difficult child, College, and Responsibility

Discussion in 'Parent Emeritus' started by stressbunny, May 20, 2013.

  1. stressbunny

    stressbunny Guest

    Hello all,

    I have visited this forum now and then over the years, and now I'm in the "Parent Emeritus" category, officially. Wow! How can time pass both so slowly (dealing with years of difficult child childhood) and so quickly?

    Our oldest difficult child, JT, is 19 and finishing his first year of study at a university. He lives on campus in the dorms. It was his decision both to attend college and to pursue a technology education degree. He has always been mechanically inclined and was encouraged by his high school industrial arts teachers.

    JT has student loans that cover about 1/3 of his college costs, and we are paying the rest.

    In high school, JT achieved As and Bs without studying. I truly NEVER saw him open a book to study or prepare for a test/project. As a college instructor myself, I told JT many times that his high school ways wouldn't cut it in college; that he would simply have to study and prepare for classes in order to succeed. Blah, blah, blah. JT took the ACT test, without studying or preparation, of course, and scored 25.

    In his first semester at college, JT failed a Psychology class and nearly an English course as well. He managed Cs in his other classes. I know he skipped classes and spent a great deal of time monkeying around in a garage he and his friends rented to work on their engines and motors, etc. JT acknowledged that he didn't put in his best effort, and we agreed that he would have to pay for any classes in which he scored lower than a C. He promised to improve his study habits and work harder in the second semester.

    During this time, JT has worked as a volunteer firefighter, and he really enjoys it. He has taken a couple of certification classes, and he continues on the department in his college town.

    Part way through his second semester, JT shared with us that he wants to change his major - to Fire Medic. This is a five-semester program that happens to be offered at a technical college 20 miles away from his current university. We are supportive of him and can see him working in a position like that. Other firefighters at the department have encouraged him and gone through this program.

    We stressed that he needed to finish his second semsester at the university as well as he could. Some classes will transfer to the new program. He promised no more Ds and Fs.

    Most of his grades have come in from the university, and he managed two Bs (in easy classes), and the rest are Cs. However, one class he is still waiting on, and he confessed that he didn't do well, which probably means a D or an F. I tried to hold him accountable, mentioning our agreement, etc., and of course, predictably, he went off with his difficult child mouth, and blamed everyone and everything else but himself:
    • Teacher doesn't teach in a way that he can learn.
    • Class is "stupid" and "irrelevant".
    • The class doesn't count toward his Fire Medic degree anyway.
    • Studied 'til 3 a.m. many nights, but still couldn't pass (he probably failed to mention that he didn't start studying until 2:48 a.m., but hey!)

    Since the technical college does not have dorms, JT will need an apartment in August. We will be paying the rent, however, he will be working and need to pay for his own groceries, gas, and incidentals. He has a full-time $10/hour job working as an apartment complex maintenance person. He and a friend, also employed there, rip out carpet and cabinets, fix leaks, keep up the grounds, and make other general repairs.

    I'm concerned that JT's poor self regulation will really get in the way of any degree he attempts. He is quite arrogant and generally underestimates risk and effort while simultaneously overestimating his own ability. He thinks moving to an apartment will solve all of his concentration/distraction problems and that because he really wants to be a Fire Medic, that he'll be so much more motivated to study and succeed. Never mind that he was equally highly motivated, supposedly, to succeed in the technology education field.

    We have spent around $10,000 out-of-pocket for the past year, and all he has are a few intro classes and a $10/hour job to show for it. I realize many college students change their minds. But, in his case, he fails to acknowledge that he is simply not managing himself well, and that is the reason he is performing poorly. He minimizes, denies, and blames. Everyone and everything else, but him.

    He is not apologetic, or even concerned, and it is difficult dealing with his attitude. He has an entitled mentality and disagrees with everything I say. I am a college instructor, for crying out loud! I see students who behave like him fail all the time.

