Monday, August 06, 2007

My Son's Social Worker, Job Coach and Pastor

This morning Mike showed up at our home by about 8:30, appropriately asked Claudia if he could be here and began to make plans for the next steps in his life plan. I spoke with Claudia on the phone (I was at the church by this time), and we decided that I would be the one to take Mike to the driver's license bureau to apply for his identification card (he has not had driver's ed yet, so he has never had a driver's license). After we took care of that process, we drove directly to the Workforce Center where he registered for their services. In the meantime Claudia took time this morning to pretty much guarantee him a job with a local company that has a good track record in hiring people his age.

By this point, however, Mike had the reached the point of going no further. I am as impatient as Claudia in wanting Mike to obtain a job and get on the road to paying his fines and acquiring an income for food and utilities, but I have learned that this son of ours is like a deer. If we exert too much pressure he flees -- initially emotionally and mentally, and often physically -- and tries to escape whatever he has to face. Unlike his birth brother who responds to exerted pressure, Mike has never done well with that. So, I simply reminded him in as calm a voice as I could muster that this is a prime time to be finding a job, because within a week or so college-age students will be returning to our community and the jobs will be taken. He nodded that he understood, and proceeded to tell me that he wasn't sure he wanted "that kind of job" (meaning the ones that Claudia had already done the footwork for.

My initial response to that kind of statement is to react with fury and indignation, knowing how much time and energy he has sucked from us in the past few years, and that even when he has almost a guaranteed good job staring him the face he's not sure he wants it. But knowing what I know about Mike, I bite my tongue, take a deep breath and wait a few seconds before I respond, "But, Mike, that's the kind of job you need right now. Any job that's going to get an income for you." I stop myself from going on and on about how the economy is not that great and that he should be grateful to have any kind of job, or reminding him that someone with no job history, a criminal record and a history of chemical use is not going to be first on the list of those who are hiring.

Mike has in his mind that a friend's dad is going to hire him to work where he works, so I realize I must let that scenario play itself out. "So, you'll be talking to him today, Mike?" I ask. "Uh, yeah." "Good, because you really can't wait much longer, you know. This is something you need to get going on." And I drop it. Not because I want to ... not because everything I've been told over the years makes me want to push the issue ... not because I want to see Mike once again floundering when he has no job waiting for the right one to come along. I drop it because, I realize, I am functioning as Mike's social worker and job coach. It is my job to make him aware of his choices, encourage him as gently and firmly as I can, and then to step back.

There was a time when what Mike did was really a lot about me as a parent. The social services agencies we have worked with reinforced that feeling with the questions they asked, the services they provided and with the legal actions they felt they needed to take in order to provide those services to Mike, all of which are designed to put a parent on the defensive or to "rescue" a neglected, abused child from a negative home environment. So, I have a lot of history of my own to let go when it comes to dealing with Mike.

But it helps if I can see myself as his job coach. A good job coach, I would imagine, shows the individual the opportunities, provides options, tries to help them make good decisions. But a good job coach cannot work for the client, does not bail him or her out when the job doesn't work out, and doesn't try to push the client to do something he or she is unwilling or unready to pursue. It means, of course, that when Mike has no groceries, his job coach is not going to be willing to buy them for him, either, and that will be a harder tack for me to take at the right time. (And yes, in case you're wondering, if Claudia and I are home Mike is almost always welcome to join us for family meal times, so the option of starving is not close at hand for him).

As well I am my son's pastor, due to no choice of his own. I don't know what it is like to have a parent for a pastor, and in Mike's case it may or may not be to his benefit. I don't know if he were involved in another church whether that pastor would be able to provide him better counsel or direction than I can, and it's kind of murky role to play (I mean, I'm certainly not "Pastor Bart" when I'm home with my kids, although some of them find it amusing to call me that at times), but I do have a concern for Mike's spiritual life.

It's an odd thing, really it is, to realize that I am my son's social worker, job coach and pastor. If I can focus on these roles in his life, and be less concerned at this point in being his parent, maybe he will be able to make some progress, and maybe I can assuage my pained parental soul just a bit.

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