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Watching the trainwreck
Old 01-18-2011, 11:40 PM   #1
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Watching the trainwreck

I am rather uneasily watching my oldest son's upcoming trainwreck. I wish I could prevent it, but I don't really think that I can.

DS is 19 and is planning to move out on his own. The entire situation is fraught with difficulties.

DS started college this fall, living in the dorm. For years, we told our kids that we would pay room and board at a state school as long as grades were good. We paid his very high auto insurance (he had an at fault auto accident before that skyrocketed the rates) and he was to pay for his books and his spending money. Due to needing car repairs he had no money when school started so we advanced the money for books (probably shouldn't have but hoped he would get to school and do well).

All semester he tells me he is doing great. He is capable of doing well as he is very bright. When grades come out (I had insisted on having a login to see his grades), he had failed one course, had an incomplete in another. He was surprised by this and quickly decided he doesn't want to go to school this semester and wants to later get an associates degree in culinary arts. We are OK with this. He floats the idea of living with us and paying rent and we consider it while he is thinking about what he wants to do.

He is home for holidays and we set up some rules..not terribly onerous (let us know when he will be home, don't leave for days at a time without talking to us about how his jobs around the house will be handled, don't have guests for days at a time without talking to us first -- in the past, he would get out of doing household chores by either being gone or having a guest...).

He had a fast food job at his school (about an hour away) and commuted over the holidays to the job with most of his money going to gas.

He violates all the rules and when we raise the issue with him he expresses he would rather live in his car than follow our rules and that he wants to get his own place.

So for the last 3 weeks he has been working on that plan. He needs to find a place to live that he can afford, find a full time job closer to here, get auto insurance of his own, at a minimum.

Despite all this he is very lackadaisacal (sleeping half the day, playing videogames or watching TV when awake and not at work) to the point that I gave him rules that he needed to leave the house every day to look for a job and a place to live. I think in his mind since he had told us he didn't want to follow the rules he thought it was OK to just not follow them but take his time finding a place to live.

At this point, he has gotten back his old high school part time fast food job, has found a room in someone's house (I actually found him listings on Craigslist). He has yet to get insurance for his car and I kept telling he has to do that since he can't be on our policy after he leaves. Despite telling him this for weeks, he only starts looking today even though he plans to move out this weekend.

He managed to end up with a broken window on his car (he has no idea how it happened). He has $9 to his name. He did a budget which I discussed the unrealistic nature of. He had $100 a month for entertainment but $40 to cover auto repair (his car is 11 years old with high mileage), clothing, medical, basically everything except food, rent and insurance. His food estimate is low (he spends most of his money on food). Still if he worked full time he could probably make it with a little start up help if he was very frugal.

He is totally unable to keep money longer than about 24 hours (he once had several hundred dollars in overdraft fees due to repeatedly overdrawing his debit card). Even knowing he was going to move out and do this he spent most of his money from work and Christmas on frivolous stuff.

DH and I are going to give him roughly what we would have spent for room and board this semester. It will pay for a few months of rent and some of his start up expenses. DH thinks it is totally throwing money away since DS has to learn everything the hard way and won't listen at all. He thinks the chance of DS making it financially and paying rent consistently are about zero. Therefore, he thinks that DS will soon get evicted. I tend to think he is right...but I still want to give the money. From my standpoint, if he actually used the money and diligently tried to find a better job he could probably make it if he was very frugal. That said...I don't think he will really look for a better job and isn't going to be frugal.

We have also said that if he wants to go back to school in the fall we will pay his tuition but not living expenses (we've always said we would pay for them to live in the dorm not to live in an apartment which is way more expensive).

I just don't see this ending well. Even after I went over money with him, he still goes out, spends money on eating out or with friends. He hasn't been all that diligent looking for a full time non-minimum wage job. I hate to say it but he doesn't seem to have much of a work ethic. I have the feeling that he would be OK living in our house -- so long as he didn't have to follow household rules and didn't have to do any chores -- and paying us a small part of his minimum wage income. This is not acceptable to us as we aren't willing to have him treat our house like a hotel and not follow our rules (particularly as we have two other kids still at home).

He has always been someone that has to learn from his own mistakes. When he was a freshman in high school I warned him that he was doing inadequate studying and was going to fail if he didn't turn in work. We tried to help him, sent him to a tutor, etc. He failed 4 classes. That did wake him up and then he did better later on. But he just won't listen to anything anyone else tells him.

Sigh. (I do think much of this is impacted by his early life. We adopted him from another country when he was almost 9. He lived a life of poverty before he came here and had a parent who didn't regularly work, the parent was involved in petty theft, etc.)

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Old 01-18-2011, 11:59 PM   #2
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Originally Posted by Katsmeow View Post
Sigh. (I do think much of this is impacted by his early life. We adopted him from another country when he was almost 9. He lived a life of poverty before he came here and had a parent who didn't regularly work, was involved in petty theft, etc.)
I was adopted from another country around 9, lived a life of poverty before I came to the US, stole money and food when I was young...but I followed a different path than your son growing up. So I would not use this as a crutch for his lack of responsibility...I know everyone is different but thought I put in my 2 cents.

