Wednesday, March 04, 2009

When Your (Adult) Child Cannot Come Home

It has been a long time since I have updated my blog. Part of it has been the busyness of my life over the past months, and part of it has been that I haven't wanted to think much about the dynamics of my family's life. And truthfully, these past few months have been pretty lackluster and ordinary. While it is much easier to live when life is ordinary, it doesn't do much for blog interest. The hard part of starting up again with a blog is that it seems so sudden, since there is little context for its reappearance. But it's time for a reappearance, so here goes.

Our twenty-year-old (this week) son was released from prison today, having served his ninety-day sentence for probation violations. Due to the nature of his offense (parole violation) he was in the segment of the prison population that receives no transitional services upon release, which means that he has no place to go.

About a month ago I wrote him a four-page letter describing many of the ways over the past ten years Claudia and I have done our best to help him transition into a sustainable lifestyle. We have been with him in and out of treatment centers, in and out of jail, through county social services agencies, and all the other available resources. I offered him my best three scenarios for his life: a stint in the military, a Christian-based treatment program and Job Corps. I sent him information for him to apply to at least two of these options. I made it as clear as possible that it was not in his best interest to return to the community where we live (Mike had initiated that conversation to begin with, so I did my best to affirm that his decision was a right one).

Several days ago I received a call from Mike's older birth brother (our oldest son). He had agreed to pick Mike up upon his release from prison but was unsure what to do with him after that. I explained to him that his mother and I were out of options, that after ten years of trying we simply know nothing further to do. (This is the same message I had given Mike as well). I encouraged the older brother to do what he thought he could do, but that he needed to be clear in setting his boundaries. He suggested, and I affirmed, that based upon past behavior it would not be a good idea for Mike to know Kyle's residence location, unless he trusted his brother's ability to remain crime-free. I was honest with Kyle, affirmed his desire to do the right thing by his brother, but wanted him to know that his precautionary concerns were justified.

At 5:00 PM today Kyle called to let me know that he was with Mike and that Mike was "deciding where to go." I tried to remain as non-anxious as possible, listened intently and offered some kind words. By 8:00 PM we were arriving home from Lenten services at church, and I received a second call. "Um, Dad. I'm with Mike in [a town sixty miles from us], and the place that Mike thought he could stay isn't going to work out. What do I do now?"

I took a deep breath. My mind floods with all kinds of thoughts. I am reminded that more than a decade ago it was their birth mother who unceremoniously dumped them off at a distant relative's home, where they waited a number of days before the relatives called child protection so that they could be removed to foster care. I feel the pangs of paternal guilt as the questions flood my thoughts, "What could I have done differently to have prevented this?" "Should I offer to pay for Mike to stay in a hotel somewhere for the night?" "Is it fair to Kyle that this is happening to him?"

But I choose my head this time, not my heart. Months ago I have done my best to counsel Mike as to what he should do upon release. In typical fashion, he has disregarded my advice, preferring his own scattered thinking. Kyle freely and willingly entered into this agreement with his birth brother. I did not broker the conversation, nor have I "put this" upon Kyle.

And so I say in response to Kyle's irritated tones, "I don't know what to tell you, Kyle. I gave Mike my best advice a month ago, the same as I told you. Mom and I have tried for ten years; we just don't have any options left."

"So what am I supposed to do? Just dump him off somewhere?"

I pause. I feel for both of my adult sons, one successful, the other struggling. One son has received the gifts of an adoptive family, completed high school, graduated from college, teaching a third grade class. The other son, two years his junior, has been unable (or unwilling, I'm never sure which) to accept the gifts of an adoptive family, rejected all of our attempts at intervention, not yet completed high school, possessing only the clothes on his back and having no money in his pocket.

"I don't know, Kyle. I don't have any good suggestions for you."

"Well, it's late, and I'm sick, and i have to teach my class tomorrow morning."

"I understand that. It's what Mom and I have been dealing with for years, so I can honestly say that I know what you're feeling right now."

"OK, then. Bye."

I am proud of Kyle. He has not blamed me. He has not demanded it is my responsibility to do something. He has not implied (though he would readily accept, I am sure) that I need to rescue him and his brother from this situation.

A few minutes later he calls. "Hey, dad. I guess Mike is going to some random friend's in [the community where we live]. How do I get there?"

I calmly give him directions from his location, providing only geographic data, no invitations. I do not remind Kyle that his brother is not permitted to be in our house or near our home (there is a restraining order). I simply provide him the information he requests. And upon clicking "end call" on my cell phone, I immediately say to my wife, "Claudia, are we doing the right thing?"

She does not hesitate, and I am glad. She reminds me that being "done" means just that, that we can no longer empower the deviant and illegal actions of a son who calls us only when he needs to be rescued. We cannot subject our other children to his jaded attitudes, the questionable friends that come with his territory, the opportunity to be once again victimized by theft or trespass.

"I wonder," I respond, "about recriminations. Do you think he's going to 'pay us back' this time?"

"If he does, we'll just have to have him arrested again. There's nothing more we can do about it."

And that's just about the long and short of it. There's nothing more we can do about it. And that's a hard thing to admit, because I became an adoptive parent to offer a different way of life to kids whose early years had been less than ideal. My goal was to prevent homelessness for kids who would otherwise age out of the system. I wanted to rescue a kid, not live with the concern of retaliation in the form of illegal behavior or intimidation to my other children.

It's hard when your (adult) child cannot come home.


jen said...

Thanks for being so open in sharing, Bart. This may be us sometime in the future and I will remember your words. Truly, if you did not share we would oftentimes be isolated in our despair. Again, thanks. And of course you are doing what is right for your family.

God bless,

Hopewell said...

Tough love to the max--and hard on the parents as well. Thanks for writing so honestly. I am struck by this: "The other son, two years his junior, has been unable (or unwilling, I'm never sure which) to accept the gifts of an adoptive family...." I share your ambivalence about unable/unwilling. I'll be praying....

Our Family said...

Praying for you guys as always! Wishing I had an answer but remember "the Holy NO" is just as important as Yes...and unlike a regular "no", you gave him the "holy No" which may pay off one day. hang in there!

Brandon said...

Once again, thanks for your post. My wife & I will be going through this very thing in a few months when our son gets released from the Juvenile Correctional Facility. He's 18 and can't come home. I'll pray for you and thank you for the encouragement you give me in your words.

lskimberly said...

As sad as it is, his choices may be further limited than you think. Unless it has changed, it has been incredibly difficult, if not impossible, for people with criminal records to be accepted for military service.

The choices Mike continues to make--not your choices--are creating the limits. May your current response help him to change.

Miz Kizzle said...

I'm sorry that it's come to this. I have a twenty-year-old son who is a sophomore in college. He's a wonderful kid and my husband and I feel blessed to have him. We are well aware of how fortunate we are.
All I can say is that your son is young and time is on his side. Sometimes people surprise you. I'll pray for all of you.