Yesterday was Thanksgiving in the U.S., and I saw a post by a dad I know who was grateful for his daughter; she gave him purpose and helped him through the bad times. This is a DHS/Court-involved family, where a substance use disorder was the reason for removal. While I understand his gratitude for his daughter and his belief that she is the reason he’s been able to get through challenges (and don’t doubt that that is a part of his successful recovery), there is another piece he’s overlooking.
His support team.
Supportive parents, siblings, and extended family. Encouraging friends and colleagues all make a difference.
I have another family that is struggling, and, if things go the way they have been, will likely have parental rights terminated. These parents have almost no family to support them, either because they don’t exist, or because these parents have burned those relationship bridges beyond repair. When asked about supportive friends, they could think of no one. Neither is employed (dad is disabled, and mom’s substance use and choice of violent partners keeps her unemployed), so there is no support there.
The services they have been offered go by the wayside, whether because of transportation issues, narrowed emotional and cognitive “bandwidth” due to everything else that’s going on, or the addiction itself.
And so they struggle to do everything alone.
Yes, they have attorneys and DHS workers and FSRP workers. But those are not the people they can count on every day. And they won’t be there when the case closes, because it’s a professional relationship, not a personal one. So while those individuals are important to helping them reunify with their children, the professionals are not the most important long-term relationships the parents will need to rely on.
Traditionally, many people relied on their family, community, and church to help them through tough times. But we have become a society whose very mobility (and reliance upon faceless technology) makes those relationships difficult. We move away from our families, we don’t stay in any one community long enough to build lasting relationships, and many no longer have a church home, deeming it “irrelevant” and “unnecessary.” Some believe they are somehow not “good enough” to go to church, but churches are not for “perfect people.” Churches are for everyone who realizes that we need people in our lives we can count on to carry us through challenging times.
But people can build relationships within community as well. There are always plenty of opportunities to volunteer, no matter who you are, and giving back helps boost a sense of being needed — of doing things that matter. And shared mission creates an immediate connection that can be built upon to create friendships and connection.
Both quantity and quality of relationships matter. The stronger that network of support, the less likely you are to fall, or to fall as far. And no matter what you’re dealing with — whether big, serious issues like domestic violence, poverty, or substance use, or smaller, everyday aggravations — having people in your life to listen and offer support makes a big difference.
But you can’t just sit back and wait for those people to show up. You have to actively seek, build and cultivate those relationships. You have to reciprocate when they are struggling. And you have to be grateful for the people who are there for you — the ones who love you unconditionally, and the ones who always tell you the truth, even when it’s hard to hear.
Your “why” matters—but no more or less so than your “who.”