New program coming for parents who need help

Saturday, September 30, 2006

SOS, a support group for parents with troubled adult children, is coming to Christ Episcopal Church.

Parents whose grown children get into trouble can find support through an SOS.

A new organization, Strength Over Sorrow (SOS) is forming at Christ Episcopal Church in Cape Girardeau. A similar group formed two years ago in Sikeston, Mo., at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, and it soon became evident that there was a need in Cape Girardeau for a similar group, said Judy Johnson, a clinical social worker with Community Counseling Center and one of the SOS facilitators. Johnson and Kathy Farwell, an expert in substance abuse, will be on hand to provide guidance. SOS is open to anyone. Confidentiality is guaranteed. It is a support group, not a 12-step program.

Parents of adult children in trouble find their situations are different from parents of young children or adolescents, she said.

"They don't know where to turn, they don't know how to handle adult children," she said. "They are their child and they love them and want to help, but they don't have control over their children as adults."

Helping versus enabling

Lynn Feeler, active in the Sikeston SOS, agrees that parents of adult children in crisis have a "whole different set of issues." Most of the parents in the Sikeston group have adult children with substance-abuse problems -- alcohol, prescription drugs, illegal drugs. SOS is ready to help parents of grown children who have other addictions -- gambling, pornography, Internet abuse -- to the point where the addictions are out of control and they are in legal trouble.

One of the first things parents learn is the difference between helping their children and enabling them.

"We try to understand that enabling is not necessarily helping," Feeler said.

"Parents will spend a lot of money trying to get adult children out of legal trouble," Johnson said. "We will help parents figure out where to draw boundaries for children. This kind of decision is difficult for parents to make. It's very difficult for parents to watch their children in dire straits."

Other parents who have been in SOS have learned hard lessons that they now help other parents through.

"It often helps to point out how they have been exacerbating the problem by trying to be helpful and relieve the son or daughter of responsibility," she said.

That, she said, only sets up parents to be stolen from, lied to, duped and robbed. With the support of the group, the parents learn to identify and understand their anger, hurt and frustration.

Getting off the ground

SOS members show up in court to support parents who watch a son or daughter answer for illegal activity. It offers a hand when parents take over raising their grandchildren while their children are in prison. Members rejoice with other parents when their son or daughter successfully works through his or her issues and emerges triumphant.

"What we have in common is grief, sorrow, anger, pain and embarrassment," Feeler said. "Also we learn quickly that we are not alone. Lots of folks are in the same boat."

The Sikeston SOS is now lending its assistance to the Cape Girardeau SOS group, just now getting off the ground. The Cape group is currently seeking referrals from pastors, prosecuting attorneys and judges, as well as Drug Court personnel. Feeler said judges have told the SOS in Sikeston that addicts who have strong family support are more likely to succeed than those who try to go it alone. Frequently judges require the offender to attend SOS meetings once they're close to completing Drug Court to learn how their actions have affected their families. It also opens the parents' eyes to the struggles the addict faces, she said.

"It's hard to come out and admit some of these kinds of problems," Johnson said. It's especially hard for mothers, added Feeler, "who have a tendency to absorb guilt and beat themselves up because of it."

lredeffer@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 160

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