I might be a single mother facing these difficult issues with kids alone, but I am not really alone. Since yesterday, through listening to you people and emailing my friend C. and April, talking to two different women (teachers) who have taken this class called The Parent Project ( I have been trying to manage both the time and money to take this class for two years, but now that I have two teens and an almost 10 year old, it is a top priority and we will be enrolling in the next class available in our area. I think it is offered again in the springtime), I realize that there is a wealth of information and support and help out there. Part of it is being in a place where I can see past the feelings of fear (oh my god, my kids is going to end up in prison if I don’t stop this now!) and failure (this is my fault that my kid is acting this way) and actually see and use what help is offered. I have to humble myself and remember that while yes, they are my kids, I am also certainly not an expert of any kind, and if I open myself up to it, people can offer me insight and solutions.
I did not talk to Eli last night, for several reasons. One was that Steve was going to come over and give Owen a bath and put him to bed, and I did not feel like he should be privy to our conversation or have the opportunity to provide input. That was a dual-purpose decision in itself: for Eli’s sake, I did not want him to feel ganged up on, especially when one of the people there really doesn’t have a right to BE there. For MY sake, I did not want to put myself in a position of assuming that since he was there offering input then I was actually going to have back up. Also, there were so many different things going through my head, and I was still so angry, that I thought it would be best to give this one just one more 24 hour period. I went to bed early, I will eat healthy and well today, and I will talk to people (one of the AA things, too, is to not let yourself get too Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired, which works in all kinds of situations), and already I feel so much more calm and centered.
I have also come to what feels like a better solution, even though it is still harsh by some standards. And since I like lists, I am going to put it in list format, both to make it easier for my readers but also to help me to continue to process it.
1. Starting Saturday morning, Eli will move his mattress into the corner of the kitchen, he will no longer have access to his possessions at will, and he will have to approach me daily in order to procure a clean set of clothing. This is one of the tools The Parent Project recommends: removing all vestiges of privacy. Since he does, in fact, share a room with two other little boys, removing his door and taking out all of his possessions is not feasible, so we are improvising on this one. The theory-and this is one I really believe in, as some of you may know-is that part of the problem with teens is that they feel a sense of entitlement that does not, in fact, exist (I could expound for hours about this sense of entitlement that is pervasive in our nation, but I won’t, not today!). As a human being, he has the right to be cared for and loved, to be able to have a voice and make choices. As a child, he does NOT have the right to disrespect rules and authority; there is a place to question this, as I have written about before, but when he begins to infringe upon the rights of the other family members, the time for questioning is over. Also as a child, he has the right for clothing, food, shelter, and safety, as well as love and affection and stability. It is my responsibility as a parent to provide those things for him. The fact that I scrimped on lots of other things in order to provide NAME BRAND clothing that he wanted as opposed to just going to Target, that is a privilege to him. The fact that he is able to participate in sports or other activities is not a right. The fact that he has the freedom to stay with friends and go places with them are privileges, not rights. So this part of the process is re-establishing what he is, in fact, entitled to and what is just a bonus. One of the women who took the class and used it said that she totally cleared out her daughter’s room save a mattress on the floor, and re-evaluated her weekly. As behavior and respect for her improved, she got a few things back, and within 6 months she was back in her room with a door and everything. And they have not had any major problems since.
2. I have re-thought my decision about Eli keeping his puppy. I will buy, over the weekend, her collar and chain, and I will help Eli choose a spot to stake her at where she can’t climb over the fence (um, yeah. America’s Funniest Home Videos? Watch out, because not only does she CLIMB THE FENCE, she also perches on top of it and peers around the neighboring yards. The problem is that she then jumps into their yard, cuts around the side and rounds the corner to eventually end up back on our front porch. The key word being eventually). He will, however, pay me back by working at a fair minimum wage. See, part of the deal when I agreed to let him have a dog (clear back before the other one was taken) was that it would be his. That meant not just taking care of it but also using his own money from mowing lawns and such to pay for what she needed, including a portion of the money we spend on dog food as well as her shots, etc…well, he hasn’t followed through on his end of the bargain, choosing instead to spend his money on other things. Now that summer is over, he no longer has a mowing job, so will need to come up with other ways to earn money. I don’t believe in an allowance, so he will not be getting “paid” to do his regular chores. Instead, there are a ton of things that need (and have needed for quite some time) done around the house and yard, things I haven’t had time to really get into, and those will be his “jobs.”
