Sunday, April 08, 2007

Using a litttle Love and Logic

So yesterday we got Andrew and Brian's report cards.

May I just take a minute to say "GRRRR!!!!"

I talked with Andrew with what might be called restrained fury. I pointed out that if he wanted to go to college where he said he wanted to go, he did not need a 4.0 but he sure as hell needed grades better than these. He was only taking four frigging classes! Andrew knows how to handle me, so he was quiet, nodded, and said he would work on it.

I told Brian that I was disappointed. We ask him every day whether he has homework. He tells us every day that he doesn't, or that it is done. This report card is evidence that that is not true. (He just does not do poorly on work he does). He tried to explain to me that I did not understand. These were midterm grades. They were not important. So I got mad. I explained that I had been a teacher for longer than he had been alive and I knew what midterm grades were.

Eventually we all sat down in the living room and I told them we were going to agree on a plan and then I was going to let go of being angry and they did not have to worry about me yelling at them or giving them dirty looks. Hubby and I told them that they would be losing the Internet and the game consoles on school nights until they had (1) brought their grades up in every class to what they agreed was a minimally acceptable level and (2) had worked out a system by which we could be regularly informed that their grades were staying at that level.

The both assured us that their post-midterm grades were at that level. We responded by telling them that that was great -- they would get their electronic entertainment stuff back quite quickly.

This you may have noticed is not the boundary technique, I was talking about before. Of course you may have also noticed that I said that it that is not the only technique that I use. And I have said that there are different senses of "boundaries." One is the very specific technique in which you accept that you can't change some behavior and you instead move to protecting yourself. By the way, Baggage illustrates all this really well. She uses different approaches for different situations. Sometimes she uses incentives to reward behavior changes; sometimes she uses what I call the boundary technique. I hope she doesn't disagree with me, but I see what she is trying to do regarding food is use of the boundary technique. She can't "fix" the girls issues around food, and she instead keeps looking for a way to protect the family's need to keep food in the house, and her need to stay within a reasonable budget, and still take care of the girl's need to feel secure that they will have enough.

Anyway, as I think about what we did with the boys, I know it was not the specific boundary technique, but in the other sense boundaries were at work, although imperfectly.

First, the level of anger that I felt in the beginning was, I think, a indication that my boundaries weren't quite where they should have been. I was angry because I am an educator and these kids had been with me for their whole lives. I should have been teaching them better work habits. I felt like their grades were a reflection of me and my parenting. I felt embarrassed thinking about what other people might think about all this if they knew.

I got this back in control, but it took a little effort. I had to keep asking myself, "Whose grades are these? Who is responsible for them? Who is this about?"

I didn't do really well with that in the beginning, but I got better.

When Hubby and I told them they were losing privileges, those were logical consequences. They realized at least why it made sense to us. If they weren't getting their homework done, then they shouldn't be distracted. They don't think that is really the problem, but they get it. Underneath it all we have a good relationship and they accept that we are acting like parents.

Ordinary boundaries were in place in the end. Responsibility for the grades and for fixing them were on the boys. I got my emotional responses back in place. I stopped feeling like their grades were my grades. Taking away the electronic stuff was a reasonable and logical response. Remaining loving and supportive, expressing confidence in them will all help.

I think there is a good chance that it will work. The trick will be to stay firm, and stay loving. It will also be important to remember that these are their grades and it is their job, not mine, to fix the problem.

Things would have been different with Carl or David, but not a lot. My initial anger would have been damaging. Whereas Andrew and Brian believe me when I say that I am done with being angry, Carl or David would have been anxious at the very least. There would have been a lot of puppy-dogging, a great need for reassurance. They might have been worried that my love hinged on their grades. They might have cut school the next day just too see how I would react. The techniques in my foster parenting class would have instructed me not to escalate. If their grades went down more, I should just stick to the original restrictions. They don't get the electronics back until they fix their grades. I should not up the ante, and I should continue to be loving. Carl, at least, would eventually come around. It might take a while, but he would eventually be reassured that I still loved him and would decide that he wanted the electronics enough to do the school work.

I think, but I am not certain, that that is pretty typical of love and logic: logical consequences and lots of love; keep the consequences logical and reasonable; don't get into power-struggles.

It sounds easier than it is. It takes a real commitment and a lot of effort to remain calm and loving while holding firm. Kids push and test. If I tried this with David there is an excellent chance that the next day he would cut school or refuse to do any work. The temptation to either give up or raise the stakes would be enormous. I believe the L&L approach would be to just hold firm. Eventually David would at least see that I would love him even if he did poorly, and that I was not going to get into to struggle.

The part about not getting into a power struggle is important. They are good at power struggles and they know that there is a point at which you will give up. You take away electronics; they respond by cutting school. So you take away their mp3 player. They cut school again. You ground them for a week. They sneak out at night.

Got a headache yet?

I don't think it would work with Ann. Maybe it would, eventually. Ann however would have been much more interested in creating and winning a power struggle then in earning back any stupid electronics.

With Evan I would not have even tried. If I opened a dismal report card from him I would have just given it to him. If he asked me if I was going to do anything I would have probably said something like, "Cook dinner?" Evan's grades were not by business. It was such a relief to parent that way. In my entire relationship I decided what really mattered to me and what did not. There were so many battles that I did not fight. I really did just focus on the relationship. He made his goals with school. If he had trouble reaching those goals, and wanted my help then I would be happy to help. If he didn't, that was his business. I really did focus just on our relationship.

I don't know if I can explain why I am convinced that taking away Andrew and Brian's electronic diversions until their grades came up while knowing that I would do nothing about Evan's grades, except to say that I have different relationships with them. It would have been very awkward had it been happening with everyone at the same time. It is tough when you have kids in the house and you are convinced that kids with the same issue need different responses.

But this is why I have been sharing this. No one told me that I didn't have to parent traumatized teens exactly the same way that I would parent my bio kids. Maybe someone told me to "pick my battles" but I don't think that is the same thing. These kids need a lot. They can have problems, issues, bad habits, destructive behaviors all over the map.

Deciding which things to concentrate on and how to respond to it is not simple.


  1. Thank you for the compliment. The two biggest things I'm working on is dealing with my anger and dealing with giving natural consequences and not piling them on for the hell of it. Becuause it doesn't work. AT ALL. I love when you write about this because I admire the hell out of you and it makes me feel like if you get angry sometimes, then it is ok when I do. When you feel embarassed by your kid's behavior, it is ok if I do. And yet you have all these great ideas on how to do things. I love it.

  2. Baggage is great. I have so much respect for her. She does make use of a lot of different skills, and one thing I love is how she really SEES the kids, really gets them, even when their behavior is driving her nuts!

    Definitely using boundaries is only one tool among many. I like the way you described your use of several of them here.

    Sometimes it's hard for me to set an appropriate boundary b/c I can't figure out whether I'm really concerned about something for my son (ie, bad grades in school will lead to a dead-end life for him) or concerned about me (if I don't help him get good grades, then I am a bad parent.) How do you resolve that sort of thing?


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