanie’s daughter has also returned home a few times, visits which Stephanie has found to be crucial. “Home visits are important because they give you an opportunity to practice being a family.”
What’s next for her family: With the support of Shelterwood staff and her family, Stephanie’s daughter has already decided to return to the same high school for her senior year. The entire family will continue to work on what they’ve learned to be a stronger family, with love and communication. “Kids who go to Shelterwood change while they’re there. They’re like a puzzle piece. If the puzzle at home doesn’t also change, they won’t fit anymore.”
On releasing control: “I was definitely afraid [to send her daughter to Shelterwood]. I was afraid of what could happen with her being away. She’s always been with me. When your heart is broken and you have to make a difficult decision, as a parent you just have to know when it’s time to let go, and that we can’t always give our kids everything they need. That’s okay, and knowing that makes you a better parent. I wanted to give her everything, but I couldn’t.
“It definitely hasn’t been easy. Things came up that I wasn’t expecting. But I’m so glad that we sent [my daughter] to Shelterwood. She’s going to come home and make mistakes and maybe things won’t go exactly how we want, but I know Shelterwood is providing her with a footing and a foundation. That is so crucial in the direction in which her life goes.”