When you first realize that you are going to become a parent, and for some, long before then even, we start dreaming of what that means, both for us and our children. We picture going to all their extracurricular activities, be it baseball or dance or piano or karate or any number of things. We imagine them going through school, graduating from high school and moving on to college and jobs, getting married, having kids of their own. Some of these things are dreams that we ourselves felt unfulfilled in our own lives and some are ones that come along as our children grow. Along with these dreams we begin to set certain expectations for our children. Getting decent grades, going on to college, living a productive life while we sit back and watch as proud parents of all their accomplishments.
It never occurred to me that my dreams and expectations for any of my children would continually be worn down until they reached a very basic level. Manage to pass enough classes to even graduate high school never even crossed my mind as needing to be an expectation that I desperately hoped would happen.
My oldest is now a Junior and that is very much where we are with him. There are so very many things going on with him that it would take years worth of posting to cover them all. The most recent and critical has been his attitude towards grades and his level of personal responsibility. As parents, we have been put in a really ugly situation with this and several other major issues that have come up in the last several years with him. Before the grade thing, we were forced to pretty much take away every last option for entertainment there was because he managed to break some pretty hard and fast rules with regards to internet usage, that being not only talking to strangers but sharing personal information and having completely inappropriate conversations with them. He lost all access to any internet unless he needs it specifically for school with no chance of gaining it back as long as he lived with us.
One of the rules we put in place is that he needed to get a job. His grades were already not great, but he was getting a wide range from the occasional A all the way down to a D here and there, but he was passing. He never did homework outside of school so there is no conflict on his time and we weren’t going to allow him to just come home and sleep or watch TV all day. He needed to find something responsible to do with his time, so we said it had to be a job. He had just turned 17, but didn’t have his driver’s license (again an issue with not showing any responsibility kept us from allowing it) so this was something of a burden on us to make happen. He managed to get and keep a job for about a month and a half over the summer, then lost it right before school started. Because we’d made it a stipulation, he had to find another one, but we gave him a chance to get settled back into school first.
It didn’t take long after he started back to school and got another job for the grades to plummet. He had already lost almost every single privilege he had, so there wasn’t much of anything left really to take away, not that any of that had mattered to him. I could remove every single thing from his room except a mattress and it still wouldn’t have an impact. Rewards and setting goals to get those rewards never worked for him either. The only thing he seemed to care about was his job, which gave him access to his own money and working with friends. Since it was the only thing he was showing any kind of responsibility for and it was part of our requirements for him, it wasn’t something we could take away.
After lots of worry and stress and heartache and arguments, Hubby and I decided on a plan that we presented to the Oldest Child about a month before Thanksgiving. If he didn’t get the Fs he had in 3 classes up by Thanksgiving and the mid-term progress reports, he would lose the rest of his measly privileges. No TV. No video games. He already didn’t have computer and the only time he had phone was when he had to work. After that, if he still had even one F on the semester report card he would start paying us rent every month and that rent would go up $25 at every progress report or end of term report card where he still had an F.
All this year, he has made it clear that he doesn’t care about school or graduating. He is convinced he can work at his little grocery store, get an apartment with a friend after he turns 18 and life is going to be grand. Nothing we or anyone else has said has sunk in about how unrealistic that idea actually is. He didn’t even try before the first mid-term deadline and there ended up being those same 3 Fs at semester with a 4th just barely squeaking in on a D.
In the few weeks since the new year, we have seen a minor change in his attitude. Probably the first we have ever seen. He is, on his own, beginning to separate out his money into buckets for spending to make sure he doesn’t spend too much. He seems to be paying a tiny bit more attention to the grades, not actually bringing them up but at least talking about them a bit and showing some interest when Hubby shows him what he is getting in the different classes. Last night he sat down and wrote his first rent check and I could tell that it wasn’t as comfortable or easy or no big deal as he was first thinking.
It has been extremely hard to understand as we just aren’t strict parents. We give all our kids lots of room to do the things they want or are important to them and have only ever started laying down harder lines if they break the trust we have given them. We have very few real rules. Be honest. Be polite and respectful. Try your best, but we never expect them to be the best. Do the few chores we ask (help set the table, get drinks, feed the dog, do your laundry). Be responsible for you. The rules we have around internet usage are all about safety and being smart. Those don’t seem all that difficult to manage, but OC has managed to smash through every single one of those time after time after time.
I honestly have no clue if this is going to be the wake up call that we have been waiting on for a very long time or not. Not one other thing we have tried seems to have had an impact and we are kind of at our wits end. It is terrifying to think that our child may very well not graduate from high school or that if he keeps up on this course (even after all we have said and done, he is still trying to find ways around our no internet rule) that we will be forced to make some even harder decisions. Decisions that no parent ever even remotely thought about when the idea of parenthood was just a seed of an idea, not even in their nightmares.
We aren’t just taking the money he pays us for rent for our own personal usage, either. This first check will go to set up a savings account and every check we get from him from here on out will go there as well. This will be our Bail Out OC fund and will be used when and if he comes to us in the future because he needs help with something. I recall being young and money stupid when I got out on my own the first time and had to ask my parents for help. Seeing how hard he is choosing to make his life, I know that there is a much higher probability that we are going to need that fund. If he keeps on this track, the little bit he has gotten over the years that was supposed to go towards college may very well end up in that same account.
As a parent, I feel like just by saying these things and making these plans, I am selling my child short, but like a dog that has been kicked and beaten so many times, it finally learns not to expect tenderness.