difficult child Home from First Semester at College

Discussion in 'General Parenting' started by WearyWoman, Dec 26, 2012.

  1. WearyWoman

    WearyWoman Guest

    Hello all,

    It has been some time since I've visited. Our oldest difficult child, JT, (19) started college this past fall. He lives on campus several hours away from home, and I must say that it's been much more peaceful at home now, overall, on a daily basis. JT has ADHD and has struggled with defiant behaviors throughout his life, and while his ADHD medications help with his attention, fidgeting, and hyperactivity issues, they do not seem to make any difference with his argumentative, oppositional nature. Fortunately, his ODD symptoms never really evolved into conduct disorder. He is a very bright person and has a particular ability in the way of mechanical things. He is studying to be an industrial arts teacher. Of course, we worried if it was the right decision for him to go away to college, given his difficulties with self regulation. Ultimately, this is his decision, and we supported it.

    So far, here is what has unfolded since left for college:
    • Charged with underage drinking the day before classes started. JT claims he went to an athletic party with some friends and drank some "blue juice" he thought was Gator Ade and later discovered was Gator Ade spiked with alcohol. He was fined and sent to alcohol education classes after returning to the dorms very ill.
    • Seems to be failing an English class because he loathes writing papers and failed to follow the proper formatting directions for research papers in the course. He managed to get by with decent grades in high school without studying or working very hard, and he did not put much effort into the class. Unfortunately, he did not seek help with it either. The teacher gave him a final chance to revise a paper in order to bring his grade up to a D, most likely, and he is resubmitting that.
    • Grades for his other classes have not yet been posted. He seems to think he's doing alright in the rest of his classes, although he states he probably bombed the math final. He thinks he will still pass that class because he otherwise had an 88% average in it.
    • He participated in sports for the first semester, but now he's dropping spring athletics so he can work in a shop that someone is allowing him to use for his "projects". He and some friends are working on cars and various other things every spare moment they can find.

    Now that JT is an "adult", I struggle with my changing role as a parent. I realize he must make his own choices and deal with the consequences. Of course, none of us lives in a vacuum, and what we do affects those around us. Here is a sample of the issues I'm talking about:

    • JT is not disciplining himself related to his coursework. While he told us he has been doing well in his classes, he is definitely near failing in English, and we don't know yet about the other classes. We pay for a large portion (but not all) of JT's college expenses. The problem is that he has many other things he wants to do with his time, like work in that shop with his friends. He doesn't have great study skills. We've talked with him about managing his time and organizing himself, and he agrees to work harder, but he doesn't seem to change his behavior. Studying and persisting with challenging assignments are struggles for him.
    • JT is constantly bragging and boasting. He thinks he knows it all about everything, and he enjoys letting everyone around him know it. From cars, motorcycles, and snowmobiles, to firetrucks and firearms/NRA, he is a completely obnoxious know-it-all. I support his interests, but his tone of communication is sometimes narcissistic and condescending. I believe he has some narcissistic personality traits in general, i.e. he loves looking at himself in the mirror, considers himself smarter than most everyone, he is consumed with himself, and shows little empathy for others' feelings/perspectives. After a bit of a reprieve with him being away at college, it's hard to deal with this kind of talk from him again.
    • JT has little in common with my husband and me, and he seems to prefer it that way. He outright rejects things we're interested in, makes fun of activities we like to do and the model of vehicles we drive. Simultaneously, he emphasizes everything about himself that is different from us. His greatest aspiration is to become a redneck, complete with his own auto shop, concealed carry weapon, greasy, bent-up camoflauge hat, non-running cars all over his front yard, and NASCAR on the TV. He will have a moonshine machine on his property and only speak in a grammatically ignorant fashion. And, he's proud of it. I know this is typical teenage rebellion, but he's over-the-top and in our faces with it continuously. Still waiting for him to grow out of this overtly autonomy-seeking behavior.
    • JT is fascinated with dangerous, risky activities. He talks big talk about driving snowmobiles over 100 mph, and he and his friends are putting a big motor in a pickup truck so that they can enter it in drag racing events. He had a moped but refused to wear a helmet, as he had promised us when we licensed it for him, etc., so we sold it. JT also loves ice fishing, which is fine, but he often insists on going out on the ice when it's not safe to do so. Of course, being a worrier, I fret about all of this, and husband is tired of me worrying out loud about getting a phone call that our son has died in an accident of some sort. I realize we can't control what JT says or ultimately does, but husband and I have talked about setting boundaries related to conversations and what we'll participate in listening to. JT's usual response to me voicing my concerns about his safety leads to some sort of argument about how that will never happen to him because he's so smart and would never end up in that situation. We're also purchasing additional life insurance on JT.
    • JT does not respect my wishes. For example, I wanted him to schedule a dermatology appointment before the end of the year in order to use some remaining funds in our flex spending account by the deadline, and he never did so, despite being reminded numerous times, and despite having acne that's been flaring worse than ever. Before coming home, JT said he hadn't done his laundry in weeks and was going to bring it with him to do at home over the break. I asked that he not do that, as I would prefer he does his laundry on campus. Well, husband picked him up, and he brought an enormous bag (probably well over 50 lbs - I couldn't lift it) of dirty laundry home. He says he will do it, but I don't care. I just don't want him bringing home all that laundry when he can do it on campus. Some laundry - okay, but this is ridiculous. I asked him to vacuum the van so we could have it nice and clean for holiday travel, and he didn't do it until husband forced the issue. We have also told JT countless times not to bring lighters into the house because of concern that our younger difficult child might play with them and set something on fire. I was picking up some of JT's clothes today, and a lighter fell out of the pocket of his pants.