3. I am also re-thinking my threat to send him packing to his dad’s. Although he does not particularly like his dad or get along with him, his dad is actively campaigning like he did with Hannah to have Eli move there. The bribes, the promises, etc.. In Eli’s current state of mind, he may very well decide that he can escape the consequences by moving-and I am not willing to let that happen. In addition, I have realized that the message he would be hearing is, “You are too much trouble and I am no longer willing to invest any more time and effort on you.” Which is the furthest thing from the truth. Along with this comes Jennifer’s suggestion of more one-on-one time; while this may not be as easy for me to do as I would like (remember, 4 kids, full-time job, only a limited number of hours in the day), I am also going to avail myself of the many, many adults in Eli’s life who love him. My friend’s Rob and Janet, one man from the church who really thinks highly of Eli, Steve and Jim…each one of these people and more would be willing to take a
few hours here and there to do something with Eli. Something that makes him feel important and loved and cherished. And I can commit to an afternoon a month of just us. I know it isn’t enough-I KNOW that. But it is what I can do.
4. I am also going to accept responsibility for my part in this. I will not go so far as to say that it is my fault, but I DO play a part. I have spent a lot of years trying to make up for the fact that sue to some of my choices, the kids have gotten the raw end of the deal. I have spent too many years trying to make up for the absence of one parent (their dad is around in a sense, as he sees them and has contact with them, but he does live 700 miles away and had therefore been unable to really take an active role in their lives. Which I see as being a plus, which is a topic for yet another post, but which has still hurt the kids), and have been willing to let more things go than I should. I have also been guilty of assuming that since Eli (and all the kids) is basically a good kid, I wouldn’t have to worry about anything like this. I talk about holding kids accountable and teaching them personal responsibility, but how much do I really do that? Is that something that I really believe but have a hard time following through with? Yes-guilty as charged. That stops today. Not only am I going to hold ALL the kids more accountable, but myself as well.
5. I am going to work harder on letting him-and by proxy all of the kids-that it isn’t, in fact, all about him. There is a whole world out there, with all sorts of different people and situations and circumstances, and I am going to work really hard at helping him to get out of “self” for awhile. I know that for me, one of the best things I can do when the shit hits the fan and I don’t know what to do is to get out of self and do something for someone else. I know it sounds like a crock of shit, but it really does work. I want my kids to learn to be socially responsible, good neighbors, kind friends-and yet this is another one of the things that I talk about and try to do for myself but haven’t really demonstrated to the kids. An opportunity arrived this morning in the form of one of my insureds; she is not elderly but a little batty, and for one reason and another has no coverage on her home. In looking at her house, I found out that there is quite a bit of work to be done before we can actually write her with someone, so I called her daughter and we are all going to head out on Saturday and do some work. And this isn’t a punishment for Eli, but an opportunity for our whole family. S. (her daughter) has boys the same age as both Eli and Sam, so between the 4 of us (Owen will be exempt) and the three of them, we will be able to get done in a day what needs done. There will be food, and I really like S (though I don’t know her well, I would LIKE to), and we will also be able to chalk off one of Sam’s Scout requirements at the same time. It ISN’T about us; not as individuals, and certainly not as a family. If I am going to piss and moan about how we are a nation that isn’t kind to our children, had I not work a little harder at raising children who are kind to the world?
So this is where I am today. I don’t hope for or expect change overnight; I don’t expect anything less than fury from Eli, but also hope that in time he will learn. I do not expect things to miraculously change with one afternoon helping someone else, not do I expect any of this to come easy for ANY of us. The bottom line is that while I cannot and will not accept the blame for Eli’s issues, while I WILL NOT simply say “Boys will be boys” and let it go, I can make positive changes now. And it isn’t too late; I really believe that it is never too late to change-thought processes, habits, beliefs, it is never too late. Wish us luck.