Updated: Dec 13, 2021
I want to start by saying that it's ok if you cried today. And yesterday. And plan to again tomorrow. When planning your "ideal family holidays," it's rare to include that you will be separated from your child because they will be receiving mental health treatment at a residential treatment program. It can feel devastating to picture your child in a sterile treatment center instead of celebrating with your family - and that's not even factoring in what to tell other people about this. You have permission to feel however you feel about this, and your kid being in treatment is an especially appropriate time to focus even more on processing your own feelings, so that you can continue to support them.
Now, please repeat after me:
"Even though my parental guilt is going to try to lie to me and tell me that this makes me a bad parent, I know that my decision to get my kid the support they need is the best parenting I can do. My kid's safety comes before my ego, and while my feelings are important, I'm not going to give weight to any judgments that pop into my head. My energy only belongs to supporting myself and my family in whatever ways we need to get through this."
Onto the practical steps:
Your child should direct who knows about their treatment. If they want relatives and friends to know, then great - but if they want this to be private, then come up with a mutual agreement with them on what the party line is going to be at family gatherings that they'll miss.
Do your best to make your child feel included in the family celebration in whatever ways the treatment center allows: visits, bringing their favorite food or an approved gift, etc.
Recognize that safety is always the #1 priority, not coming home for the holidays. Holidays can be additionally triggering for kids with mental health struggles, so talk to their treatment team to see where they will be best served and most safe during the holidays.
Lastly, as a former staff who has worked many holidays at residential treatment centers, let me reassure you:
We recognize how difficult holidays are for kids and families in these situations, and do everything in our power to make these days as joyful, safe, peaceful, calming, and community-supported as possible. Depending on the center, this might mean: cooking a special meal, having family holiday gatherings onsite, dressing up, going into the community for a special outing, or providing additional therapeutic support to the kids who need it. Trusting us with your child is no small feat, and we never take that for granted.
You can never predict what the future will hold for your family and for treatment, but my hope is that this is the first step in determining a sustainable mental health plan for everyone involved. If you could use support with transitioning your child back home after residential treatment, this is an area I specialize in - schedule a free consult with me to see if I can support you and your family.