Letting Go Doesn’t Mean Giving Up

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Yesterday I was at a cattle auction barn in Colorado selling my small herd of Black Angus cows. They looked so good. Their ear tags were all new and matched. All but one of the cows was pregnant, and the bull was big and healthy. I had taken two of my sons out of school to travel down to watch it all unfold. A few weeks earlier we had told them we had decided to sell the herd. There were tears and the youngest wailed “But we wont have as much farm in us!” He mirrored how I was feeling.

I had come to the realization, however, that running cows at this time in my life was much more of a drain on our finances, my mental energy, and the family’s precious weekends than I wanted to afford. Though I’ve always dreamed of having a large herd and thousands of acres of land to run them on, this was not the time nor season for that. I felt at peace when my wife reassured me by pointing out that though we were closing out a chapter, it certainly didn’t mean we couldn’t someday write cattle ranching back into our life story.

Holding on to control, a belief, a parenting technique, a relationship, or a position can be exhausting and is very often destructive. I suppose that as Americans we feel like we can’t budge or change direction or we’ll be called a quitter. Wishy-washy and soft is not what built this great nation, and we certainly aren’t about to succumb on our watch, right? Perhaps it feels against your character. But sometimes we need to let wisdom outweigh the desire to continue doing what we are doing.

With the cows, it dawned on me that the cost of holding on was too high for the benefits it would yield. Letting go is hard to do if you keep thinking about things in the same old way. In fact, you can’t. You have to see it differently. The release I felt when the decision was made was almost immediate. A new peace just seeped into my body and reinforced the rightness of this step. Since then, I haven’t waffled on the decision. It created space and energy. I was freed up to pour my passion into something just as valid and enjoyable.I was able let go because I had given it my very best effort. There were no regrets in letting go. I knew there was nothing I had left undone or untried. Though my accountant and others may have said I should have let go sooner, I wouldn’t have felt at peace; I simply needed to go through the process myself, in order to have the peace that came.

In my work with parents, I watch this over and over when parents try to “make” something happen for their teen; a grade, a skill, a friendship, a character trait. In time they realize they can’t make it happen. It is an experience of gaining wisdom in what you can and cannot influence. As a child gets older, as parents we will learn to pull our power in and around ourselves, understanding that we can only control our thoughts, our actions, our peace.

Since the Disney movie Frozen has made popular the song “Let it Go,” how about making it our theme song as parents?

To Family Happiness!

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Why I Wrote the Book

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At the time I launched Homeward Bound nine years ago, I was an idealist with a burning desire to significantly improve the long-term success of treatment by supporting teens and parents during the critical transition afterwards. Actually, the vision was even loftier than that. We wanted to eliminate recidivism in so far as humanly possible. Naïve? Probably. But was it worth attempting? Absolutely! So with that lofty goal we set sail with gusto on our adventure.

During this same time frame, many treatment programs were busy on their own quests to continuously improve their treatment processes with an eye toward more successful outcomes for their clients. The advances have been substantial and our field, as a whole, is better than it has ever been as a result. Though we may never reach perfection, it’s gratifying to look back and observe what happens when a compelling vision, persistent focus and time converge. New discoveries are made and remarkable things happen.

My career journey reminds me of when I was 16 and I helped my dad and brothers build the home that my parents still live in today. Dad showed us the spot on my grandpa’s ranch where he wanted to build. He then spent a good hour or more describing to us boys how he envisioned the design of the interior, the orientation the house would have to the beautiful cliffs across the forty acre field, as well as where the stock corral would be built. He also expressed his hope and belief that it would be a home my mom would be proud of. That was an exciting day.

Then came the day we started the work. As a teenager who didn’t have the same compelling vision my father had, I preferred dreaming about it rather than making it a reality. Little by little, day after day, the project progressed from a brush-covered lot, to a large rectangular hole in the ground, to cement walls with a floor, to a framed house and so on to it’s completion. At each phase we would take a break, grab a soda and back away from the structure a few feet so we could take it all in and appreciate our handiwork.

