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For Matthew and Jen, their St. David’s Center experience had — and continues to have — a lasting effect on the entire family, profoundly impacting not only their two boys, Thomas and Joshua, but also Matthew and Jen in their role as parents.  

In 2017 their older son, Thomas (age 4 at the time), began exhibiting “big behaviors,” such as overblown meltdowns and periods of acting out. It was a time of high transition for the family. Matthew was traveling extensively in a new, high-stress job, while navigating the uncertainty of a potential deployment with the Navy Reserves. Jen was also working, while taking care of two young children. Baby Joshua was always sick, and nobody was sleeping well. 

“Under all that stress, we started to have more challenges as a couple, and it was affecting our family system,” recalls Matthew.  

Matthew and Jen sought their own counseling during this stressful time, and it was their therapist who recommended St. David’s Center to help them address Thomas’s behaviors. “We went off her recommendation and knew right away that St. David’s was the right place,” says Matthew. 

Thomas began mental health services at St. David’s Center. Through the intake process, the therapist also recommended treatment for Joshua to help with his strong attachment to Jen for sleep. Jen recalled their first reaction to that was, “Really? Our entire family needs therapy!” It really spoke to how stress was affecting the whole family. 

The therapist worked with Thomas and his parents to build up his confidence and develop the tools he needed to navigate his daily routines, support Joshua and Jen in transitioning to more independent sleep, and help both boys work through big feelings. While the treatment was transformational for the kids, it was the impact on Matthew and Jen as parents that delivered the most unanticipated revelations. According to Matthew, “75% of the outpatient counseling benefit was to us as parents; 25% was helping the kids talk about their feelings and learn new skills; and 75% of it was figuring out what we needed to work on to be better parents and navigate these situations with our kids. We got the support we needed to look at our family system and think about it differently.” Jen adds, “It really helped us to understand our own emotions — what’s coming up for us when certain things happen — and then be able to stay calm and patient.” 

Fast-forward to 2020 when the onset of the pandemic brought another period of disruptive changes. Matthew had just returned from a deployment overseas, and COVID was wreaking havoc on everyday life and routines. It was during this time that both parents noticed Joshua was struggling. 

“Between deployment, return, and everything going on, we saw some behaviors with Joshua that we didn’t know how to handle ourselves,” explains Matthew. “It was turning more aggressive, bigger behavior, more frequently, more consistently.”  Adds Jen, “And it was happening at his preschool as well.” 

Once again, they turned to St. David’s Center for help.  

Joshua enrolled in St. David’s Center’s Family Place Program. Recounts Matthew, “As part of Joshua’s assessment to go to Family Place, they went out and observed him in his preschool setting and came back with some insights that we hadn’t heard or hadn’t even really considered.”  

The staff observed anxiety-based behavior surrounding daily activities as well as parallel play versus engaging in cooperative play with his peers — all contributing to the behaviors his parents were observing.  

With the dedicated support of his therapist, Hannah, Joshua made impressive gains, learning how to engage with his peers and manage his outbursts. And even though Joshua’s participation in Family Place was a different therapeutic experience than Thomas’s, Matthew and Jen recognized the same positive impact on the family dynamic — and their ability to parent. “Going through that initial counseling and then continuing with Family Place was a huge education for us as parents,” declares Jen. “As a parent, I just feel like I have so much to draw on now — more tools in my toolbox and how to approach my kids in a compassionate and empathetic way.”  

Now, for ourselves and our kids, I recommend everybody reach out,” affirms Jen. “Because guess what? You're going to learn something about yourself, and it's going to make you better and your relationships better with your spouse and your kids.” 

Both agree that for many parents, themselves included, one of the biggest obstacles is simply reaching out for help, out of fear of a potential diagnosis and their child being “labeled,” and uncertainty around what constitutes “normal” child behavior. “It was a huge hurdle to admit for ourselves that we needed help,” acknowledges Jen. Agrees Matthew, “I think there’s a hesitancy for a lot of people to want to reach out.” Their advice to other struggling parents? “Now, for ourselves and our kids, I recommend everybody reach out,” affirms Jen. “Because guess what? You’re going to learn something about yourself, and it’s going to make you better and your relationships better with your spouse and your kids.”

Six-year-old Joshua, now a kindergartner, recently graduated from Family Place and is thriving at the same school as big brother, Thomas, now 8. For both boys, their time at St. David’s Center has given them the tools to recognize and articulate what is happening to them emotionally. States Jen, “They are able to deal with those big feelings in a safe way and come back and re-engage with the family.”  

For Jen and Matthew, the term “family” has taken on an expanded meaning. “St. David’s,” says Jen, “is like a family. It just feels like this network of support and people who know how to help you. In our society, you’re on an island, and you don’t have that community to support you in being a parent. St. David’s can be that community.” Echoes Matthew, “We’re now connected to the St. David’s family. Knowing that we’re connected to St. David’s definitely gives us the ability to come back and get support and work with the teams when we need them in the future. We have a foundation now to continue that work.” 

For now, though, the focus is on making the most of “family time” — whether it be movie nights, going on family walks, or exploring the great outdoors. And whatever the future may hold, they feel equipped to handle it… as a family. 

At St. David’s Center, our team of professionals takes an integrated approach to support more than 4,000 children and families each year. Your contributions allow us to collaborate with these families and strengthen each child’s unique gifts. Will you make a gift today? 


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