Hubby and I disagree about how to handle Bear and his issues and it is starting to damage our relationship.
The part we agree on:
Bear lies. He steals (mostly food and electronics as far as we know). He's sneaky. He is aggressive and intimidating. He has an addictive brain and his current addiction is sugar (in the past it's been drugs, caffeine, tobacco...). If Bear is not sexually active he definitely wants to be, and is certainly capable of getting girls to participate. The biggest one - if he thinks a rule is unfair or that we are wrong, he sees that alone as justification for breaking it or getting around it.
The part we disagree on:
Developmentally Bear is somewhere between 6-9 years old. This does not refer to his intelligence, he is not mentally retarded (although he is definitely below average in this area), this refers more to his emotions and his behaviors. Because of the damage to his brain from years of trauma this may never be resolved. He has appeared older developmentally, but when presented with more privileges and freedoms (I'm thinking in particular of last Spring), he couldn't handle it. Whether it was because he couldn't resist temptation, it was inevitable, or he actually did it because he feels safer with more structure and restrictions, I don’t know, but he blew things big time.
I believe that kids should be given only the freedoms they can handle. If my 10 year old can handle a 9pm bedtime and his 14 year old sister needs an earlier one then that’s how it will be. Kitty and Bear need more supervision than Bob and Ponito. It’s not a punishment, mostly it’s a safety issue. Yes it’s hard work, and I don’t want to be a warden, but I think that is what Bear needs. Bear lied, stole, and lied some more this week. After much argument with Hubby I thought we had come to an agreement. That we would put an alarm on Bear’s room door and be more consistent in giving consequences when he breaks the rules.
We have only 2-3 years left with Bear if we are lucky (In TX kids are pretty much adults at 17, so even though Bear won’t graduate high school until just before he turns 19, he could move out much sooner). Hubby feels that if we are over protective, not only will Bear hate us, but he won’t be ready for the real world. Plus, the structure and restrictions we do currently aren’t working. Bear is still getting in trouble and we can’t watch him 24/7, especially at school.
In the Katharine Leslie seminar that I attended, Katharine pointed out that just because we have x number of years left does not mean we can force the child to be ready by then. Plus, because of his issues he may never be ready – or not until he’s much older. Bear is going to hate us anyway, whether we are easygoing parents (who don’t care) or super strict parents. Hopefully he will look back at our relationship later in life and realize we did what we did because we love him.
I agree that what we are doing isn’t working, but I feel if we back off we’re throwing the baby out with the bath water. I think we don’t have a lot of choices and if we back off, Bear will get worse. I saw our only choice as being to continue to be structured and clarify the rules – make them even more concrete.
Hubby thinks that because Bear is an older teenager he will chafe on these strict rules. He did agree that we needed to be more clear about the rules and adapt a zero tolerance policy. He did not have a really good idea on what consequences should be, but Bear’s therapist suggested we should talk more about the values behind the rules. Hubby apparently interpreted this to mean that we should stop trying to have so many rules to cover all circumstances – since Bear usually came up with something new and took advantages of loop holes. Hubby’s solution to this was to clarify our values, and the behaviors would follow (ex. If our values say you should be responsible, and a child doesn’t do their chores, then they are in trouble for not being responsible, but there will no longer be a family rule saying you must do your chores)
My last (ignored) point: Bear and Kitty do not understand abstract concepts. They cannot handle / understand this.
I thought Hubby and I were now mostly on the same page. Last night I held Bear accountable for missing the bus on Friday. It is possible it wasn’t totally his fault he missed it (assuming he didn’t miss it on purpose, which he could not prove), but that wasn’t the point. I had fixed it so that he was escorted to the bus. If he’d been escorted like he was supposed to then he would have had a witness to his attempt to make it (plus, the escort was pulling him out of class a few minutes early so he was getting there sooner). Instead he chose to allow the school to stop the escort without telling me. I’d found out only the day before. Therefore I held him accountable. He argued and started to raise his voice, but Hubby was there in the background so instead he stormed to his room. Hubby followed him and talked to him for over an hour. Hubby said he didn’t need any help.
Next thing I know, Hubby has agreed to take Bear to Basketball team try outs the next morning. Say what?! Bear doesn’t even like basketball. I feel, and I’m sure he feels, that he’s getting off the hook for his behavior over the last couple of weeks. Bear has told us repeatedly that he wants as little to do with family as possible and wants to be at school whenever he can. Here’s a great way for him to get to do that. Hubby and I have talked about him needing to be home more and interacting with us.
I was furious! I was ready to tell Hubby if he felt this way then fine. He could handle everything to do with Bear from now on. He could be the one telling Bear if he could stay after school. He could be the one dealing with the consequences.
While they were at practice I calmed down a little. Bear did not make the team. Crisis averted? Not in my opinion. By letting him tryout we were implying we approved of his behavior. OK, I’m still frustrated and ticked off. Time to see if I swallow my anger before it damages my marriage even further.