Although we have not “finished” or arrived at our ultimate destination with families in treatment, I have come to a place after more than two decades of effort, where I have something to share with you. It has been a taxing project and now it is time to celebrate, and thank you all for your part in it’s creation.

This book, titled Not by Chance: How Parents Boost Their Teen’s Success In and After Treatment, is not something I could ever have done until now after these many years. I also could not have done it alone. The experience required has come as I’ve worked along side many of you. What I have to share has sprung from countless hours shoulder to shoulder with teens and their parents as they apply what they’ve learned in treatment. The principles and concepts in the book have been formulated and refined as together, my team shared their experiences and creativity with me to build the models. They have been further expanded as we have been invited into treatment programs, who held a common vision, to help them create more effective parent programming.

So much has been done in adolescent treatment to refine it, that there are very few things left that will make for a quantum leap in desired outcomes. I believe, however, that engaging parents in the right ways during and after treatment is that game changing component. It’s not just nice to do…it’s crucial. When a parent places their child in treatment, they are at an all-time low in their parental confidence. Our job is to give them what they need to become the game changer in their teen’s treatment and beyond. This book gives them the tools to do it and it’s been my honor to present it.

To Family Happiness!

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Value Based Living

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Values: important, beneficial, principles, standards of behavior, something you have a high opinion of.

If one of your friends were asked to describe you to a group of strangers, what would they say are your most passionately held core values? Would they come up blank, or fumble around for a generic answer like “Ummm…he values his weekends.” Are your core values obvious to others who witness your daily actions and approach to personal relationships?

To be honest, I’m questioning whether some of my friends, and even my family members, would accurately identify my core values, because my actions do not always make them obvious. For example I value my children far more than my occupation, but far too often I’m caught trying to type an email while a child is telling me about their day at school. If I’m not able to make my values translate to the people I’m around morning, noon, and night, then what good are they on an epitaph?

Most of us can talk eloquently about our “espoused” values, but there is too often a gap between what we think we value, and what we are actually demonstrating. My hope is that this edition of Notes From Home can help you re-enthrone the important values in your life, giving them the proper prominence in your speaking, teaching, and especially behavior.

To Happy Families!

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The Bald Guy’s Eye Opener

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Normally, my contributions to Notes from Home are based on personal experience with the topic of choice, so when Roxanne selected “Body Image” for this month’s e-zine, I knew it could be hard. I couldn’t imagine what to write. After all, I was finally okay with my shiny bald head. Now in my forties, it has been years since I last ordered a case of Kevis, Extra Strength hair and scalp lotion for more youthful, thicker, and fuller looking hair.

As proof that I was beyond the reach and influence of media, fashion, and what GQ portrays as handsome, last week I was asked by my kids what I would give up to have my hair back. My honest reply was, “nothing.” They didn’t believe me, but a feeling of satisfaction washed over me. I had arrived!

Socrates said, “An unexamined life is not worth living.” While that sounds harsh, I believe there is a lot of truth to his statement and decided to ask myself some tough questions related to my own beliefs and ways of thinking about body image. What I found was that the “arrival” I thought I had achieved, unfortunately turned out to be a shaky truce. I have a long way to go, darn it. Let me give an example.

Last month, one of my sons needed a physical to be on the track team. He has always been short of stature and I’ve worried about that over the years, but when the doctor’s report noted he was not even on the percentile charts for height and weight in his age group, I panicked for him. Old insecurities from my own adolescence resurfaced. Anxiety about him feeling “less than” someone else because of his height, gripped me. I worried that there would be a girl (or a dozen) in the future that he was interested in, who wouldn’t give him the time of day because he wasn’t at least 3 inches taller than she was.

When I looked deeper I realized that I’m not worried about his height exactly. I’m concerned about his self-worth. I only want his happiness and somehow, deep down, I have this belief that if he was taller, he would feel better about himself and would have greater confidence to tackle lives challenges with. Am I crazy?

