Sunday, 22 February 2015

Being Normal

OT has been back at home for over a fortnight now and we are both working out our definition of normal.

I learned soon after meeting him two years ago that our versions of normality were very different. To me an average evening consisted of me getting dinner cooked while he played computer games upstairs; then a meal shared followed by watching a film together. What could be more normal? Well normal to who? After five years being pushed and shoved between his birth family, children's homes and secure estate I don't think OT even had an image of what was normal for him. Even coming to live in my quirky, one-woman-and-a-cat household must have felt like moving in with the Waltons.

Everyone has a different idea of what his normal should look like. His Probation Officer visited a few days ago and talked about getting him on his feet with a job and a place of his own. To most professionals moving a care leaver onto independent living at 21 is normal, it is the aim, by saying this he didn't intend to set off an attachment merry-go-round, he expected those to be the normal things that his client wanted to hear. OT is fortunate that I don't have a specific time frame in mind, he can move when it feels right for him, however that throwaway comment raised his anxiety levels a fair bit and he had to be reassured that this was so; that I understand that he is still enjoying the security of a home with me and that  it is absolutely OK that he isn't ready to live alone yet. 

OT desperately wants to be normal. For him this means having a job and a girlfriend. It also means telling people he lives with his auntie because explaining who I am marks him out as different. It involves playing football, getting drunk at weekends, making the occasional bad decision - not the ending up in a cell variety of bad decision but the regular, 20 year old, having a one night stand or getting drunk and not making it home kind.

Some of his choices worry me, a few make me nervous and others make me downright annoyed but I can't deny that his issues are now pretty much on the normal spectrum. For someone with his life experiences that's a pretty good achievement.

Friday, 13 February 2015

The Problem with Boundaries

He needs strong boundaries, he's never had them....He wants you to be in control, he can't handle complete freedom....He needs to know you're in charge....You can't give in or he will walk all over you....If you give him an inch he will take a mile.....Once you let him get away with it once you've had it....These phrases, along with other unhelpful advice, seem to be the soundtrack to my life at the moment. They trip off the tongues of friends, colleagues, social workers and probation officers who have never lived with a chaotic, traumatised young adult and probably never will. I understand the theory, really I do, I even agree with it up to a point but there is a huge difference between a good theory and what works in practice.

The biggest joy of my life right now is that OT is home. The biggest challenge of my life right now is that OT is home. A relationship is far more manageable in two hour chunks over a plastic table than it is in the messy world of life outside. We are definitely over the honeymoon period, in fact I may have blinked and missed it, but if I am fair he is doing OK. There are some issues but a week has passed with no response officers at the door, no breached licence conditions and no calls from police custody - it could be far worse and certainly has been in the past. The problem isn't the big, dramatic stuff but what my unimaginative entourage would call pushing the boundaries. Only in a small way, more of a gentle nudge than a full-on shove but it is definitely happening.

So tell me, unhelpful professionals and well-meaning busybodies, how do you maintain strong boundaries with a 20 year old man who probably needs the same restrictions as your average 14 year old? Can you even do it at all? No really, do tell me, I am more than happy to give anything a try. It really isn't as simple as the clich├ęs you are chanting. Here's an example, one of several. One of my rules is that OT gets home on week-nights by 11pm. It is partly for his own benefit, he has mostly been in custody for the last seven years so there is only so much freedom he can cope with and my curfew gives him a reason to extricate himself from whatever dodgy nonsense his peers might drag him into. It is also for me, I work full-time and have to get up early, I can't do my job properly if I am being woken up at all hours of the night. It is our rule, it is on the agreement we both signed when he returned here to live, but how on earth do you enforce it?

Lock him out for the night if he is not home by 11? But his licence states he has to sleep here, he might be recalled to prison. A further 18 months of custody seems a hefty consequence for getting home two hours late.

Confiscate the games console? Put a PIN on the television? Well he is 20 not 12, and anyway if he has nothing to do at home he is going to hang out with his offending friends all day instead.

Tell him he will not be able to live here if he does it again? I'm not sure I am prepared to make him homeless over this issue, however much it affects me. I know enough about setting boundaries to know that once you compromise or go back on your word they are pointless and eviction is a threat I can only use once.

So I choose a slightly vague way of dealing with him, one that I am not entirely satisfied with and will probably have little effect. I explain that he has to think very carefully about what is more important to him: being able to stay out as late as he likes or living here with me? He gives the right answer immediately but I doubt my veiled suggestion of a consequence has penetrated very far.

What would you do?