Our Allies member writes in that her loved one has graduated from high school, but still isn’t adhering to the rules of the house. He has been given an ultimatum and it now looks as if he’ll be asked to leave in a few weeks. This comes with some very difficult feelings in the family, and she is really exhausted as she faces this big transition. How do you show your loved one the door?
*This post originally appeared on our Member Site blog, where experts respond to members’ questions and concerns. To take advantage of our current special offer and get full access to the Allies in Recovery eLearning program for families, click here.
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“When I found Allies last November, I realized what a God send it was. After intensely interacting on the member site and heeding EVERY word that was suggested, I felt like I was finally getting a grasp on how CRAFT looks for my situation, what my role is in this chaos, and what I do and don’t have control over, all while trying to remain patient, patient, patient. I’ve been working on my communication skills and being consistent.
For the last month however, I’ve found myself struggling, again, and I need some direction. Honestly, I’ve been so exhausted from putting so much energy into figuring things out with my son, that I feel like all I could do was focus on stepping in/stepping out based on my son’s use. Outside of my son finally graduating high school, it doesn’t seem as though anything else has changed – not his attitude or respect towards us, not helping around the house, not caring about burning bridges with good friends, etc.”
Dominique Simon-Levine guides this mother to carrying through with her ultimatum
Your son graduated high school. Congratulations to everyone for seeing this through! It’s an important accomplishment. Since then though, he continues to be a bad citizen in the home, not doing his share, being angry, and not abiding by the rules around drug use.
You’ve decided he has to follow a number of rules or leave by June 15. The rules are:
1) no drugs, vaping or paraphernalia in our house, helping around the house/cleaning up after yourself,
2) managing your anger,
3) keep your key on you so you don’t wake us up in the middle of the night,
4) paying for drum expenses.
He’s not reacting well to these ultimatums and this means he’s going to have to leave soon, and get his own place to live. It seems this is a move he neither has the skills nor the money to make happen.
I suggest you help him find a place to live
How can you help him set up? Can you offer to pay the first couple months of rent? The most affordable is probably a room in a group house. Can you help him find a couple to go check out?
Act like it’s inevitable that he is leaving on June 15. This will help ease you into the next step without having to hold your breath to see if he can turn it around. You’re already exhausted. You don’t need to contribute to that with an internal emotional tug of war of “what if’s” right now. He’s been told about your boundaries 1 through 4. He should also be given some treatment options: for SUD, anger management, and a group to teach him some of the skills of daily living. Help him figure out the choices that are open to him, in as much detail as you can.
He’ll need your help and support
18 year olds go to war to make it on their own. Your son can make it outside your home. The drug use will get in his way no doubt, and this will hopefully become clearer to him along the way. Again, realizing that you can’t control his decisions will help you step back as he begins this journey, and encounters the ups and downs along the way.
I don’t see how he can fulfill items 1 through 4 in such a short time period. He has been unwilling to follow these limits in the past. It would take a pretty drastic turn-around on his part to genuinely address your concerns. With such a short time remaining now, I’d act like this is the case, and focus on helping him transition out of your house with love and support.
June 15 is not a scare tactic: it is the next step for your son. Hold on to yourselves. You’ve worked so hard to address your son’s chaos and attitude. He finished high school!!!! This was the biggest hurdle. My sense is that your son is not unaware of his behavior. He is probably banking on you folding come June 15th.
Getting the family on the same page
Being able to present a “united front” makes such a difference when parenting with CRAFT. As you say, it has been exhausting trying to mitigate the differences in approach between yourself and your husband. We have written about Family Members Doing CRAFT. There are many different situations discussed, but reading through this post can help you crystallize what you might be able to reasonably expect – and ask for – as you and your husband look at the next few weeks together.
You may especially want to visit Podcast #13: A House Divided Stands No Chance with your husband. And it’s always worth asking another (adult) family member to watch or re-watch the Learning Modules (view our introduction here). Of course you know that, although these methods may be simple, they aren’t necessarily easy. Still, it’s worth having your husband look at these and digest them on his own, to highlight the reasoning behind the CRAFT method. Maybe you leave it at that, and let the differences be what they are for a while. If you don’t have enough energy for more than that, then so be it. There’s only so much you can manage. For now perhaps your focus can just be to see this transition through with as much calmness, neutrality and peace of mind as you can summon.
Adjust your expectations and ask for the support you need
Right now, your levels of exhaustion and frustration are high. Considering your available energies, you have to be reasonable in what your expectations are. You may not be able to get your husband to practice CRAFT as diligently as you have, today or tomorrow or even in the next few weeks. But if you need support in adhering to the ultimatum you set for June 15th, ask for this support as plainly as you can.
If there is some sort of external support (a counselor perhaps?) that you can summon to help get on the same page about this transition, consider that avenue. Leave the other differences aside. Remind your husband why this is important for you. Let him know that your son needs to see that your boundaries – the boundaries of the household – are real. If he doesn’t, and you continue to feel disrespected and disregarded, the toll on your well-being – and on the whole family – will become too great for you to ignore. This is your house. You have set the rules. You’ve given your son plenty of time to change his behaviors.
