Thursday, October 16, 2008

Helping by not helping

Gary sometimes gets "homework" from his counselor. His homework this week is to force himself to ask me for something.

Gary says it is a woman thing, and that may be part of it. My impression is that it is an asking thing. He is good at presenting his problems and hoping that you will be a responsive parent and offer something.

Like the thing last week that made me angry. He told me that his sweats for gym were short. I asked how short and if they were adequate to gym/dance class. He said they were adequate and then told me about how he used to be teased for wearing pants that were too short. I asked, with concern, if anyone in dance teased him. He smiled and said no and so I asked again if the sweats were really okay. He said they were. I sent in all the clothing receipts to the social worker acknowledging that all these clothes for school did put me way over-budget but that I really was done shopping for clothes for the year. The next day Roland was calling me on the phone to tell me that the only black sweats he could find for Gary cost more than $50. I said something about how he could manage with the ones that that he had. Roland said he had already bought them and that Gary had been very clear: his sweats were too small; he could not wear them. Anyway, that is old news.

What is also sort of old news is that he hurt his ankle the day after seeing the physician for joint pain. The physician said he would call in a prescription for what sounds like steroids and a referral for physical therapy. He hasn't called in the prescription and every other day or so I ask Gary if he has called the office to ask about it. There is a message on the answering machine from the physical therapy people. Gary is also supposed to call them to set up his appointment.

Okay, so the twisted ankle is after the appointment. It did swell, but not dramatically. I encouraged him to ice it, take ibuprofen, and elevate it. He told me that he thought something had come out of place, and demonstrate the degree of damage by showing me that he could put all his weight on the leg with the hurt ankle without pain as long as he stood still, but that when he had to flex it, it hurt. I told him that he did not have any broken or dislocated bones, but that he had probably hurt the soft tissue. I also said that the steroids and the physical therapy were the best things we should try. The physical therapist would certain know if he needed medical attention and that I would take him to the physician except that I was pretty sure he would just say, "Go to physical therapy and try the steroids to see what they do."

Anyway, we have been having this conversation almost every day. He describes to me in a calm voice about how his ankle still hurts and how he thinks that a bone is in the wrong place or a tendon has come loose. I notice that he doesn't walk with a limp.

This morning I expressed some frustration to Roland about it, asking him if he thought I was right to keep the ball in Gary's court -- let him make the phone calls. I know that part of what is going on is that Gary wants to know that we will take care of him, that he can present his pain and we will respond. If I thought that the physician would do anything other than ask Gary why he hadn't followed up on his previous directions I would take the initiative and get him an appointment. I just don't think that his ankle is seriously damaged and I do think the best thing to do is to let the physical therapist look at it.

I also think that Gary needs to develop the life skills to do things like call the doctor's office to ask what happened to the prescription. I know it is difficult for him, but he needs to do it.

As I said, I think it is hard for Gary to ask for things.

Anyway, I had this conversation with Roland about whether I was doing the right thing. He agreed I was. Then he walked into the kitchen and said to Gary (with some frustration in HIS voice), "Gary, I think that before we make an appointment for the physician to see that ankle that you call the physical therapist and have them check it out."

Ahh. Of course. Gary wasn't getting the offer he wanted from me, so he was also presenting his problem to Roland. Roland is much more responsive to these sorts of things than I am. If anyone feels bad he is likely to say, "Do you think you need to see the doctor?"

On one hand I think that Gary has a deep, unfulfilled, child-need to have someone take care of him. He craves the experience of being cared for. He wants to show me the owie and have me fuss over him and make it all better. I think that is a legitimate need. I understand it.

It has also been my experience and kids want it the most when they are not seriously ill or hurting. When they are really sick or in pain they tend to want to take care of themselves. This makes perfect sense to me. It is only when they are not in bad shape that they can really enjoy the pampering. When they are sick they feel vulnerable and their needs to protect themselves and to prove to themselves that they don't need anyone becomes more dominant. This would have seemed mysterious to me before I started care. Now it seems obvious.

Anyway, I want to give him the pampering. He doesn't know how much I want to give it, how much effort I am putting into holding myself back and saying with calm sympathy, "I bet it does hurt! Have you called the physical therapist yet?"

I want him to go to the therapist. I am ready to get him an ice pack and tell him that when I went to therapy it hurt worse at the beginning first too. I want to put him on the sofa, offer to let him watch whatever he wants and bring him something to eat.

But first I have to stand back and let him do what he needs to do for himself.

Of course if I do and he goes to therapy and comes back really in pain he probably won't want to be pampered.


  1. I am curious why if you feel Gary has a deep unfulfilled need to have someone fix the owie, that it is important for him to call for the PT appt? I have 4 kids adopted from a wide venue of life, and I have noticed with middle guy now 12, that he too has that huge need to have the things he missed happen. So sometimes I am parenting him in what would be perceived as the style of care for a younger child, but I can tell he feels safe and loved and he does seem to move on and grow beyond the need gradually.

    BTW I love reading your blog; I think you are an awesome parent.

  2. Well Lee, I'm not sure. I was sort of debating that while I was writing. I torn because I also do need to teach him independence skills. Maybe this is another post...


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