Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Battle I Picked

When you go through foster parent training, you hear this over and over again:  "Pick your battles".  You can't change everything about the child who comes to your home.  You can't even change several things at once.  You have to learn to let some things slide.  When you do pick a fight, you'd better make sure you win.

Yesterday, I picked a battle with my new son.  It wasn't fun, but it was important.

To set the context, I should point out he's 15 years old; he's been in more than 20 homes in his life, and not all of them have been nice.  (In fact, some of the homes he was in were distinctly NOT nice).  He's had to fend for himself; he's had rules change on him frequently; he's had to deal with abuse and neglect and with just about everything except consistency.  And he's been at our home for less than 3 months now.  If you feel sorry for him, good.  I do, too.

In spite of everything he's been through, he seems to really want a family (and I should add that not all kids who've been in the foster care system do).  He seems to want to be useful, as evidenced by all the chores he takes on around our home.  He yearns for more responsibility; he's applying for jobs; he saves his money; he's enrolling in the Vo-Tech program at our local high school.  My friends hear what he does around our home, and they ask, "Can he come to my home?".

So why would I pick a fight with this kid?

Well, partly because he sort of just takes stuff.  Or he asks for stuff and gets into a huff when people say "no". If a sister says he can use something of hers, he thinks it means he can keep it, along with everything related to it.  Tuesday night, he came into our bedroom while we were gone, without asking, and took my husband's laptop up to his bedroom to watch movies.  This is not at all unusual for kids who've been in and out of foster care, a focus on grasping things while you still can.  But in a normal home, we need to break him of this.  

It's also partly because, having fended for himself for so many years, he's learned to be a law unto himself.  So he will counter my statements that "I want you to do this," with "But I was going to do that."  For example, "You need to put the drill away in the drawer; you can't leave it on the floor."  "But I still need it; I'm going to use it tomorrow."  Typical kid stuff, but still it needs to be addressed.

So, things have been rolling along mostly great, but he took the computer without asking.  And he left my tools in piles in the garage.  And I figured it's about time that he knows that his actions have consequences.  I took him aside in the morning and explained that this means he goes for a whole day without using the power tools.   For most kids, I realize this is hardly even a punishment, but I knew that C-son was going to take it badly.

And take it badly, he did.  He stormed off.  When he came home, he wouldn't look at me.  He wouldn't talk to me.  He wouldn't do anything I asked.  He pouted, he sulked.  He claimed I yell at him and only him.  (J-son, nearby, helpfully offered, "Oh, no, she yells at me, too!").    (Okay, and I'll add, "yell at" means "accuse" because I don't actually raise my voice.).

I picked yesterday because, in fact, things HAVE been going well.  We've had a lot of goodwill that I can bank on, so I figured he could sulk and I could outlast him.  Also, my husband is coming home this weekend; this is both a good time to assert my authority and also have the luxury of falling back on a second authority when I collapse from exhaustion.

Because the goal for yesterday was several-fold:
  1. Enforce the standards.  Make it clear that he'll only get to play with my tools when he can follow my rules, not his.
  2. Outlast his petulance.  Show that, in the long run, I'm going to win any contest of wills.  I didn't ever get angry (as far as he could see), but I didn't give in to his moods.
  3. Get in his face and love him.  Remind him that even when he's angry and disobeying, I'm here, not leaving him alone, but rather snatching hugs and reminding him that he's part of the family.  Even when he's being nasty, we were practicing "time in".
  4. Keep promises.  When he was turning his back on me, I reminded him that when his brothers disobeyed, they lost privileges, but once they apologized and behaved, they got privileges back.  The same would be true for him.
It was not an easy day.  No, not at all.  N-son and J-son were a little cowed by it all, and they both jumped in to help where C-son backed out, I think because they were scared of what was going on.  It took pretty much all day before he finally came around.  

But eventually, come around he did.  I know this isn't the end.  In some ways, this is just the beginning.  Poor kid.  The first big battle in a contest of wills for this kid's soul.  God willing, we'll both win the war.


  1. You are an awesome mother! Truly, I'm in awe of you and your parenting of children who come to you half finished and messed up. You will be called blessed by them in years to come. Keep up the good work.

    1. Either awesome or awful . . . we're going to find out. It is very weird for me to be in a position where other people are more confident about how things are going to turn out than I am, but me, I'm still biting my nails. Thanks for the support and encouragement. I'm going to need it! --MM