Thursday, February 08, 2007

What may you ask your parents for?

I invite you to ask yourself that question. When you were fifteen, what was it okay to ask for? How about when you were twenty? Or forty?

I'm in my early forties. Without going discussing all of the family history and reasons why these things are so. These are the rules.

I don't ask my mother for money at all period. Not even when I was in college. I can however send her a box of fabric and she will send me back a box of blouses. I can also send her all the pieces for a quilt that I cut out not quite right and she will do her magic thing and make it all work and send me back a quilt. When my boys were small, they wore very little that she did not make. I can also turn to her for emotional support no matter what. In short, my mother will give me anything other than money.

If I ask my father to pay for something, he will. I cannot count on him for anything else.

My husband's parents were willing to help us out when we were both in graduate school. They bought us glasses, and an infant car seat for example. There was never any emotional baggage associated with it. Even now I call Hubby's dad if I have any questions about anything that has to do with money.

Now this post is not really about my family. It is about the fact that Hubby and I know, before we ask, whether our parents will say yes to our requests. We know what they are comfortable being asked and how often we can do it.

We know what the rules are.

Foster kids, older adopted kids, don't know what the rules are. They don't know how much money you normally spend on birthday presents. As young adults they don't know what they may ask you for and what they may not. And of course they don't want to be told no.

We just had along, awkward conversation with Carl. He told us how difficult life has been for him recently. He has not had any ID and though he has taken steps to get it, it has not come through and he is really struggling. He was clearly presenting us with his problems and waiting to see what we would offer to do. It was awkward for both of us.

Hubby and I are not in a position to pay his bills. Years ago he asked us to co-sign a lease and we said no. We said no because there was no way that we could afford that liability. I am fairly certain that if I had offered to send him $500 he would have accepted. That however is not something that I can afford to do. And I think he knew that we would not, could not, do that, but he did not know how to figure out what he could ask for.

He didn't know what the rules are.

So we had an awkward conversation.

We offered to bring him home so that he could more easily replace his ID, but he really didn't want that. He loves us, and would like to visit us sometime, he really doesn't want to come home.

He said that he was considering moving to another city, and I told him that I could buy him a bus ticket to that city, but he did not want that either.

I told him that I thought he did want something from me, but that I needed him to tell me what.
He said that he was just feeling lousy and wanted some moral support. So I told him honestly how proud I was of him, how courageous I thought he had been, how wonderful it was that he had been doing so much, working so hard at taking care of himself. We talked about the things he wanted to do with his life and I expressed confidence in him. I reminded him he was not too old to apply for to the foster care agency for financial help with his educational goals. He began to feel better.

I know he appreciated hearing all of that, and though he said that was what he wanted, I suspected he had been hoping for more.

And then I told him the rules. The rules that my parents and Hubby's parents did not have to tell us because we grew up with them.

"Carl, I want you to know that I am not comfortable giving you money to pay your monthly bills. It is not something that I can really afford to do at a level that would make a difference for you. I need you to be able to do that yourself. I can always help bring you home for a while, but I can't pay your bills where you are."

"Oh I know. It's not like you are made of money!"

"But I also want you to know, that if there are particular things you need, it is okay to ask. I might not be able to help, but I might. I can do things like buy bus tickets. If you have one-time expenses for things you need, I want you to ask."

After a pause he finally said, "You know, there is something. I really need new glasses."

I told him to find an economical place where he could get a quality pair of glasses and then give me their information. I would call them and tell them to bill me. We both understood that if I sent him cash it would not get spent on glasses. He was pleased. That was actually a couple of weeks ago, and he has not contacted me about glasses, although he may in the future. The point was not really the glasses, it was finally getting the rules straight. It made him feel good to know in advance what he can count on from us and what he can't.

It's something that I have to remind myself of over and over again. Families have unspoken rules about a thousands of things.

Is it okay to ask to make oneself a sandwich instead of eating what someone has made for dinner?

May you eat in the living room?

Is not flushing the toilet in the middle of the night gross, or is flushing it rude because it wakes up the light sleeper in the room next to the bathroom?

One family treats fast food as junk which is sometimes indulged in with a sort of guilty pleasure. Rather like eating ice cream for dinner. Another regards fast food restaurants as an ordinary part of life.

These things fall into the back ground of our lives. We forget that other families have different rules.

And we forget that when we have older adopted or fostered children we need to actually TELL them what the rules are.


  1. Wow. This is so true. People think kids will just "absorb" the unwritten, unspoken rules. And for much of it, they do. But as teens (and even adults) the perception and trust is unclear. I so see this with our foster daughter.

  2. So nicely said. My foster boys freak out over every little no and it makes everything so difficult. Thanks for your perspective!

  3. Thanks for this post Yondalla, I needed to hear it. My birth son lived with his father from his mid-teens until he was an adult. His dad and I had been divorced longer than we had been married when he moved there. He recently returned to our area with his new wife and baby. It has seemed really awkward to have around at times and sometimes our interactions with him leave my honey and I baffled. I realize now that while our other three grown children know the rules, he missed them. He wasn't here while everyone else was learning them!


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