Sunday, December 07, 2008

What is your real self?

Someone asked me a while ago whether I thought Gary was being his real self with us yet. I find the question a complex one, and I am not certain how to answer it. But I thought I would puzzle it out a bit.

I think Gary is out of early "company behavior" stage. You know, the one we are so tempted to call the "honeymoon" because it is so easy for us. He has stopped cleaning compulsively. He still likes to keep things clean, but other people have stopped complaining because they can't find their things. His room also often looks like a teenager lives there. It cycles. He will get it very tidy for a while and then it will devolve. He never makes his bed. He has also stopped claiming that he doesn't eat a lot, although he still prefers not to eat a lot in front of me. He seems more relaxed.

He has done the sighing and eye rolling periodically and he has lied about his homework more than once. So if what we mean by "being his real self" is "no longer trying to be perfect" then yeah, we are getting there. However he is also still on probation, and that takes stress out of our relationship. Parenting a teenager who is required to be home by 8:00 every evening is really easy. There is also a county rule that says he can't be driven around by anyone under 18. So yeah, I get to be sympathetic with how tough it is. The past two weekends I have supported him calling his social worker and asking if he could stay out late. Last Saturday it was to go to a birthday party. Last night it was to go to a school play and after party with the girlfriend. I told him to be home by midnight. He was here by eleven.

So I don't know what will happen when and if he is off probation. Will he lose track of time and not come home until 3 in the morning?

I think the whole question is complicated by the fact that Gary has spent several years in intensive therapy trying to become a better person. I am assured by people who have known Gary over the years that he has changed a lot. He has wanted to make those changes. He went back to seeing his counselor because he wanted to go. Still, I think this makes the whole "real self" question unclear. I don't think he knows who his real self is right now. Actually the more I think about it, the more unclear I am about the whole concept.

Not so long ago I responded to a question from a reader giving what I thought was one typical pattern for kids to go through. I don't think I was as clear as I might have been that I don't think that particular pattern is universal. In fact, children vary significantly. About the only thing that seems close to universal is that kids start off on their best behavior. I think it mistaken to call this a honeymoon because it implies a state of happiness when I think the kids are more likely to be experiencing anxiety.

I also think that kids behaviors escalate in ways that are really confusing to new foster/adoptive parents. It isn't just that they can have triggers that we can't predict. It is also true that their anxiety can be increased by things like perceiving you as making promises you are not likely to keep or even beginning to think they might be safe. That may seem strange, but being safe and happy means being vulnerable. In some ways it is easier to have nothing to lose.

Anyway, I mention this because I don't know what, if anything, will happen with respect to Gary's behavior as these conversations about permanency planning go forward.

Maybe nothing much, but you now I will tell you all about it.

Tudu has a post this morning that starts out "....has started showing her true self." I swear I wrote this post before I read that!


  1. Plus, it is a difficult question to answer because we have never known the kids in our care before they came to us. No one involved (except for tha family that htye have lived for a long time before coming to us) REALLY knows them well so it is us using our perceptions.

    I think about how I act in different environments. Every family dynamic is different so a person will act a little different in individual environments. It doesn't mean that they aren't being "true", just what feels comfortable to be like in that environment. I don't know if that makes sense in writing as it does in my brain :)

  2. It makes sense to me. In some contexts we know exactly what we mean when we say "acting like his real self." Usually we mean they are beginning to misbehave!

    Still, they are always real. Even in the beginning we are seeing how they really behave when they are stressed and in a new environment.


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