Friday, January 21, 2011

"I'm 18 and you can't tell me what to do"

Been there yet? Kids turn 18 and suddenly they think they should have all the freedom of adulthood with none of the responsibilities.

We're doing it now with Gary. He is doing appropriate things, like hanging out with a friend whom we like. But he is doing it at inappropriate times, like until 3am on a school night. He did that last night. Today he isn't going to school because "he doesn't feel well." Exhaustion will do that to you.

I told him a while ago that I was only going to excuse him if he was really sick. If just wasn't going because he was exhausted, he would have to deal with it with the school. He asked what the school could do, because he was 18 and all. I thought about it and told him the truth. They can hassle him. Tell him to go to detention and Saturday school. They can give him in school suspension, or out of school suspension. They can expel him, and they can not give him credit for courses.

He wanted to know if they can arrest him.

See, that's the thing about raising kids who have gone through real trauma. There really isn't anything we can do to them that compares with what they have gone through. I said I didn't think so.

I could see him thinking about it. How many days could he cut and how many detentions etc could he refuse to go to before they would do anything he would really mind. All he wants to do is graduate and all he needs to do to do that is PASS English and Economics. He can fail the other two. Of course there is no way he is going to fail one of them, because it is just a TA hour and he can usually just nap then. The fourth class is something that is incredibly easy. He can get the work done in class and still have time to be bored silly. So his grades will be okay.

And now it is a challenge. He's 18 and he shouldn't have to go to school if he doesn't want to. They can't make him. He asked if he couldn't excuse himself and I told him that the school doesn't make that as easy as they used to. I have no idea what they require for him to get permission to do that, but he could find out and let me know.

So this morning, when I learned he wasn't going at all, I went back to the kitchen and made some tea. I remembered when Carl did this and when David did. I wore myself out with being angry and frustrated and trying to make them see reason. I met with the dean of students. I talked with social workers. I am sure I cried.

I realized bow differently I felt about it this time. I am sort of interested to see how this was going to go. Instead of thinking "OH NO! What if he doesn't graduate? What will he do? How can I make him behave differently?" I was  thinking "Thank goodness he is doing this whole rebellion thing with the school and not me! I wonder if I should send them a thank-you note?"

And then I giggled.


  1. I love reading about your relaxed parenting style, post co-dependence. I'm an adult and I'm still trying to get my mother to learn these lessons!

  2. Ditto what Contary said. Yondalla, do you suppose that by just reading about what you have learned that I can skip some of the hair pulling when my kids start turning 18? ... I wish.

  3. Great way to handle it! My little boy has a summer birthday and I don't want him making life decisions at 17. - so I'll probably regret holding him back for this very reason. Thanks for the post!

  4. I don't comment much any case I stop altogether (I've been weaning myself off the net) I want you to know how greatly you have affected (in a good way) the way I'm parenting now...ok...more like the way I'm no longer losing my sanity!LOL!

    We only have one...with what would be considered "mild" RAD symptoms and Conduct Disorder (and this was killing me...hat off to those w/ full-on disorder symptoms) but somewhere along the way I realized that the way I was parenting was aggrevating the problems AND making me nuts...I don't like feeling nuts (some people thrive w/ drama but I had enough while young so I prefer no drama in my day to day thank-you-very-much) so I started paying attention even if at first it felt counterintuitive to the way I did things!

    I started w/ the concept of punishment and this was really difficult for me 'cause no matter how hard I tried to disguise it as "consequences" I really was punishing...'cause "I" was angry or frustrated or overwhelmed. A year (or longer) later I still don't have it completely under control but I'm MUCH better at letting natural consequences ensue.

    Sorry this is so's just that from there I progressed to what you just did in this post....there are some actions that would have sent me into a whirl of reactions trying to "change" the outcome which just added to that "crazy" feeling. It's not like I wash my hands or anything...I still try to guide and help but at the end I'm not driving myself nuts because I've accepted that there is only so much control I really do have.

    For example...I realized that even if she were to flunk and completely mess up her education (this was a big "issue" for me and one that was slowly driving me insane) she can always take care of it herself using community college or a trade school as an option....I still help, guide and make resources available to her but no longer drive "myself" crazy w/ the "what-ifs?" or how her future will be ruined or forcing her to jump through my hoops. Now I focus on what is important to me that she changes (no bullying and/or hurting others).

    Anyway...I know it's coming out a bit awkward and disjointed (my brain is tired today) but I'm just glad your blog was around at a time when I found myself needing a different approach and that through it I've learned that my road in parenting a teen-ager (w/ certain issues) doesn't have to lead to a spot in an insane asylum for me (I'm sure I was heading that way)

    Having said that...the changes I implemented got me some grief from those around me who didn't understand what I was doing (they kept thinking maybe I was no longer caring...I did but ranting and raving, punishing but then saving the kid from dealing w/ the consequences or figuring out how to resolve her own problems was not healthy for either one of us).

    Interestingly enough I can now recognize in other parents what I was doing myself (and this is w/ neuro-typical "normal" kids). The other someone I know punished her kid but then drove her kid all over the place and I kept thinking "a more natural consequence would have been to make him take care of his transportation needs since what he did is what caused him to be w/out it" - kept my mouth shut though! ;)

    Thank you!

  5. mean to type the "other DAY someone I know" in that last paragraph!LOL

  6. I so agree with your style (and zunzun). So much grief and drama is the parents/carer/adult about these sorts of situations. There are many many ways to complete an education. Attaching to one particular way, or the usual way can be so detrimental to a relationship.

  7. I can't agree more with your statement: "that's the thing about raising kids who have gone through real trauma. There really isn't anything we can do to them that compares with what they have gone through." I think it is probably the root of most of our toughest challenges raising traumatized or abused children, don't you?

    I love your solution/reaction. I am forever reminding myself to "recognize the limits of my influence" which really helps me when they make a choice that I know will carry consequences but that I can't stop them from choosing.

    Hang in there..... and keep up the giggling!
    Gail Underwood Parker

  8. Anonymous9:31 PM

    I have totally been there too! Just this week in fact. Our two boys came home seven years ago. They are 21 and 18. I find they like to show me what they can do. I can smoke cigarettes. I can ask my girlfriend of three days to marry me. And you are completely right about the fact that they've been through worse than we can do to them. Consequences don't work sometimes. I try to be like you. Roll with it. Be there to support them when I can. Help out when help is accepted. And love them anyway.

  9. So glad to come across your blog. My partner and I are fostering a 3 year old who came to us 6 months ago. I have really struggled with her "first adolescence", getting myself all worked up over small behavioral things because I thought that I needed to fit in 3 years worth of manners. Absurd, I now realize. I felt like all I did was manage behaviors.
    She would do something obnoxious and I would scold/punish/offer reward for stopping. Taking her traumatic experiences into account, I started to think that maybe she was simply trying to connect in any way possible. When I changed my focus to building our connection, I saw how much more readily she listened to me and how she is more willing to trust me and hear that kicking others under the table at dinner is not okay because it is painful.
    I'm still struggling with consequences and rewards. They are so much easier and faster, but I recognize that they are short-lived and that I end up having to revisit the issue over and over again.

  10. I feel for ya! Mine turns 18 soon and I'm a little worried about the new struggles with her thinking she's now an adult even though she's under my roof and under the state's care. It should be interesting. Since she's already in college, I don't have to worry about the school stuff. I'm just anticipating some power struggles and entitlement attitudes...


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