Tuesday, December 08, 2009


There's nothing like a change of scenery to make you appreciate what you have. I'm on a business trip to Europe at the moment, and I've had a little time to see how people besides myself live. There are the folks who fly in first class who couldn't imagine taking a flight across the pond in coach, and there are people who feel lucky to have seen the inside of an airplane. There are people who live in apartment buildings, and those who can't imagine less than a house in the country. There are people who scrape by with two jobs, and there are people who are retired. There are people who have saved for a rainy day, and those who spend every penny as it arrives, if not before.

The funny part is that in each of these contrasts, I've picked two samples from near the middle of the spectrum even though they sound like they're really far apart. With our situation of raising children of my wife's sister, they're struggling to accomplish what they would like, and it's taking a toll on them emotionally. If there was one thing I'd like to give them, it's perspective.

Compared to the suburban family with 2.5 kids and a dog, they're having problems and life is really hard. Compared to where they were three or four years ago, they're doing fantastically well. They're not in jail, we know they're alive, and their kids can call them on the phone any time they want. They visit our house to see the kids, and meet with family on special occasions like holidays and birthdays.

Are things still tough? Of course. Depending on your own perspective, they'll likely be tougher than what you might consider to be "normal suburban" for the rest of our lives and theirs. But at some point we each need to figure out how to enjoy what we have as we work for something better, or we drive ourselves insane with regrets while missing the good things of life. Our problems can be seen as opportunities to do something, even if it's less than we had hoped for.

Does bringing back some Belgian chocolate make up for being gone for two and a half weeks so close to Christmas? It depends on your perspective to even decide that something needs to be made up for. Let's just enjoy the chocolate.

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Monday, July 02, 2007

The Power of Information

Knowledge is power, as the saying goes. We are an information-based society. Having that information is the source of power, and controlling information properly is the way we wield that power.

Yes, I actually have a specific reason for bringing it up. My wife mentioned a councelor she met through the school. One of the things she learned is the sorts of information that children (and other family members) deal with most successfully when they hear from those who are in drug and legal trouble.

The problem is that parents that have been in and out of jail and rehab usually have a poor track record on meeting promises made to their kids. I'm sure you've heard several, if you're in the same situation we are. "I'm going to have the kids back by [insert holiday here]." "I'm never going to [insert illegal activity here] again!" "I have a great job lined up. I just need [insert unreasonable expectation here] before I can start."

The solution to the problem is to control the information flow to where they are encouraged to share the solid facts that cannot change, rather than the hopes and aspirations that have so often been dashed along with the emotional state of those who might still have believed them.

We've encouraged the parents of our kids-in-care that they should tell the kids what they have accomplished. What charges have been cleared up? Have they been working at a job? Have they kept a stable address for the past month? Did they pass their last drug test? Did they enjoy the last visit to see the kids? (Softball easy-answer items are great, and may occasionally be the only good news they have.)

The future can change rather ubruptly and not match plans, particularly in the world of warrants, jail, prison, custody cases and all that go with them. Any effort that can be spent concentrating on past successes can pay off with more effort in the future, which if all goes well will lead to more and bigger successes that can be described in past tense. That which has already succeeded cannot fail.

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Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Some things just take time

I was looking back over previous posts today, and noticed the one about Drug Court. It turns out that there was this one little thing that had to be taken care of before my wife's sister could get into the program, so she made the necessary court appearance to handle an unpaid fine.

It turns out that the unpaid fine had a suspended sentence attached to it, and the judge decided to un-suspend a couple of months. The net result is that she'll be able to get back to what she was working on here in a couple weeks or so.

Lots of other things take time, too. For her and her husband, there's looking for jobs, paying rent, attending court, going to rehab, paying fines, getting bus passes, saving for a vehicle, and a whole raft of other things that all seem to be on the top of their list at the same time.

For us, we have work, school, grocery shopping, getting eyeglasses for several kids, marching band, a teenager with a summer job and no car, church, family members needing the van to move, planning and building a detached garage, vinyl fencing, yard care, and yet another raft of things to do.

The problem is that we often look at those things as in the way of what we want to do, instead of being what makes us who we are. It gets back to the whole idea of trying to enjoy (or at least learn from) the journey, rather than looking past it to the destination. The path is much harder if you can't glean any good from it along the way.

So if you're feeling overwhelmed with that day-to-day list, find one thing on that list that you can savor and enjoy. Even if it's just a few minutes of contemplation, meditation, or planning before sleep, or being grateful you can do the dishes instead of needing to unplug a toilet, take the time to feel positive about what you do.