If I am, I’m okay sharing this because I think most, if not all of you reading this, will relate with me in some way. Whether you are a man or woman most, if not all, of you will be able to find something you are trying to fix in yourself or someone else because you think you’ll be happier, or they will be more successful if you do. If you can identify the subtle (or not so subtle) ways your judgments of yourself and others are colored by stereo types, you can now deliberately change that. Your life can brighten significantly over night with a new perspective. With this new awareness, you can stop transferring your own insecurities onto your children.

To close I want to invite you to click on this link and view a short video. You will see a powerful experiment where women describe themselves to a forensic artist who draws them and a stranger who has just gotten to know the woman takes a turn describing them to the artist. Who do you think is more critical in their assessments? See for yourself

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XpaOjMXyJGk

I invite all of us to be an alternative voice that rings loud and clear above the media and those wanting to whip up insecurities to sell fashion, diet products, or promises of a more glamorous life. Let us lead out and teach our children that we love ourselves and we love them just the way we are, in whatever shapes and sizes these wonderful bodies happen to be in.

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Who Are We and What Do We Stand For?

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From the time I was quite young, I believed and felt deep down that the family was the most essential and fundamentally influential unit in life. I saw successful families in my community putting their best energies into their homes. When it came time to choose a major in college, nothing seemed to call me like the field of Marriage and Family Therapy. I had considered medicine, law, forestry, agriculture, politics, construction and even dance. I mentally envisioned myself in just about every field of study (except mathematics and art history) and each occupation had its own appeal. Some interested me because of the prestige or potential income; others just sounded fun, like being a National Geographic photographer. But when it came to the question of where I could have the most impact for good in the world, no occupation ranked higher, in my mind, than a field where I could work every day in strengthening families.

On New Year’s Eve, our next door neighbor Belinda passed away suddenly after a routine knee surgery. Three of her six children are still at home. To say our neighborhood was shocked is a gross understatement. Every time we look out our window expecting to see her feeding the dog, pulling up with groceries, or calling to her children, we are struck with sadness all over again. Eventually, we come around to remembering that for her family, there were no big regrets. She is an incredible example of one who consistently and through example taught her family who they were and what they stood for.

Walk into Belinda and Stan’s home and you will find beautiful family portraits everywhere. You will see quotes, scriptures, or positive sayings on plaques and in frames. Their long driveway is always full of cars for wedding receptions, extended family reunions, church functions, baby showers, or play dates. She would have her grown children and grandchildren over monthly for dinners or to plan service projects they wanted to participate in. She spent hours in community drama productions, performing alongside her children. As a couple, you could find them sneaking away at 9:00 at night to the hotel three miles away for a 12 hour getaway to plan out the new school year and make sure they were putting the most important things first. She and her family bring a targeted energy and purpose to everything they do.

Though the youngest child is only 7, there is no way he could miss what the culture of his family was set to be. The married children and father will continue to teach and carry out their family vision. Even their garage door code, WiFi password, and email addresses symbolize their closeness and purpose as family. This clear vision is compelling to them, to the extent that they lived it on a daily basis. Their priorities showed that their mission was their family. Family closeness, support, love, spirituality, fun, and service are their values.

My own family has taken the original two page mission statement we started with and condensed it down to a rousing cheer we do around the dinner table. Though it’s not done every night, we retell the story of where it came from and why it’s our cheer. It is based on a scripture that was given to us during our wedding ceremony, and is basically the only advice we remember from that day. It was that we build our marriage and home on the rock of our Redeemer. So as a family we shout “Thaynes…Built on a Rock!” Then making our hands into fists (rocks), I bump the fist of the person next to me, and they bump the one next to them until we go all the way around the circular table, then simultaneously throw our hands up in the air with a “Whew!” The goal is to see how fast we can do it. Of course, the kids want to try it over and over again to connect faster and better. It’s not necessarily sophisticated, but it is fun and weighty with meaning for us.