    Maybe all of this stuff is dumb and minor, but it does pile up emotionally, and I'm just worn out. Other parents seem so happy and elated when their kids come home from college, but I find our home is so much less peaceful when dealing with JT's argumentativeness, know-it-all attitude, and uncooperative nature. He is spending some time with friends over this break, so he won't be here every moment. Unfortunately, when he's not home, then I'm worrying about what risky activity he might be engaged in. husband says we need to have our own life, separate from being his parents non-stop; that we've done all we can to help him and that ultimately, he may end up on adademic probation/dismissed from college or without funding from us sooner than that, if he continues making irresponsible choices. JT has always learned things the hard way, because he rejects any of our attempts to help him avoid screwing up his opportunities.

    I just needed to vent a little today. Thanks for listening.

  2. DDD

    DDD Well-Known Member

    Glad to see you, Weary. I sure wish I had answers for you. As you know you have to work on detachment skills but I know it's not easy. Part of your description sounds like your difficult child may have Asperger's. Has that ever been diagnosis's for him? I have a difficult child 2 who lacks the high IQ but has many of the same characteristics. I'm wondering if he is blatantly defying your requests or if he actually has a strong problem with exectutive functioning. That would explain the issue with delayed assignments and absolutely the fifty pounds of dirty laundry!

    Regardless of "why" he is choosing this path if he will not accept help in improving his skills there really is not much you can do. The risky behaviors is a problem that I have not had with any of the easy child's or difficult child's but I can understand your fears. I am sorry I can't suggest anything concrete to help. I did live in fear for a number of years as a result of difficult child#1's really poor choices including substance abuse. With the help of the Board I began to detach as much as I could and to this day I repeat the Serenity Prayer at least once a day in my head. Sure enough "the dreaded call" came in at around three in the morning from his friends informing me that he had fallen off a third story balcony and landed on a sidewalk. I could hear the helicopter in the background and the sirens. It was like a long, bad horror movie but he survived brain surgery and three hospitals. So did I as his caretaker.

    Why am I sharing this drawn out story? Because I know that by taking care of yourself and letting go of every aspect you can of pointless fear, you build your own physical and emotional strength so if the time comes to face a disaster you'll be better able to meet his needs. It is not easy. It is not fast. You can, however, do it. I'm sending prayers and hugs your way. DDD
  3. SomewhereOutThere

    SomewhereOutThere Well-Known Member

    Ok, ok, ok. Hollllllllllld on. Wow.