    The first step in this program is to take an EMT course, which starts tomorrow. JT called today to say he needs money (hundreds of dollars) for the textbook. I learned that he hadn't accessed his student e-mail, and therefore didn't realize there was a pre-assignment: to read the first chapter, access an online licensing site, and get his photo ID. He didn't know he had an e-mail account yet with the college. But . . . nothing is ever really his responsibility.

    I am so angry and disgusted because he is so careless and lives only in the moment. I don't see him succeeding at any degree, because novelty always wears off, and he just isn't willing/able to sustain effort or do things he doesn't like doing.

    Hubby and I have determined that we will only continue to pay for his expenses while he is successfully pursuing a degree program. We will not pay for grades below a "C", and if he loses the ability to take out student loans, he will be on his own. JT, of course, isn't the least bit concerned about this, because he thinks he can do anything if he really wants to. He thinks next semester will be miraculously different.

    JT's birthmom lost custody of him because she neglected him. She couldn't hold a job, had a volatile disposition, and failed to modify her behavior in the face of serious consequences, i.e. losing her children. Her intelligence level was low, and she left town to work with a traveling carnival numerous times, leaving her children behind indefinitely. She failed to clean up her home or complete other court-orderd requirements, such as visitations, and eventually, her rights were terminated for abandonment. I hate to say it, but I see that same stubborn attitude and immunity to consequence in JT. Consequences do not matter. He is only thinking about the present moment. He knows we will no longer support him if he fails out of college.

    My heart aches, because I want this opportunity for him. I want him to get that degree because I know it will open doors to a better quality of life. But, I see the reality; that he probably won't succeed at this. I wonder if he will end up like his birthmom, wandering from job to job, never really having a decent quality of life or financial security. His disposition sets him up to struggle no matter where he ends up - college degree or not.

    I'm so tired of pleading with him to care more about his life and future; to take more responsibility. He is not grateful for the financial sacrifices we've made so he can go to college. He doesn't care about anyone but himself a lot of the time. I worry that he may be a narcissist, actually, because he thinks he is so superior to everyone (results do not show this) and also lacks empathy.

    He's not on his own, and yet, he's not a child any more. This is a difficult time of transition. I spend too much time worrying about him, and it's taken its toll on my well being over the years. It doesn't seem like it will ever end.

  2. recoveringenabler

    recoveringenabler Well-Known Member Staff Member

    Stressbunny, welcome back. I'm sorry you are going through this with your son, however, I'm glad you've found us again. Your son does sound like many of our difficult child's, impulsive, entitled, not responsible for his behavior, superior, lacking in empathy, no ability to future think. Sigh. I can understand your worry.

    It does sound as if you have a plan of action in place, the hard part is implementing it, making sure that if your goals aren't met that you in fact pull the financial plug. It appears that many of our kids do not learn much while we are taking care of all of their needs. And, truthfully, many of them don't learn once we stop.

    My best advice to you is to get yourself in environments of support for YOU and your husband. Find a therapist, counselor, parent groups, a place you can go to get help and understanding for you, to get tools and options, support and direction..........this is a hard road and wears parents out. There is an article on detachment at the bottom of my post, it's very good. Your son is in a very challenging transition, but it is a transition for you as well, perhaps much harder on you because you will need to learn to enforce strong boundaries and rules. You will need to identify what you can live with and what you can't and then communicate that to your son, with very clear boundaries and consequences. And, you have to be willing to act on those consequences which is one of the most difficult things to do when they face homelessness because of their own choices.

    I hope your son is not like his mother and that his failure to launch is temporary and he does in fact do well in his new choice of study. In the meantime stick with your plan, get support for yourself, take very good care of YOU, really nourish yourself because this all takes a large toll on us and our other relationships too. Sending along wishes for peace and guidance to all the perfect solutions.......
  3. stressbunny

    stressbunny Guest

    Thank you!

    I will read the article you included. I think I am having a terrible time detaching from difficult child. Though his behavior is exasperating, I am plagued with guilt about letting him fail. I want to rescue him from himself.