All-too-often in my work with highly motivated and successful people, there is a feeling of despair because there was no way to reclaim their families or turn back time. Even my constant optimism provides little consolation. They realize that all the success they had outside the home really didn’t matter, if their families had been pushed low on their priority list. This month’s Notes From Home is meant to inspire you to start the process of making your vision more formalized if it needs to be. We all want to go, like Belinda, with “no big regrets,” leaving a clear vision and legacy for our families to follow.

To Family Happiness!

Tim

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Pulling A Rabbit From My Hat

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When I was a doctoral student at Virginia Tech, I was doing my dissertation project on the use of marriage and family therapy models in business organization’s leadership and management training. I worked with leaders from industries ranging from hospitals to circus’s. We worked intensively together to educate, train, and coach them on real situations for weeks at a time. There were incredible results, which made for a very exciting project.

One of the professors on my committee, Harold Kurstedt, is a brilliant management systems engineer. He also taught parts of the training. He would often press me on how I did what I did in coaching. I told him it was a mix of several therapy models and my own personal style. I didn’t know how to explain it, much less teach someone else how to do it. After three workshops, he came up to me, handed me a sheet of paper with a diagram, and said “Here’s your model.” He had captured Solution Focused Coaching.

Though Harold was a great mentor, I worried that he expected me to work magic on the stage, particularly when he took me to Virginia’s Forum for Excellence to teach a group of 300 people. He wanted me to ask for a volunteer from the audience, have them share a personal or professional struggle, and come to a magical ending. The volunteer should feel empowered with a clear solution and exude enthusiastic confidence. Oh yes, and I had 15 minutes to do it in. I had only done this in therapy settings, or in small groups with trainees I knew well from hours of personal interviews and coaching. I was so sick with nerves that I didn’t sleep the entire night before.

That day, as the presentation got underway, Harold turned the time over to me to demonstrate Solution Focused Leadership and Coaching. I said a silent prayer for a homerun issue. An engineer from India raised his hand first. Just great. What if I couldn’t understand his heavy accent or his engineering projects, much less truly help him come up with a solution. Fortunately, prayers are answered. He and his wife were building a new home and their relationship was suffering as they fought over decisions constantly.

In a nutshell, I used the model, which includes keys like:

1. I listened without interrupting.
2. I was curious about his strengths and how he had solved problems in the past.
3. I explored exceptions to the problem story.
4. I focused on solutions, not the problem.
5. I was affirming.
6. I summarized what I had heard.
7. I kept whittling things down until together, we came up with a doable plan
He was ecstatic and couldn’t wait to get home and implement the plan. He was sure things were going to be different this time. People in the audience crowded us afterwards, wondering if the engineer had been a plant because it worked out “too perfectly.”

The point of my story is that this wasn’t magic. I wasn’t exceptionally brilliant. Simply put, there are powerful, true principles in communicating effectively. If you put real effort (and it takes effort) into learning them, you will experience greater ease and satisfaction in any realm of your life. If you have tried, but still can’t apply them consistently or effectively, get someone else to apply them for you. Find a trusted teacher, a coach, a clergy member, or a therapist to help. It sure beats trying to sludge through problems in the same old ways, expecting better results, and being consistently disappointed.

Every other month, Notes From Home will pull ideas from our extensive parent curriculum on the Family Bridge to teach principles of good parenting. We hope you enjoy learning and being reminded of solid and successful principles as much as we at Homeward Bound do.

To Your Family’s Happiness!

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A Jumping Off Point

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When a family gets the diagnosis that their child has a learning disability, there is usually a mix of emotions. Sadness that their child has a life-long struggle ahead, and relief that they now have an explanation for why things have been going the way they have.

Families that I have worked with here at Homeward Bound are some of the most engaged parents I know. They feel completely bought into our philosophy that parents own the leadership role in their home, and they are ready to learn and experiment on whatever tools or guidance we can offer. Parents of teens with learning disabilities often take this engagement to a whole new level. These folks are beyond the initial devastation or embarrassment of having a child who struggles, and are moving full steam ahead into learning what can be done to help their children have as fulfilling and successful a life as possible.