    Do you think because he is 18 you have to let him do whatever he wants to do while you're footing the majority of his bills? Do you also pay for his car, his car insurance, his cell phone, etc? You ARE paying most of his college bills.

    Eighteen is not a magic number. Self-supporting is the key. Your son is not an adult until he is self-supporting. Since you are paying for college, mostly, you have every right to demand that he do well in college, respect you at least to your face, and follow certain rules or else lose your financial support. I would also insist that he let you be privy to his grades. Why should you pay for college if he is flunking his classes and his greatest desire is to be a gun-toting redneck? Doesn't sound like he is college material to me...jmo. Does he have a substance abuse problem too? Did you pay his fine and for school when he got his DUI?

    Everyone is different, but I wouldn't be doing things this way. If my child was goofing off in college, which is quite expensive, and was disrespecting me too...he'd be paying for his own classes. Sure, it would take him longer, but if he was serious about school he'd do it. Or he'd straighten up. in my opinion only (I have no idea if anyone else here agrees with me) it is usually a very bad idea to send a difficult child away to college. There is really very little supervision and lots of them think, "Yippee!!! Now I can do what I want!" Since difficult child's tend to be impulsive and poor at self-regulation and prone to substance abuse, I think it's best if they go to school locally and pay for as much as possible out of part-time job money. I don't think you are being a worrier. I think you are being realistic. If these very impuslive, thrill-seeking kids who lack common sense grow up, it is usually much later than the average kid and I wouldn't pay for this sort of eighteen year old to go away to school. Again JMO.
  4. Calamity Jane

    Calamity Jane Well-Known Member

    I feel for you, I really do. I, too, have a son that we adopted at about 16 mos. old, and from the age of about 12 he accentuated his differences between us in an almost comical fashion. They sound like they're related: my son also has acne flare ups, looks at himself obsessively in the mirror, has narcissistic traits, and goes on and on ad nauseum about certain topics that he likes to show his "superior" knowledge about. He also did very little work in HS, skated by, has issues with self discipline, and flailed a bit in his first semester freshman yr. of college. However, my difficult child has substance abuse issues as well. He had been seeing an excellent psychiatrist in our hometown, who helped him a great deal, to the extent that he was willing to be helped. If it's any consolation, our difficult child has matured a bit, to the point where he's *almost* tolerable in brief doses - lol!
    husband and I also find the house to be much more relaxing and peaceful when he's away at school. I think that's completely normal. I don't know exactly how I've reached a level of detachment, but worry no longer consumes me as it formerly did. If he bombs out of school, it's his ultimate problem. If he won't work, it is his problem. It doesn't mean we don't love him, it's just that he has to show up for his own life - we cannot do that for our kids, or anyone else.
    husband warned me many years ago that adopting would add a level of complication to our parenting experience, and I, of course, didn't believe him, but he was right. It's part and parcel of our parenting reality which we entered into wholeheartedly, and we are doing the very best we can with what we know. I'm sure the same goes for you.
  5. WearyWoman

    WearyWoman Guest

    DDD - So sorry you received the dreaded call, but also so glad to know your DS survived. I can only imagine the struggle with his rehab. Your post gives me courage, and I take heart in knowing I'm not alone. Much of my fear is driven by the fact that I distrust my own ability to cope with tragedy, and thus, I live in a state of perpetual fear, waiting for the other shoe to fall, so to speak. Letting go of control is tough for me. I want to control so that nothing bad happens. Foolish as this is, it's been my practice, and difficult child seems to sense my fear and even thrive on it.

    Midwest Mom - Don't worry, we won't be footing the bill for irresponsible behavior. His truck is in our name, not his, and he doesn't have it on campus with him. We pay for his phone, but that too is in our name, and service can be easily cancelled. Yes, we ARE paying most of his college bills, as I mentioned in the original post. I realize 18 is not a magic number for adult maturity, and of course, that's been a concern about difficult child going to college in the first place. We are in a state of transition. We do demand that he perform well in college, and he is aware that we will not fund failing grades. If he fails a class, HE will need to pay to retake the course. If this extends the time to his graduation, HE will need to pay for the extra semester of room and board, etc. We don't qualify for any sort of financial aid except student loans, which do not cover most of his costs. He would not be able to get additional loans in his own name without us as cosignors. We are privy to his grades, although final grades have not yet been posted for all of his classes.