    I do feel quite depleted emotionally and physically. He really has no clue how his behaviors/choices affect his parents. Once, his second grade teacher told me that JT was being so disruptive in class, due to his ADHD, but he was blissfully unaffected compared to others around him. And that is true to this day. So, until JT's problems become JT's problems, I guess we should expect that from him. I wish I could trust JT to make good decisions.

    My hubby is able to detach more emotionally. He sees this as a process, as though we're on step 2 of the process now. At the end of the process, JT is going to be responsible for himself, one way or another. I'm too connected to the outcome. I think I need to accept that the outcome may not be as I had hoped. And, that is the hard part for me. I want to jump in and fix things for JT.

    If JT failed a class and came to me, humbled and concerned, that would be one thing. But, he never even talks about his classes unless I ask. And then, he likes to brag about how he thinks he knows more than the instructors (grinds me because I am an instructor and recognize his lack of respect and fantasy thinking). Or, if he's not doing well in a class, it's by choice or because the class isn't worthy of his efforts, etc. It is ridiculous! He is a legend in his own mind! People talk about the teen rebellion years, but JT was rebelling from day one. From day one, he argued with me, and refused to take any sort of help or direction. He would correct me, i.e. if I said "jelly", he'd say I was wrong; that it was "jam". Whatever! At four years old, he insisted his walkie talkie would work from miles away, and no one could convince him otherwise. As a 10-year-old, he told an experienced farmer that he knew everything there was to know about tractors. And, he told a pastor, originally from Colorado, all sorts of things about Colorado, though he'd never been there himself. At 12, he told me he could do my college statistics course (not true). I know this sounds like it is just annoying, but it's more than that. He really believes the things he says, I think. He actually thinks he can do ANYTHING, despite reality.

    He has never allowed me to really be a parent. He has always wanted to be my equal, as though there is no difference between an adult and child or a parent and child. There was never respect for our position as parents. And, that's hard. Whereas some kids want to be like their mom and dad, he never has. In fact, if anything, he tries to be anything but like us. If we wanted to go for a walk, he'd never walk with us. He had to walk in front of us. He's never bought a gift or cleaned the house, or done anything nice to surprise us - ever - never.

    Most conversations with him include a lengthy brag session on his part about how superior he is to just about everyone. His interests are narrow - fishing, motors, and fire protection. And, he thinks he is the best at all of them. He makes fun of how his dad is not mechanically inclined. He puts down others with condescending remarks. He insults my car (a Toyota RAV4, which I purchased new). He insults the truck we bought him, a used Ford Ranger (the model he wanted). Sometimes I point out that he is boasting and that it's a turn-off to listen to, and he tells me that it's not bragging if it's true. He also says that he generally brags the most to hubby and me, which is interesting that he's trying to impress, I guess.

    All this hard work parenting, and I feel so much disappointment and hurt at times.
  4. recoveringenabler

    recoveringenabler Well-Known Member Staff Member

    Boy, I hear you stressbunny, it is most exasperating, I understand. Your son sounds as if there is more going on then ADHD, but even if there is, he will likely not seek help.

    Here's the thing, to the degree that you enable him, you are going to suffer and live with the choices HE makes. For many of us, we cannot distinguish between where we leave off and they begin, hence enabling. Enabling is very difficult to separate from love, which is why it is so remarkably challenging for us parents, we do not want them to fail, we will do almost anything to get them to succeed. The problem begins when our intention is not only stronger then theirs, but we are actually alone in that intention, they don't care at all. We cannot control what another does, EVEN our own children. At some point that becomes sickeningly obvious, usually after we are exhausted, depleted and burned out. You cannot continue rescuing him from himself. It will go nowhere and it will literally ruin your health, not to mention your joy and your life. I am not exaggerating, if you read through many of these posts you will be able to FEEL the incredible toll this takes on us, it sucks the life force right out of you. You are essentially powerless and yet, that is the hardest thing to understand. We try and try and try again, only to hit the same wall over and over again.