My suggestion for all of us is to learn from what other parents have done in walking that fine line of modifying situations to allow for more time or less anxiety in learning, and searching out experiences to stretch and engage their children. All of our children, and we ourselves, have our strengths and weaknesses. The problems don’t come in having a difference, but in neglecting the opportunity to rally the forces to find the professional and community help for the child and for the caregivers.

We hope you will find the resources listed in this month’s Notes From Home educational as well a jumping off point.

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“Got Milk”

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Five years ago I bought a Brown Swiss milk cow and brought her to our home in the city. We were the only people within miles around that had such an animal as this. Even my neighbors, who like to have a few animals around, couldn’t understand my madness.

They reasoned to themselves, “Why would Tim, of his own free will, choose to take on the headaches associated with an animal that needed milking twice a day, 365 days a year, rain, snow or shine? Why would he add something to his kid’s chores that he would have to monitor every day and that would undoubtedly be the source of contention in his home as the kids would argue about who’s turn it was?” My answer: I love milk! Actually, there was a greater purpose in mind and it was driven by a fear we shared that our kids would grow up to be lazy, entitled, and unable to delay gratification. On the flip side, we wanted for them to feel strong, capable, and…basically, not entitled.

Now, if you think I’m an amazing parent, please hold your applause until the end of the story because you might just change your mind. I’m going to be transparent with you. This is an honest story of the good intentions I’ve had that I’ve not always followed through on. Maybe you will learn something that will help you to stick to your guns and do what you feel your family needs when the rest of the world seems to be going a different direction. Maybe you will reach out and encourage me to keep with it. My hope is that both will happen.

Why a cow? There are a lot of ways to teach our kid’s to do hard things with jobs, volunteering, sports, academics, music, etc. It was my method of choice because of my rural upbringing. I was familiar with it. It was also a ready-made do or die situation. The garbage doesn’t moo, keeping the neighbors awake, if it isn’t taken to the curb.

I tell my kid’s the now famous stories of my grandfather who plowed the fields with a team of horses as a 10 year old boy. At his age, his stature placed his chin just above the draw bar, and as he walked behind the plow whenever he hit a big rock, the draw bar would smack him under the chin hard. In his own words he said “I would sit down and “bawl” for a minute, then get back up and keep plowing.” Why did he do that? Because it was expected of him as the man of the family while his father was in the mountains logging.

My own dad, at the age of twelve, rode his horse alone into the High Uintah mountains to pick up bummer lambs from the sheep camps, to build up his own herd and earn some money for the family. On some of his trips he would come back after a couple days, hitting a number of sheep camps, with 4 gunny sacks of 3 lambs in each with a hole for their heads to stick out of.

The Heidi experiment did what I had hoped, but after a lot of frustration and failed attempts. One night one of my son’s was in bed asleep when we got home. He had not milked. I had to wake him and have him go relieve Heidi. It was hard not to just do it for him, as it was not intentional and he has always been pretty cheerful about the chore. Still, we learned that it paid off when one night while Grandma was babysitting, she heard him get up at midnight to go out and milk, because he realized on his own that he had forgotten. He may not remember that night, but it was a thrilling thing for a parent to hear. It was measurable evidence that he was learning responsibility.

With all of that said, Heidi is no longer here with us. She is on my dad’s farm with three little calves doing the milking for us. Why? Frankly, it was more convenient for us as parents and we were tired of the complaints and battles. So what about our younger kids? We will just need to come up with something new.

There it is, I have fallen into the same trap I am warning you about, because it was very inconvenient to try to teach our kids responsibility. You won’t be perfect. You are learning how to teach and are overwhelmed with your own responsibilities. However, here are three points to remember as you read the great suggestions within this month’s issue of Notes From Home:

1. In today’s world of instant gratification, life won’t teach our kid’s these lessons automatically like they did in the good ol’ days. As parents and mentors, we have to deliberately set up circumstances for our kids to learn responsibility and ownership.

2. If you are doing what your neighbors are doing for their kids, it might not be enough. You might be giving too much and expecting too little. Do some research into what you are currently doing for your kid’s that they could do for themselves, or do without.

