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In the presence of other critical family problems, they need to be dealt with before the family has the energy and resources to deal with the interrupted relationship issues. Problems such as chronic alcoholism, violence in the family, infidelity, etc. need necessarily to be under control.  Children sometimes join families with serious chronic problems that they had no idea existed.  They may have had coping mechanisms, in place in their own country, which they cannot utilize now, such as the support of extended family or friends or, just looking for refuge in a familiar quiet place.  Perhaps their previous life was relatively calm, and now the children cannot cope, becoming entangled in the dysfunctional dynamics of their new family.  Suicidal attempts and angry acting out are possible in such situations, particularly when the children perceives the quality of their life as having deteriorated greatly since they arrived in the U.S., or when the idealized image of the parents painted to them by well- meaning relatives, or phantasy expectations of their own, crush with the cruel reality. This state of crises necessitates immediate attention and intervention, securing needed services, to stop the escalation of problems.

In some instances, supporting a very thoughtful review of the decision of bringing the child into the family at the present time and a careful comparison with his/her situation back in their own country, may hopefully end up in a joint decision of parents and child to send him or her back, though often this request is initiated by the child.  They perhaps could come back when they have more independent living skills that will allow them to survive, if necessary, on their own. Hopefully, this outcome will be arrived at through lots of communication between parent and child, separating it from the idea of punishment or a “second abandonment.”  Rather, a decision is made that is in the best interest of the child and communicated in that way, sad and difficult as it may be, particularly for the parents and hopefully this sadness will be communicated too, instead of anger or blaming. Perhaps the therapist can help by clarifying that this relationship needs to be preserved for the long haul no matter what the decision is now and the adults need to keep this important fact at the center of their actions.

Sometimes the emotional safety and security the child feels with the grandparents, back in their country is a much better guarantee of securing a better future for him than all the opportunities the US can give the child. Opportunities are not within his/her reach when the child’s energy is consumed trying to cope with a bad situation, as it is clearly seen in some cases at school, where the performance of the students suffer greatly.  Nevertheless, sometimes going back would put the child at risk of war, or other kinds of community violence, or extreme economic hardship.  Perhaps, grandparents are too old and “tired” to care for a difficult teenager and have asked to be relieved of such responsibility. Then, this is obviously not a good decision, and other alternatives have to be explored to secure the safety and emotional well- being of the child. For the parents, it takes great generosity to allow for the kids to go back, or move with another family member, as bringing them meant a great emotional and financial investment on their part. This decision means giving up their dreams of reunification in the interest of giving the child what is best for him or her. It means also dealing with feelings of failure as parents and criticism from the extended family back home. Thus, it is not at all an easy road for the parents to navigate. The protection of the welfare of the child is the main focus for the person providing the services.

Unfortunately, too many parents use the threat of “sending them back” as a way of forcing the youngsters to comply with their rules at home and in doing this they end up reinforcing the insecurity and fragility of the relationship.  A common response of the youngster is to continue their acting out while telling the parents to send them “¡ya!” …already!  All the while, what these children really need is a firm guarantee that the parents will parent them from now on, in the best way they know how, until they no longer need it, no matter what their behavior may be!  This is the only way they can rebuild the trust on them their children need to have. This comes as a surprise to some parents together with some embarrassment in recognition of the mistake in using this threatening approach. Many a time, it is possible to laugh at the humor of the situation with the parents and recognize that it sounds like the spouse always talking of divorce at the first problem, which never helps in creating an environment of trust in the spousal relationship.  In spite of all the threats, if the moment comes for a real separation between parent and child, parents always go through great pain and tremendous doubts, so they laugh at admitting how really this is just an empty threat on their part.  However,  it is not difficult to make the parents see how they are using the very most powerful fear the child has already, that they will be abandoned again, and they make it a reality. Thus, confirming to the children that they will be abandoned and rejected again and that they are not lovable and worthy of being there just because they are who they are: their children, which is at some level what they long to hear and maybe some are perhaps even testing with their rebellious stance.

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