Sticking to your boundaries
In showing him the door, you are taking responsibility for your actions. It’s not a punishment. It’s a line you are drawing, and sticking to. You set the limitations, and the date, some time ago. Moving things along is the next step in your being true to your word. This is a valuable lesson in and of itself.
Just be matter-of-fact and start the process of helping him move out. Don’t judge him on the behaviors. You have said they can’t happen in your house. Good. Considering his age, and the next phase of his life that he’s facing, you are nearing the edge of your immediate control and influence over your son. Offer him help with moving out and with treatment ideas that include living elsewhere or even in residence somewhere.
He may need more time to mature…
If he refuses to go to therapy, perhaps you think a little outside of the box when compiling your list of options. The summer camp he attended had a positive effect for a time. Perhaps there is some option out there that is more in line with his current interests and capabilities, and the treatment and therapy are waiting for when he’s matured a bit more and is able to reflect more about who he is and who he wants to be in this world.
Now he’s coming to an age when conversations with other adults may strike him in unexpected ways. Keep your eyes and ears open for opportunities to connect him to positive role models that can reach him in different ways than you have been able to. He’s at a ripe time for this kind of influence.
…and to learn for himself
There have been glimmers of the positive this year. He has great potential, talents and interests. Right now the drugs and the using friends are taking priority. Try to accept this without allowing yourself to see it as a projection of how things will always be with him. He is eventually going to learn what helps him and what doesn’t. But he has to learn that for himself – the lesson won’t mean much unless he comes to it on his own.
It is possible to show him the door and to give him some real options with love and compassion. He has not treated you as you had hoped in the past several months. That has caused your grief and pain. But you have worked so hard to change things on your end. Checking in with all of these feelings, giving space to them, and finding acceptance of the situation will help you move forward with clarity and renewed strength.
You know what you deserve, and what you are able to endure. Better to face this with calmness and kindness than to fall into the traps of judgement and blame. At 18, he has plenty of time to come around still, to open up to you, and to show you love. He has a lot to figure out about the world and his place in it. And you have a lot to look forward to as well.
Try to hold back on passing judgement
You describe a sadness and frustration in the choices your son is making with his friends, and especially in contrast with your nephew. This is causing you pain not only on behalf of your son, but in your own relations with your sister. This feels like a lot to bear. On the surface, the contrast between your son’s trajectory and that of your nephew is stark. What if you were able to see this contrast, but hold off on judging it as good or bad. Make your practice be to merely accept this difference in their paths.
In a way, this is first about accepting your son exactly as he is. Without looking at their different situations with the weight of judgment or comparison, that sadness and frustration may loosen its grip. Your energy may be less sapped.
Your son and his cousin have had a lot of parallel experiences, but neither they nor their journeys are identical. They are each learning different lessons now. They have been so close in the past – it is not uncommon for siblings, cousins, and other relations to have a time of growing apart at some point in adolescence. There is nothing to stop them from coming back together and sharing of their different experiences in an intimate an profound way down the road. When they do come back together, they will have a solid foundation to return to from growing up so close to one another. After this distance, they may be able to share of their experiences with each other and appreciate each other in new ways.
Loving and accepting your loved one
It’s tempting, and so very human, to want to polarize what we see – especially from the outside – into something that is black and white… but both your nephew’s and your son’s realities involve many more shades of gray and nuance than you see on first glance.
It may be fruitful to work on practicing love and acceptance for each of them, exactly as they are. After all that you have done, and from where you now stand, facing this major transition with your son, you owe it to yourself to take this extra burden off your shoulders so that you can restore your depleted energies. The same goes for yourself. Especially as you contemplate the changes in your relationship with your sister, focus on accepting and loving your situation just as it is. It’s just not fair to yourself to carry this extra weight. Your relationship is strong enough to endure this challenging time.
Can you learn to let go?
There’s something Annie mentioned in a recent comment that really resonates with so many family members’ situations. She said, of all the plates we have to keep up in the air as family members: “Eventually I let them all come crashing down in order to gather myself again. For me personally, I had to step aside and take care of me.” This is a profound – and liberating – image. There is so much we attempt to “hold together” and I think we can relate to having some fear of letting go, of letting the plates crash down and letting things land where they will.
In many ways, this is about giving up the sense of control. However you understand this, though, it can be such a powerful practice to embrace. Sometimes we deny ourselves this level of surrender for fear of how it might look from the outside. But letting go in this way may be the only way for us to see what it is that we truly need. Our needs are vital, and they can only be put on the back burner for so long.
We encourage you to let go of anything that is not helping you feel more calm and centered in the coming weeks. You have come a long way, and the turning point you now face has been in the cards for a while now. May you find the strength and peace you need to take these next steps with kindness and compassion.
Since 2003, Allies in Recovery has addressed substance abuse in families by providing a method for the family to change the conversation about addiction. We use Community Reinforcement & Family Training (CRAFT), a proven approach that helps the family unblock and advance the relationship towards sobriety and recovery and to engage a loved one into treatment. Learn about member benefits by following this link.