The Marcos’ Journey
*Names changed to protect privacy.

Linda and Jason Marco* know the power of anger. The mother and son have seen how anger can destroy property, opportunities, relationships and families.

Widely considered a secondary emotion, anger is often what emerges from more vulnerable feelings, such as hurt, fear, rejection. It’s a powerful survival tool, a basic human instinct, but one that can inflict devastation.

The Marcos’ experience with anger began when Jason was in elementary school. Though his parents divorced, Jason’s dad was an important presence in the young boy’s life. Suddenly, before Jason’s tenth birthday, that all changed. His dad left the U.S. for his home country, and all communication between Jason and him, as well as that between Jason and his half siblings and cousins, ceased.

Not that everything was great before his dad left. His dad had abused his mother — in multiple ways and in front of Jason — for years before.

Linda tried her best under the circumstances. Already having been diminished by the abuse, she lacked the confidence and strength to handle Jason’s growing belligerence. When Jason wanted something, he knew that he just had to outlast his mother and he would get it. Linda realized what was happening but felt powerless to stand up to Jason’s relentless badgering.

The chaos heightened, and following the example his father had set, Jason began physically and verbally abusing Linda, destroying property and nearly their relationship in the process.

After several calls to law enforcement from Linda, and Jason building a juvenile criminal record, social workers intervened and placed Jason in a group home at age 14. Still, Jason wasn’t improving. He wanted to go home, and he and Linda tried it, but nothing had changed.

“I told people I didn’t care about anything, but I did,” says Jason, admitting he felt “angry, depressed, defiant.”

In his second stint in the group home, Jason began asking a friend about Family & Children’s Center’s youth home. His friend had spent time there and spoke highly of it. Most importantly, it had worked.

Truly wanting better tomorrows, Jason appealed to his social worker to get him to Family & Children’s Center. The social worker made it happen and Jason began living at Family & Children’s Center’s youth home where he also received a range of other services, including outpatient therapy.

He was surprised at the relative calm he experienced at the Family & Children’s Center youth home. The whole experience was structured and consistent. Rewards were earned, and it was positive behavior — not aggression — that got Jason what he wanted.

Equally important, Jason saw himself in others there. “I saw kids there who argued for no reason. I saw it third person and realized I didn’t want to be that way,” he says. “I wanted to be a better person. I wanted to do what I needed to get home. I had slip-ups here and there, but I fixed them.”

It wasn’t just Jason who had to fix things, however. Linda is quick to admit that she had to change as well. “It was a change for me to say ‘no’ and mean it. All this time, I had been enabling Jason. I had to learn to hold firm,” she says. “If I didn’t do anything, what would I be teaching him?”

The two began rebuilding their relationship with an eye toward the day Jason would return home for good. It started with weekend visits home. In the beginning, the visits ended badly, with both Linda and Jason returning to their ingrained ways and Linda calling Family & Children’s Center to come and get Jason early.

“I’d always say ‘sorry’ the next day,” says Jason, “but I knew it was going to happen again.”

After his home visits, Jason felt guilty, not just for how he treated his mother, but for the fact that he had a family to go to — something many of the other youth home residents didn’t have.

The brief visits, however — and looking forward to them — served to remind both Linda and Jason what they were working toward.

“I kept thinking that if she weren’t here, I wouldn’t be going home. I’d have no home to go to. I learned to appreciate her,” says Jason.

Together with Family & Children’s Center, Jason and Linda worked on joint goals for becoming a healthy family. They also established ground rules to guide what happens when either is upset, ground rules that called for a cooling off period and reminders of what’s at stake.

After 366 days — he knows the exact number — Jason returned home for good, and both mother and son say it’s never been better.

“It made me feel good about myself to accomplish it,” says Jason. “I got pushed there in a good way. I got more focused on what I really want.”

And what Jason really wants is a loving relationship with his mother, one that sets the foundation for him to have his own family one day. He also wants to be a counselor. “I want to work with kids who are going through what I went through. I’ve seen the difference counseling can make. I feel good about myself — accomplished, happy.”

Linda, eyes filled with tears, observes those changes. Her son has transformed from a suffering, angry, depressed child to a mature, confident, appreciative young man who takes responsibility for his actions. “I am proud. I see a promising future for him.”

While Linda ultimately attributes their progress to Jason’s determination, she says their better tomorrows started with Family & Children’s Center. “I’ve seen the structure there, the support. They know about each of the kids and their families, their home lives. They gave us that stepping stone, that push. They did us a lot of good.”

Today, six months after being reunited at home for good, anger has found its place at the Marcos’ — in the past. Vulnerability has found a safety net. Commitment to each other and to better tomorrows prevails. For the Marcos’ home now is characterized by something far more powerful than anger. It’s a home ruled by respect, by love, by hope.