    That's why you need help to cope, to change, to grow and to heal. I put myself in a codependency program which although I was a little suspicious that it was more for relationships with alcoholics and substance abusers, I quickly figured out, enabling is enabling, it is a negative set of choices that do not serve you or your son, they in fact, destroy the connection. It is so difficult and I always feel so bad for all the parents, just knowing what I had to go through with my own daughter, it's the hardest thing I've ever had to do in my whole life..............so I know how it all feels.

    This is a process, no one just gets it and then does it and all is fine. We go through lots of stages, lots of painful choices, we learn a new way to parent, we set boundaries, we detach, we accept what we cannot change. It's tough. That's why I always suggest getting into therapy, or some group, you will need it. Of course, you don't have to do it, you can do it alone, it will be harder, because without that continuing support, it's so easy to back track, so easy to give in, so easy to just do what we always have done.......it's hard to allow someone you love to fail. But often that's what we are forced to do. It stinks, but the alternative is you live with their behaviors and watch all your peace, all your joy, your health and your well being go down the drain, they will hold you hostage with their behaviors. Your son is already doing this to some degree by the actions you've described. You are already depleted and tired, he has been a difficult kid to raise. Imagine how difficult he will be as a fully grown adult man with all the traits he presently has and no ability to take any responsibility for his behaviors.

    Your husband sounds like he has a good handle on it, without your emotional attachments. It will be harder on you. I don't mean to sound harsh, it could all turn around, but from what you've shared already, you are on a clear path and there are usual outcomes and those outcomes will insist that you let go of enabling. It is not your fault. You did not create this. You cannot fix it nor change it. Only he can. And he may not be ready for a long time. If I were in your shoes, and I have been, I would prepare myself, I would arm myself with all the tools and support I could muster, I would get a plan of action ready for the almost inevitable changes ahead and find the strength within yourself to allow your son to fail. That may be the only way he ever finds his way. I'm sorry. I really am. This is so hard, your hurt and disappointment are real, I feel all of that too. We just have to find ways to not only live, but be happy in spite of the choices of our children. A very big order I know.....................hugs................keep posting, it helps..........
  5. SuZir

    SuZir Well-Known Member

    That has to be very difficult for you. His actions, if you look just that, don't seem that uncommon or out of norm when it comes to normal young adult growing pains. I'm sure you know loads of kids who have fallen to their butts in their first semester of college (at least here that seems to be very common) and he actually has got his act little bit together during the spring. Also wanting to change programs is very common. After all how could a high school kid really even know what is out there? Being able to keep a job and having a hobby and friends is also very good things.

    But then there is his attitude. And I wholeheartedly understand your concern on that. After reading your first post I was going to ask what do you think about how much of his attitude is real arrogance and how much false bravado (because I have very arrogant appearing kid with whom at least half of it is pure bs and show.) But you already answered to that in your second post and I really understand how difficult the situation is. What do you think, is it more personality disorder type of thing or maybe autism spectrum? Narrow interests, 'lecturing' and early refusing of acknowledging parent and child roles kind of points to autism spectrum.

    Of course there is very little you can do to either of those things. He has to be one who wants to help sorting out his life before any help is possible. I think that only thing you can really do is detach and decide what are the things you want to do to help him even with the big risk he may fail. I think that in this point it is more about you giving him chances you feel need to give him before you are comfortable of telling him that he is on his own from this point forward and you have given him all the financial help you are going to give at this point (of course emotional support is totally different thing.)
  6. stressbunny

    stressbunny Guest

    Again, thanks for the posts. It is therapeutic to post and feel less alone in all of this. Obviously, I'm not alone at all. I think I already know deep down that I need to detach for my own sake, especially. I go through most days without looking forward to much, due to my constant preoccupation with our kids. Tonight, at a track meet we went to for our nephew, our younger difficult child became unbelievably obstinate and unreasonable, ruining any chance of enjoying anything. At the end of the day, hubby and I are generally crabby and exhausted. We have nothing left to give one another. Then we get up the next day and do it all over again. People ask what we're doing this summer (as in vacations, trips, fun things), and I just ache inside knowing that our "fun" is simply getting through a day without a meltdown. We don't take trips or even sleep in - ever. It just isn't possible for us. How do parents of special needs kids make it through all of this intact? I'm not Super Woman.

