Sunday, August 27, 2006

Parenting the Parentified Teen

You know, maybe that should be the name of my blog. Certainly it could be the name of half the posts.

All three of my foster boys have spent a signficant portion of their lives with neglectful mothers and no real fathers. Not one of them were physically abused by their mothers. Even in the worst case, their mothers did not even insult them. Only David's mother had trouble providing housing and food. David and Evan's mothers both tended to bring abusive men into their children's lives. But all three were clearly cherished their newborns. At least when my boys were their babies, they were clean and sober. Whatever has happened afterwards, the baby in them knows what it means to be safe.

In other words, they do not have attachment disorders.

So that makes the job possible (for me). It does not make it easy. There is no internal panic alarm that sounds when they feel themselves beginning to trust me, but they have learned as children and adolescents not to trust adults. They may like me fine. They may come to love me. They may feel safe here.

I however am not the boss of them. Not only do they not respond well to orders, they wish to supervise me, monitor me.

Evan monitors me more closely than my mother ever did. What am I doing on the computer? Why did I put on makeup today? Where am I going? What mood am I in? Why am I sad? What am I going to do next? He wants/needs to know where everyone is at all times.

On the other hand if I ask him what he is doing on his computer his answer is, "Why do you want to know?" as he looks at me with suspicion. He has chosen not to socialize with friends because he does not want to tell me anything about his friends and he does not want to lie to me. (There is another whole post about Evan's out-of-whack sense of right and wrong.)

Now I am fairly good at dealing with this. I am confident in my own authority. I usually resist the temptation to get into power struggles.

The other evening I told Evan that I needed for him to go help Andrew clean up the kitchen. "Why doesn't Brian have to help?"

It is an annoying question. Just a little thing, but annoying. Having my fairness called into question every time I ask him to do something; being asked to justify every request for his participation (espcially since we stopped asking him to do very much at all once he got a job outside the house) is frustrating. Evan would like to see the chart indicating what I have asked everyone else to do. He would like to be the judge of whether it is fair.

I have resonded to the question in different ways. The most effective response is, "Because Brian has and will be asked to do something else." I tried to take it head on the other night, "Evan, don't worry about what everyone else does. Just do what you need to do."

He defended himself. He claimed that he "had every right" to inquire into what I asked the other kids to do. I asserted that he did not, or at least I had the right not to respond. I was the parent and he needed to trust that I was making decisions fairly. The look on his face said it all. Clearly I was going insane. He dropped it. Well, he made some under the breath comment about the likelihood that I would be fair and went to do what he had been asked to do. Typical teenager stuff.

I get it. I really do. The treatment that Evan has received as a child has been past unfair. He has promised himself that he will not put up with that again. He will protect himself. He is in charge of himself and will do what he has to do to ensure that he is treated fairly. He does not trust.

Now I can handle this at home. I get it, and I work around it.

It is really getting in his away at work though.

He has, as you know, been having trouble with his current supervisor. He assures us that he understand that when you are at work you need to do what your supervisors tells you. You just do. That's the job. And he can do it too...he has no problem with that. None. It is just that THIS supervisor is impossible to work with. She is on a power-trip, and he won't let himself be bullied!

The other day he was pulled of the bagging line by the store supervisor because there were more baggers than needed (so much for him being indispensible). The store supervisor asked him to clean the restrooms. He immediately asked, "Why doesn't so-and-so have to do it?" The supervisor at work is not a trained foster parent dedicated to avoid power struggles so as to maintian a relationship and attempt to parent a parentified teen. I don't know exactly what he said, but Evan clearly thought it was evidence that this guy is also on a power-trip.

He did the horrible, degrading bathroom cleaning, which clearly he was asked to do as punishment. It is obvious, isn't it, that his supervisor complained about him and turned the store supervisor against him? That was bad enough, but then this guy asked him to pick up and carry this big thing. Evan responded, "Pick it up? Shouldn't I get the dolly to move it? It's dirty." The man looked at him "funny" and said he was a big strong guy and a little dirt wouldn't hurt him. Just pick it up and move it! Well, Evan did, but he came home pissed. When asked he said that no the object was not too heavy for him. When I pointed out that he did not look dirty he said that he brushed it all off.

He understands that you have to do what your supervisor tells you to do and he would never challenge their authority, but this guy is some kind of nazi. He could see it in his eyes. The manager was just asking him to do things to see how he would respond. He was testing him, trying to push him around.

I told Hubby that I thought he was probably right. I would not be surprised at all if the store manager was wondering if Evan as as insubordinate as the supervisor said. He may very well have decided to test and see if Evan was really that bad.

Now he knows.

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