Over time, you can progress to having a better attitude about one thing at a time by learning to enjoy the things you need to do each day, and by correcting and eliminating the problems. It can work wonders if you use your time rather than being abused by it.

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Thursday, May 24, 2007

Professional resources

I was recently introduced to a lady who works as a counselor through our school district to provide support to children whose parents are incarcerated or in and out of jail. My nephew's school teacher had learned about her and new of our situation. She talked to the Principal who contacted the counselor at the school district.

I met with this counselor about a week ago in the Principal's office. She talked with me about our situation and told me what they could offer by way of help for these kids in our care. Before our meeting was over I had found a valuable resource.

This lady had the experience of working with prisoners and the training to understand what is best for the kids. I found that she could truly understand what we are going through.

I was told that she would be there for me as well as for the kids. She added that they have an entire network of people who can work with these kids.

At the end of our interview I wanted to hug her for all its worth. It was as if a major burden had been lifted. I finally had someone to turn to who could answer questions that had yet to be answered. There was light at the end of the tunnel.

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Thursday, April 12, 2007

Differences of Opinion

It turns out that my sister-in-law is not quite out yet, but might be within a couple of days. She just has to clear up one last warrant based on an unpaid fine, and she'll be released to a drug rehab program. Her husband got out a few days ago, and is awaiting sentencing on a couple of things.

She knows what she needs the most right now. The judge presiding over her Drug Court also knows what she needs. I also know what she needs. Same thing for him. He has his ideas, the judges have their ideas, the family has their own ideas.

The problem is that none of them are exactly the same. Extended family and the judges tend to agree fairly well, but none are in perfect agreement. There's a bit of give and take, and there's a specific chain of authority and responsibility that must be recognized.

The judge has specific duties and goals. He's responsible for administering justice and following the programs and guidelines. At our home, we're responsible for raising the children. Their parents are responsible for meeting their own needs. The tricky parts are the overlaps. The parents want to visit the kids. The judge issues a no-contact order between the parents. We need to show up in court to find out anything useful on status. The parents don't like the programs, requirements, fines, and fees imposed on them, and want to do things differently.

Things can be difficult at times, but I'm willing to play my part and allow everyone else to play theirs, even if it's not exactly to my preferences. Sure, I'd like to be able to micromanage things sometimes, and at other times I'd like to wash my hands of the more difficult complexities, but that's just not the way the world works.

Synergy takes advantage of our own little differences and specialties, and allows us to accomplish things as a group that nobody could do individually. Let's just hope that all the jobs get covered, and everyone pays attention to those with the right to dictate the methods of their own portion.

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Thursday, March 29, 2007

Carrots Vs. Sticks

It looks like my sister-in-law gets out of jail next Monday. She has all the serious charges against her grouped together in an agreement that formally puts her into Drug Court. From here it will be a matter of whether she can stick with the rehab, testing, appearances and all that goes with it in order to get the carrot being offered to her.

The carrot is to have all those charges reduced or dropped if she graduates from the program. The associated stick is the potential sentencing on the guilty pleas she has made on those same charges.

The part that I'm worried about is the possibility of hovering half way between carrot and stick, or doing just enough to stay in the program, but lingering on forever without graduating or being booted. I would prefer the finality of either option to the vague limbo of the in between.

Of course my view is colored by the fact that I'm looking at it from her kid's viewpoint. Uncertainty is hard on us all, but as adults we tend to have more control over it. Kids don't have that same level of responsibility or the capabilities to change their environment, so they have to rely on what we as adults do for or to them. The hard part is that it's not something you can plan out and schedule. We don't know how things will stand next week, next month or next year.

Our job is to keep things stable at home, and to give kids a normal environment where they can play, learn and grow.

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Thursday, March 15, 2007

Stigma Vs. Appeal

We have in our state the Utah Methampheteamine Joint Task Force whose job is to reduce the use of meth across the state. They're using the Montana Meth Project as an example of a successful program that has done well with its own stated goals of:

  1. Increase the perceived risks of meth use
  2. Decrease the perceived benefits of meth
  3. Increase parent-child discussions on meth
  4. Increase the social disapproval of meth use

Now for the question of the day. How do we increase the social disapproval of drug abuse in order to reduce the number of new users, while still not stigmatizing existing users so they are more reluctant to come forward for treatment?

I think I've got a pretty good handle on the first three personally, but that fourth one can be tricky. Where's the balance? Can people be made to think it's a vile habit and exert peer pressure to avoid meth without making users more afraid to get the help they need? Do we just sacrifice a few current users in order to scare away those who haven't started yet? Quite a moral conundrum.

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