3. Do not underestimate your child’s capacity to work through challenges or problems. Do not rob them of the self confidence that comes from working for ownership of a talent, value, possession, or education. The most entitled kids, are actually the one’s who have the least confidence in their own power to produce it themselves.

To Your Family’s Long-term Success and Happiness!

Tim Thayne, Ph.D.
Founder
Homeward Bound

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“What Were You Like Dad?”

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Saturday morning I woke my 16-year-old son Talmage earlier than he had hoped, and asked him if he would go with me to work on our church’s welfare farm. In his usual easygoing manner he agreed without argument, but was quiet for our 20-minute drive to the farm. We were just two of a small group of men, and a few boys drug along by their dads, volunteering to help clear a new plot of land of rocks in preparation for spring planting of corn.

Talmage listened to the stories of our group as we joked about our younger years and expressed concern on the state of the next generation of boys to enter adulthood. He quietly worked and listened as we heaped seemingly unending quantities of rocks into piles.

As we made our way toward another section of the field strewn with thousands of rocks that needed our attention, Talmage said, “Dad could you tell me a story of when you were younger and you got into trouble being mischievous?” I of course denied everything with a smile so that he knew not to believe me. “What do you mean? I’ve never gotten into trouble!” “Dad, I’ve heard a couple stories so I know that you did.” he said with his own smile.

In that moment, I sensed that my son might have been looking for evidence that his own dad was more like him than I let on. Talmage wasn’t asking simply to be entertained with fun stories. He wanted to affirm that he was normal, that he was still “on track” to turn out just fine even though he didn’t love working like we men seemed to.

I’ve heard it said that expecting a 21 year old to be independent today is like expecting a 13 year old to take care of himself a couple of generations ago. All I can say is…really? Are we raising kids that unprepared? Is this delayed adulthood completely fine and we have nothing to worry about?

Well, I believe that we do have reason to be concerned about our boys and young men. I believe that there are far too many boys delaying responsibility for far too long, growing up confident in their video gaming skills, but scared and insecure when it comes to the prospects of needing to fend for themselves and eventually a family.

Societal factors are certainly playing a role; I acknowledge that. Marriage rates are going down. Age of first marriage is going up and being put off longer. Boomerang children are becoming the norm instead of an anomaly, and we have a new stage of development that we’ve never had before called “Emerging Adulthood”. It seems that there is no clear event now at which a boy moves from dependence and childhood, to independence and adulthood. Adulthood just kind of “emerges”.

This month’s Notes From Home is on boys and the challenges they face in the world today. I hope you will find inspiration in the sound advice and research reported here. As always, we’d love to hear your thoughts.

To Your Family’s Happiness!

Tim Thayne, Ph.D.
Founder
Homeward Bound

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Parents Do This All The Time!

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You may have seen this news story. An Australian woman saves her horse when he sinks up to his chest in a quicksand-like mud while out on their daily walk on the beach. She stayed with Astro, holding his nose above the rising tide water, while her daughter called for help, bringing in firefighters and veterinarians. They came with fire hoses, a winch, and finally a nearby farmer’s tractor. They were able to help him escape after three hours, with only a little bruising and dehydration.

I love horses and get teared up watching the clip.

http://www.wptv.com/dpp/news/local_news/water_cooler/horse-rescued-from-quicksand-like-mud-in-geelong-australia-while-owner-nicole-graham-assisted

I talk to parents daily who are stuck in the mud alongside their son or daughter, as they struggle to break free from the sucking and sinking spirals they are trapped in. Their mom’s and dad’s will mortgage the home, borrow against their retirement, open their hearts and hopes up to treatment experts. They are willing to stay right there, as long as the rescue takes, making sure their child is calmed, supported, and safe.

For parents who haven’t yet been in a major struggle with your teen, count yourself lucky. But learn from the stamina and grit of these other parents. Your teens can be helped by others in their life, but they only have one Mom or Dad. Bless you for all you do for them.

To Your Family’s Happiness!

Tim Thayne, Ph.D.
Founder
Homeward Bound

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