The Power of Group Work: Restored Relationships & Fierce Leaders

A grandmother came to our family support group regularly.  She was struggling, raising two grandchildren on only her pension and with limited support from the rest of the family.  They were her blood, but the generation gap only seemed to get bigger as they grew and she was struggling with her grandchildren’s ongoing disrespect and bad attitude.

It was with this message that Sara and her grandmother came into our counselling room for an intake regarding taking part in our group called Worthy.  Worthy is a group for teen girls and their caregivers that aims to build their relationship and attachment with each other, while helping the teen girls build their self-esteem.  It’s a group we’ve seen run successfully with many families and we hoped to see a turnaround for Sara and her grandmother too.

But Sara refused to participate if her gran was there.  That is how bad their relationship had become.  Sara said her grandmother didn’t understand her, and too many stupid rules and had a problem with everything she did. She did not want to be in the same room as her grandmother, let alone work on relationship building activities.  I spent some time with Sara one on one and could see how hurt she was.  Things weren’t just hard at home.  She was on the verge of being kicked out of school too.  Her attitude to authority was getting into trouble.  She was defiant and oppositional and falling very behind in her school work.  Everyone in her world seemed to be giving up on Sara and while she was trying to portray a flippant, no care attitude, inside she was hurt and scared and struggling.

Together, we decided to try a slightly different strategy.  Sara agreed to attend our Fierce group at her school and to family meeting between her and her grandmother so that we could work on developing a number of rules, routines and ways of talking to each other that were more respectful.  I hoped this strategy would work and get u to a point where these two could work together instead of against each other.  We drew up a list of goals, agreed on some words and phrases and actions that both agreed not to use with each other and a message box they could use to communicate with each other.  We also agreed that Sara and her grandmother would meet with me every 2 weeks and we would see how things went.

And so we met, a few times a month, working on communicating with respect, appropriate rules and boundaries, ways to grow the relationship and deepen connection and ways for this grandmother to give her grandchildren some of the freedoms they craved.  The power of hearing not just the negative, but remarks about her positive contributions to the family really helped Sara put down her defences and open up.  Perhaps for the first time, Sara felt seen – and that is a powerful thing in a relationship.  

I could see Sara start to believe in herself, as those around her showed her they believed in her too.  She started to apply the goals we focus on in our Fierce programme, growing her self-confidence, practicing healthy self-talk, overcoming peer-pressure, being a role model for others and living by her own values with a sense of integrity.  And she very slowly began to take the first steps to thriving. She started doing her school work, handing it in and staying in class.  She started saying no to those who sort to influence her to miss school.  She started being home on time and was less rude to her grandmother.  Her teachers noticed this and soon she was no longer being threatened with expulsion.

This family started doing so well that our family meetings became less frequent as they got involved more with those outside of their immediate family.  And soon we stopped seeing them all together. A few months later, I phoned to check in and see how the family was doing and schedule a follow-up.  Sara’s grandmother had nothing but praise for her granddaughter and the young lady she had become.  She said that Sara was at a school meeting and wasn’t home, but promised to get her to phone me back.  And she did!  Sara phoned back to say she couldn’t come to my scheduled follow up as she was going to be away on camp.  She had been elected to be part of the school leadership team (SRC) and was excited about what this meant for her as she entered her final year of school.  Sara was making plans to study after she finished matric and had set up what she needed to apply for bursaries and funding, with the help of her extended family.  I hung up the phone smiling and bursting to tell my colleagues about Sara’s success, with her permission of course!  

This is the power of the work we do – relationships are healed, a sense of belonging and attachment is fostered, people find their true sense of self and even in adverse circumstances they flourish.  This too is the power of groups.  To help others see they are not alone and to learn the skills they need to move forward on their own terms.  This is why Arise will continue to grow and develop our services and programmes in partnership with others so that even more families can thrive.  Because by supporting families you can change the community around them!