    Respect is something with which JT really struggles. I do feel disrespected by him, and it's a real effort on his part to accept our position as his parents. He did pay for his own underage drinking fine. We also sold the moped when we learned he didn't wear a helmet. We are actually very strict parents with him, and he knows that.

    You say it is usually a bad idea to send a difficult child off to college; that there is a lack of supervision. I can tell you feel strongly about this. Whether JT is home or away from home, he still has the ability to make many, many decisions about what he does. We cannot supervise him constantly, and nor do I want to supervise him constantly. JT has wanted to be an industrial arts teacher for years, and he cannot get that degree at a local school. He idolized his high school teachers, who encouraged him to pursue it. He is very talented in that area. He graduated high school with honors and a 3.4 GPA and scored a 25 on his ACT without studying at all, and on one section of it, he scored a 30. If JT fails to succeed in this college, it will be by his own choices and because of his poor self-regulation, as you mentioned. If that happens, he will suffer those consequences, and at that point, he can choose whether to go to a community college locally for a different career field.

    Calamity - Wow, our situations sound very similar! I am very encouraged that your son has matured somewhat and that it's easier to be around him now that he is older. I have hope that our son will also mature at some point in terms of his attitude toward us. On a daily basis, I remind myself that JT's problems are JT's problems now that he is an adult, not my problems. He will be the one dealing with the consequences, and he may need to suffer those consequences before he can manage to make better choices.
  6. DammitJanet

    DammitJanet Well-Known Member Staff Member

    Personally I dont think it matters much where a kid goes to college. They can get into just as much trouble at the local state university that is near you as they can at an Ivy League thousands of miles away. It all depends on the kid. Do remember we have had Presidents who supposedly "didnt inhale"...lol.
  7. WearyWoman

    WearyWoman Guest

    MWM - Truth is, difficult child would be much less likely to succeed in a forced choice of some other degree program. It's hard enough when he is motivated, let alone when he is not. difficult child works full-time the whole summer to help pay for college doing construction work. I don't want him to work while taking classes, as a full-time courseload is equivalent to a full-time job. I am a college instructor, and the college I work for advises full-time students against taking on full-time work, or even part-time work when they have a high number of credits, a particularly challenging courseload, and/or struggle academically, in order to maximize their opportunities for success.

    I'm glad the community college/living at home route worked for your difficult child. You mentioned the prospect of throwing money away, and I agree this is a risk - that difficult child could fail in college away from home, and then you can say, "I told you so . . . " But, there are costs (albeit nonmonetary) of living with a difficult child too. It's taken its toll on our family - physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Honestly, if I put myself in a position to supervise him by requiring him to give up his career of choice in order to live at home and go to a community college, I think he would resent that, which would lead to more acting out, which would lead to more stress on everyone, which would lead to a higher likelihood of failure anyway. JT has a passion for this particular field, and I support that. Maybe I am wrong. Maybe I should tell him that because he's a difficult child he will probably fail out there and that he should come home so I can keep an eye on him better, supervise him, and continue to be a manager of his life. But, my intuition tells me this would be the wrong choice in his case at this point. It may still come to that, though, if he chooses not to do the required work to succeed in his program. I hope that doesn't happen. Despite everything, I choose to have hope that as JT's problems become JT's problems (not mine), he will make choices that support his own success.
  8. SuZir

    SuZir Well-Known Member

    I have been through these choices too. Circumstances were little different but ultimately it was a choice to let our very immature, young for his age, risk-taker, foolish, drastically under-skilled for a task managing his own life, idiot 17-year-old-child to go and pursue his dreams hours away from home, with some supervision and support but mostly swim or sink fashion. He is still floundering on the surface, more or less, and is in fact some ways getting better in his swimming attempts. And being able to keep his nose over surface this long has bought him lots more support, that certainly helps. But when we let him go, it was major gamble and odds were against us.