    I don't know what comorbid disorders our older difficult child may have. He does have narrow interests, however, he has a witty sense of humor, and does not have many of the other autism/asperger symtpoms. Maybe ADHD is a spectrum of its own. I notice many of the same traits in other kids with ADHD and oppositional behavior.

    I am going to work on detachment. I know it won't be easy, but it's necessary. I do hope JT makes better choices about his studies going forward, but I need to prepare in case he does not. I think he's borderline - could go either way.

    Thanks for listening and responding. It helps reading your words.
  7. SomewhereOutThere

    SomewhereOutThere Well-Known Member

    I don't think he sounds that far out of the average range for a college kid in the grades and disorganization department. As you have said, many are like him.

    The attitude is another thing. I believe some kids are arrogant and talk a good game about how superior they are to others...some are really arrogant and others are just pretending. Either way, I agree that there is little you can do to change it.

    If he had a very chaotic time in his first three years, with multiple caregivers and change, he could have a form of attachment disorder. Many, many, many foster children who are eventually adopted do have different forms of attachment problems. Because of their poor experience with adults, they never do "get" the "adults should be respected" bit. I adopted a six year old who never wanted to be with us...obviously his situation (living in an orphanage) affected his ability to attach. He never really did. JT doesn't sound as extreme, but his aloofness could be because of his early years, if indeed they were very inconsistent in the caregiving department. That would not be your fault and you can't fix it with love although just getting him to college is a testimonial to you and hub's good influence on him. Most foster adoptees I know never made it to college and many end up in jail.

    Sorry you felt the need to come back here again and hope you can learn detachment. Sometimes it is necessary. Sounds as if you are a very loving mother and he is lucky to have you, even if he doesn't realize it.
  8. Irene_J

    Irene_J New Member

    I know what you are going through. I just posted about my difficult child now being a senior in college. But, she attended community college before for 2.5 years with mixed results before she was ready to focus on college. One semester she got all Ds and Fs. I'd had it. I told her that since she wasn't focusing on school, she would no longer have my support. I started eviction proceedings and she had to make a choice. But she didn't make the choice until she knew I was no longer going to help her out. Letting them fail is so hard. But sometimes it's the only thing that gets through to them. And oftentimes, we imagine the worse if we stop enabling, but they almost have an animal cunning about them that helps them land on their feet.

    Take care of yourself. Thinking and planning for our difficult children' lives takes so much of our energy and focus. When you get to the place where you can let go and let your difficult child rise and fall on his own, you'll wonder why you didn't do it sooner.
  9. recoveringenabler

    recoveringenabler Well-Known Member Staff Member

    Well said Irene-J, you speak with hard won wisdom..........
  10. InsaneCdn

    InsaneCdn Well-Known Member

    Ditto MWM... sounds like this kid had a really rough start in life... and the adoptive parents were working with one hand tied behind their backs, so to speak, because back then, there seemed to be an assumption that love and nurture would conquer any prior issues and challenges. in real life... biomom's choices left a trail of disaster for everybody else. It's not fair. But it might explain some of where he is coming from.

    Often "our" kids do better in tech-school programs than at university, at least until the mid-20s. The programs are shorter, more "focused", fewer options... he might actually surprise you on that one, especially if he's "hooked" on the career, at least for now.
  11. DammitJanet

    DammitJanet Well-Known Member Staff Member

    Im gonna throw out a hail Mary idea. How about seeing if he could get into the military to get his training? You wouldnt have to pay for that training and he could pick that field for his MOS. I know the Army has that field open and it may be that they still have the 3 year enlistment. Not sure on that one though. He would be regulated well so he couldnt lose himself which would keep him on track and he also wouldnt be in so much debt.

