Thursday, January 28, 2010

On the Other Hand

Heading into month three of full-time pre-adoptive "placement" as the county likes to call it - which just means "parenting", really. And we're doing pretty good...depending how you look at it.

On the one hand, T. got caught (by us) getting high at school last week. His behavior tipped us off, but we had to insist on searching his backpack and school clothes in order to catch him out in the open so we could deliver a consequence. He was extremely upset and angry for about twenty-four hours. (As a quick aside: although we were upset that he'd lied to us and used drugs at school, we weren't too shocked, as we've been working with him on his marijuana habit all along, and we were more or less ready to respond.)

When he's upset, he often stares into my eyes with an incredibly mournful expression as if to transfer his feelings to me. The day after our confrontation, he was doing that and he looked utterly heartbroken. I took a guess and said something to the effect of: "I know right now you dislike our rules and the consequences. But I want you to know that even though we're arguing, we NEVER, EVER feel differently about you, and you are very dear to us." After that, his grief and rage started to subside. I find every act of discipline needs to be accompanied by an expression of commitment or he thinks his world is coming to an end.

Oddly, it turns out that he adores being grounded. He lost all priveleges for two weeks, including: going out without us, having friends over, playing x-box, using the computer, and using his cell phone. And we've never seen him happier.

My mom nailed it. She observed that he's overwhelmed by his social life right now. Deciding what to do and with whom every weekend means choosing between old friends and new friends, and between following our rules or reverting to old behaviors. He's got a crush on a girl and she's reciprocating, which means managing a host of expectations around what comes next. All of this makes him anxious, and being grounded simplifies his life and gives him a reason to hang around the house with us contemplating but not acting upon his options.

In addition to the security of being sequestered and secluded, I have a hunch that his happiness in the midst of discipline has another dimension: we didn't tell his social worker what happened. She visited a couple days later and we didn't lie, but we didn't offer the story either. He noticed. Our feeling is that we're the parents and we've delivered a consequence and discussed our expectations with him and that's the end of it. Now he gets a chance to try to meet those expectations without an atmosphere of lingering resentment.

T. hates his primary caseworker. She took him out of more than one home over the years, moving him from place to place without warning. She has a tendency to belittle and berate him, and to say disparaging things about his mother. (His adoption worker is a different story, and we tell her pretty much everything.) Usually, in her wake, we experience a prolonged bout of sullen angry behavior because she insults him so deeply. Not this time. He bounced back immediately after she left, chatting and playing with us.

He was utterly loving all weekend. He voluntarily cleaned the bathroom for me. He opened his arms on Sunday night and gave me a huge unprompted hug - something he's never done before. He confided in us about some problems some of his friends are facing right now. Yesterday he told me proudly that he's not getting high at school anymore. He did decide to sit out his PE class "instead" which I don't love, but I'll take a failing grade in PE (he gets Bs in everything else) over drug use at school.

T. struggles with symptoms you might call PTSD - he's overwhelmed by noise, crowds, physical proximity - and I understand why he tries in his own immature way to regulate his experience so he can get through the day. We'll grapple with these issues for as long as he's with us.

So as unpleasant as busting him was, it's been a good couple weeks. Finally he has evidence that we truly will not "give him away" when he misbehaves, that he has one set of rules and one pair of adults who offer both discipline and unconditional love, instead of a committee of bureaucrats who tear apart his entire life for infractions real and imagined. He's somehow managed to remain receptive - to love, stability, reason, and hope - and it's when he's made a mistake or misbehaved that his receptivity is most evident.


M and M said...

isn't love amazing? thank you for reflecting your love so beautifully here.

marythemom said...

Oooh so been there done that! Have you read Beyond Consequences Logic and Control by Post and Forbes? I don't agree with everything they say, but the major premise is that there are 2 primary emotions - Love and Fear. We have to help calm them and get over the fear before we can even think of giving them consequences. Sounds like you've got this figured out.

Definitely sounds like PTSD at school. We're going throught the same things with our son.

Mary in TX

Lulu McCabe said...

Oh yes, totally with you on that book. It doesn't work for me in its entirety, but I agree that understanding the fear is so helpful! We learned early on that when he is angry or upset, we need to stay right there with him. He'll often sit just inches away from us when he's mad. At first it was a little discomfiting, but what he's doing is trying to stay connected even through his rage because he so fears being abandoned. Until he's assured that we're not going to leave him we can't get anywhere.

Let me know how you deal with the PTSD and school. I really feel for him - the environment doesn't do much to put kids like him at ease.

marythemom said...

I thought you needed some sunshine so I gave you an award. Stop by to pick it up.

Hugs and prayers,
Mary in TX

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