    But crushing his dreams, forcing him to take an other path, to be even partly in blame (he mostly did it himself, without his own screw ups he would had a change to live home and chase those dreams) just seemed so drastic decision that wouldn't have led to anything good. Not for him, not for our relationship, not for anything.

    When you teach your kid to ride a bike, there is that moment when you have to let go even though you know they will likely fall and hurt themselves. But still you have to, you can't keep them up and still let them learn to ride. You just have to let go and pray for the best.
    Last edited: Dec 27, 2012
  9. Wiped Out

    Wiped Out Well-Known Member Staff Member

    First off Weary Mom sending you some comforting hugs. My difficult child is still only 15 but things go so much better when he is in school especially now that he is wrestling. He comes home and goes to bed within the hour. It seems so much more doable than a long winter break where he is with us 24/7 so I can understand why it is so difficult when your difficult child is home. Personally (and maybe I'll regret this later but I can't wait to be an empty-nester).

    I think it is great your difficult child is in college and he knows he has to tow his end of things! Be sure to give yourself some breaks when he is home (get out, go to a bookstore and get lost in a book, or maybe get in a workout).
  10. 1905

    1905 Well-Known Member

    I have a son who came home from college, we didn't get the grades yet. In HS he didn't study, but is smart so he could skate by. I always worried that once he got to college he wouldn't have had any practice on how to study and he would be sorry. We always told him that he had one try, I'm not supporting him if he isn't doing what he should. If he gets D's or is doing poorly, that's the end of it. He can join the military or get a job. This isn't a joke.

    We also went over how much it would cost to support himself without an education, how much he can make making minimum wage. I hope he got scared. I paid for next semester, but I can get my money back.

    on the other hand, I will do anything to support him and help him succeed. I do the laundry, he comes home for the weekend sometimes, if those things help him to do well, I'll gladly do it. But in all fairness he has not been bringing me home laundry recently. If your son is not doing what is supposed to at school, stop wasting your money. He's wasting his time and he needs to be serious. You need to be serious about what you want to do also.

    Some of the things are typical teen, like not being interested in what you are and not making appts.. I also have another son who I never have to worry about, he gets all A's, so I don't worry. The only one I lay down the law with is the youngest. You lay down the law. You're in charge. difficult child never went to college, it's not for him. We had to be serious about what we allowed in home with him, sadly we "kicked him out" (I hate that terminology) a few months after he graduated HS.
  11. SearchingForRainbows

    SearchingForRainbows Active Member


    At one time, all of the issues you mention could have been written about difficult child 1. The main difference is that we had to "kick" difficult child 1 out of our house after he graduated from high school. We didn't "kick" him out without a bit of help. We researched and found him an apartment near the junior college he enrolled in, gave him first and last month's rent, filled his refrigerator, gave him a microwave, a kitchen table and chairs, his bedroom furniture from home. We did not help him with tuition or books. We did not pay for his food, clothing, electricity, etc... We told him he needed to find a job, support himself.

    Although difficult child 1 didn't study while in college, got A's in computer courses, just passed in mostly everything else, he graduated. Gradually he began repairing, building a new sort of relationship with us. While some things haven't changed, from the time he was a young child he considered himself on equal footing with all adults, he gradually began to respect our feelings, ask for our advice on important matters. He'll always consider himself more intelligent then everyone else but no longer brags about this (at least most of the time.)

    I think that as a direct result of having to provide for himself financially, he has become much less of a risk taker. For instance, he bought himself a brand new car and is extremely proud of the fact he could afford it. While he drinks way too much, he will not drink and drive. He knows he needs a license to get to and from work, can't afford his insurance premiums to skyrocket, and loves material things, one of them being his car.

    To make a long story shorter, while there are still some issues and probably always will be, difficult child 1 now has a good job, is totally self-sufficient, and lives about six hours away from us. While he still peppers all of his conversations with the "F" word, he has matured more then we ever thought possible. We are very proud of him, what he has accomplished, how far he has come. One of the best things is that we now have a solid relationship and enjoy spending time together. If you asked me just six short years ago if I thought this would ever be possible, I would have immediately said, "NO.!"

    difficult child 1 had to learn things the hard way. It might not be such a bad thing that your difficult child has to learn things the hard way too. Although it is very difficult to let go, watch kids make mistakes, sometimes, in my humble opinion, it's the only way to go. I think your husband has given you good advice. You have done everything you can for your son. The rest is up to him. You and husband deserve a life of your own.