    *Thats how my son became a cop.
  12. stressbunny

    stressbunny Guest

    I appreciate everyone's thoughts.

    JT did have a rough start in life. Though he wasn't physically abused, he was seriously neglected, and he had many caregivers in his first two years of life. He seemed attached to his last caregiver, an aunt, whom he lived with until he came to us in foster care. Being removed from her home abruptly and placed with us was extremely traumatic for him. I remember that he sat on the couch with his little arms crossed and his brow wrinkled, refusing to do anything. He was so mad and wanted to go home. It breaks my heart thinking about it, and I wish the foster care agency would have created a better transition period for him. No wonder he saw us as the enemy.

    I have read a lot and understand about attachment disorder. JT very well may have that issue. Throughout childhood, he has wanted to be his own man, and as I mentioned, he behaved like a rebellious teen at a young age, to the point that when he became a teen, things actually seemed easier than they had been. I think he puffs (brags) about himself because it is some sort of defense mechanism for his ego. He does this most around hubby and me.

    JT knows of his birthmom and actually remembers a lot of what happened to him. I know this is hard to believe, but he has shared things with me from very early in his life - like having to sleep in a doll-sized bed; broken glass all over the floor, and an abusive boyfriend of his bmom's.

    Unlike his birthmom, JT is very bright, intellectually. He reads books non-stop and absorbs information like a sponge. He is very creative and funny. He is outgoing and physically hard working. In high school, he never got involved with alcohol, drugs, or smoking. JT has a big interest in mechanical stuff, and he has taken every industrial arts course possible in high school. He joined our local fire department as a volunteer, after he completed two certification classes at age 18, while still in high school. He is very proud of this fact.

    Our biggest problems with JT have to do with his impulsive and irresponsible behavior, as well as his lack of gratitude and respect. We are not in the 1%, but we do have a comfortable life, financially, and JT definitely takes that for granted. He doesn't realize how lucky he is that way. He also regularly rejects what we say, and he ends up learning the hard way.

    His EMT class starts today, and he hadn't accessed his college e-mail and pre-assignment last week like he should have, although he claims he didn't think to check to see if he had an e-mail account at the new college. He also told my hubby that he thinks he failed one of his education classes at the university for this past semester. Granted, it is not a course he needs to transfer, however, we had agreed that regardless, we expected him to get a "C" or better in all of his classes.

    The problem is that he has great difficulty regulating himself and his time. Studying requires so much self discipline, and though he really wants to become a fire medic, I'm not sure he will be able to manage the effort required to get there. Novelty wears off very quickly for him. I believe he is capable, and I hope the technical college setting will be a better fit for him. Universities tend not to assess early and frequently. Instead, there are just a few large assessments in classes (a project or paper or two, and then a mid-term and final). At the technical college, the program is shorter too, and the classes are smaller, with more hands-on learning.

    I see this chance for him, and I want him to succeed so much. It's hard to watch a child fail. I hope he gets it together and gets this degree. It would mean so much to him and his future. I understand that it's possible it will take longer for JT to mature and manage better choices. Maybe he isn't ready for this level of responsibility yet. He can't live at home and attend a program like this because there are only two colleges in our state that offer the fire medic program, and he wants to stay on the fire department in his college town in order to keep his foot in the door there.

    As for the military, he would have difficulty because of the medication he is taking. I also would be very worried about him. It's not out of the question, though.
  13. busywend

    busywend Well-Known Member Staff Member

    I wouldn't detach in this case. I think he is expecting you to detach and he is waiting for you to do just that.

    I wouldn't change a thing. I know you are stressed. If you can find a way to be more accceptiing of his ways in order to feel less stress, that is best.

    I don't know......just a gut feeling I have.