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 clichés 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?