    Thinking of you today... Many hugs... SFR
  12. Nancy

    Nancy Well-Known Member Staff Member

    Weary your story is very similar to mine, and Calamity Jane I had no idea our storys were so alike. I too adopted our daughter and from very early on she loved to accentuate her differences from us and easy child. She would say things like, "I'm not like you", "I came from a different mom". And she was different in so many ways. She was not born with the moral compass that the rest of the family has. She loves tatoos which none of us have and her bm has many (she has never met or seen her bm to know this), she loves risk taking behaviors, she is extremely impulsive, she swears something awful, she smokes, (none of us do, in fact none of her extended family of well over 35 people smoke), she gravitates to low life people, she drank underage and smoked pot and tried many other drugs, she was very disrespectful to us and at times violent when she didn't get her way, she did no studying in high school and just got by with the least effort, she continually got into trouble from second grade on, she rejected everything we believe in.

    She went to college about an hour away three years ago. By six weeks she had been caught and arrested for drinking and smoking pot on campus and had to attend substance abuse classes and do community service. She had to go before the discipline review board and was not invited back after the semester. We enrolled her in community college and she lasted maybe a month before she found every pothead in the school and started skipping classes and flunked out. So that was another tuition wasted. She ended up in a residential treatment center for substance abuse and lived in a sober house for 6 months at the age of 19.

    We ended up not letting her come back home and she has been living on her own now for the past year and a half. She has gotten fired from every job she had for stealing or breaking their rules. She is now a server at a sports bar and living in a very depressed part of town with high crime. She loves telling us stories about all her neighbors who have criminal pasts. She was caught shoplifting in Oct and is now doing 72 hours of community service.

    I don't regret sending her to college even though it ended up costing us a lot of wasted money. We had to try it. If we had not I would always be sorry that I didn't give her ther same opportunity we gave her sister who ended up graduating summa *** laude and is now a kindergarten teacher. She had the same opportunities as her sister and yet she made far different choices which will follow her the rest of her life. It took me a long time to learn how to detach from her behavior. I love her unconditionally and always will but I hate her behavior. I was embarrassed for neighbors to find out what she was doing and thought they would blame us. Now I have truly reached a level of detachment where I can love her for who she is and be sad for what she has lost but not obsess over what will never be.

    I hope your son turns around at some point but know that so much of how he is acting was determined by his genetic makeup when he was born and there are things that you just will not be able to change. But that didn't stop us from trying to give our difficult child the guidance and support that she needed to make better choices. The fact that she hasn't taken advantage of that is not because we didn't try. There were some things she just could not overcome.

    I will tell you that we have a very good relationship now. Since she is living on her own our house is much more peaceful. We see her on holidays and when she comes for a visit. She is nicer to us that she has ever been in the past. I think the farther away she gets from us the more she realizes how much we love her and how much we have been there for her. I just got done doing all her laundry over Christmas and bringing some old furniture to her apartment and making some curtains for her windows. She doesn't pay her utilities until they are shut off and she is on food stamps and has no health insurance but she seems to like living that way, at least she will not do what she needs to do to live differently at this point.

    You may have to let things play out a bit longer. If he flunks out of school you will have to make a decision. We could not have our difficult child living her and not going to school and drinking and smoking pot and not working. But there does not seem to be much you can do in the meantime to change who he is becoming. He may need some maturity before he finds himself. We tried so hard to make our difficult child into something she was not.

  13. TerryJ2

    TerryJ2 Well-Known Member

    Argh. This is so hard.
    I know I will be in your shoes someday, although I really expect that my son will live at home and go to community college, unless something drastic changes.

    Detachment is key. I totally agree with-the others here.
    I also agree that you are still in charge and that if he doesn't reimburse you for the classes, you've got to pull him out of school. Lots and lots of kids learn this way--Real Life--and no amt of lecturing will help.

    Fingers crossed.