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Old 01-19-2011, 12:01 AM   #3
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Originally Posted by taemoo View Post
I was adopted from another country around 9, lived a life of poverty before I came to the US, stole money and food when I was young...but I followed a different path than your son growing up. So I would not use this as a crutch for his lack of responsibility...I know everyone is different but thought I put in my 2 cents.
Oh, I certainly agree it is not an excuse but I do think it bears upon the issue. He has a lot of conflicts based upon this issue. He has worked on this with a therapist and in many ways I do think he has made progress. But, yes, there is just the possibility that this is just his nature and it would have been his nature no matter what. Some people have to learn the hard way, but it is sure painful to watch....
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Old 01-19-2011, 06:00 AM   #4
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He sounds like a substantial percentage of young men. You probably need to let him get on with it. Many of them eventually mature, some don't. Both my son and I had similar experiences as teens (except the money part - both of us always worked and paid our way). Both of us finally got our sh*t together, graduated from college and did fine. In our cases we learned later (me in my 50s and DS in his late 20s) that we had ADD. If I had Ritalin in HS and college I might have graduated Magna Cum Laude
Every man is, or hopes to be, an Idler. -- Samuel Johnson
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Old 01-19-2011, 06:42 AM   #5
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Sounds like our "son" who is 24 and hasn't completed college nor held a productive j*b for more than a few months. We've made it clear to him that we will not finance his lifestyle. Our hope is that whatever problems he gets into are minor (and only financial). I can see where some of his "issues" come from, but that doesn't give him a pass. He has many advantages (looks, brains, personality, etc.) but always takes the easy way through every situation.

I can offer you my empathy and hope for our respective sons. Whatever you do, don't ever beat yourself up. Doubts are natural, but you obviously care and have done the best you can. Would we change things in the past if we could. Probably. Since we can't, there's no reason to think about that aspect.

One other suggestion. Decide with DH what you will and won't do for your son. Stick to your plan and be united - even on things you don't completely agree with each other. Good luck!
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Old 01-19-2011, 06:45 AM   #6
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I'd either start yelling at him and/or keep 'em afloat, but minimize financial outgo (don't pay for college if he's not going to try). Since you state he has to learn everything for himself/the hard way, I'm guessing the yelling wouldn't do much good, but it'd make me feel better. Worked for/on me, sometimes. I was pretty stubborn in my teens; that's the only way the wife can still motivate me when she really needs to.

Cut 'em loose financially, but that's easy for me to say when you've got so much time invested. You don't want him to have catastropic credit or living in unsafe conditions.

So, I guess, what I'm trying to say is let 'em learn the hard way but make sure he doesn't dig himself too big of a hole. Your determination of a big hole and mine are probably way different, but it sounds like he's gotta hit bottom once first.

I'm no therapist. What motivates him?

Good luck.

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It means for every point you make, your level drops. Kinda like you're startin' from the top..." "Society" - Eddie Vedder
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Old 01-19-2011, 07:12 AM   #7
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One word. Military.

That will get his sorry butt in shape and also get him on track education wise.
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Old 01-19-2011, 07:18 AM   #8
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We learn by failing, and then correcting. Some take longer to learn, some never learn. Be supportive, invite him for meals occasionally, but let him choose and live his life- sounds like he will fight anything else. Keep communication open and supportive. When he fails, offer advise and resources WHEN ASKED. Be greatful that at this time he does not have a family. As long as he stays out of legal trouble, there is hope.
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Old 01-19-2011, 07:25 AM   #9
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If you decide to give him the start-up money, do so in a monthly stream of declining amounts. That way he can't blow through it quickly and will ease into supporting himself. But be sure not to give him a penny more. Make that clear to him and stick with it.

If you want to allow him to stay with you later if he fails, work that out ahead of time. Charge rent or keep any subsidy low enough that it is not a particularly attractive option. He's got to have some reason to leave.
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Old 01-19-2011, 07:40 AM   #10
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I've got a good friend at work who's son was like this. Very bright but couldn't handle life on his own. Flunked out of two colleges. His dad helped find him a night shift job at a local steel mill. After about 2 months of this, he quit and joined the military (his own decision). Last I heard, he's making it work.

I've learned with my children that they are never motivated to make any decision they see as yours work. Many times the opposite. My kids have been very good at making their own decisions work out. I've laid the options out to them but they need to make and own the decision.

I agree with the other posters. Make sure you and your wife agree on the limits, tell him these, and give him a schedule of shrinking support and stick to it. This will be hard. He basically believes in the back of his mind that you'll save him when he screws up. You have to convince him otherwise and it will take more than one lesson.
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Old 01-19-2011, 07:45 AM   #11
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Sounds a lot like my BIL. Believe it or not, he probably thinks he's in a positive situation, no matter how dire his straits, because he's "living life on his own terms."

I certainly agree that a hitch in the military would be the best thing that could possibly happen to him, but it's unlikely he would agree unless he knew someone who had done that.

I also agree with Animorph's good suggestions.
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Old 01-19-2011, 08:19 AM   #12
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Man, 'yall are scaring me.......

I've got a 13 year old son who is on the lazy side, and not a self starter at all. He needs constant hand holding to get his homework done, is super slow doing his chores (what little chores he has), will sleep until noon if I let him, etc. Maybe it's just the teenage hormones kicking in.....

On the bright side, he does want to get a job as soon as he can, and I think this is a great idea, but he thinks he wants to get a job as a busboy or in the kitchen at a local Johnny Carinos. He talked to the manager one night when we were in there eating and the manager said he would hire him at 14. Anyone here have any experience working in a restaurant at such a young age? Any issues working so young with older co-workers? I have read/heard that the restaurant biz is full of druggies/partiers and I don't want him exposed to that yet.
ER'ed from the new car business Feb 2008. I'm 47, she's 45. Two boys ages 15 and 13. DW is SAHM. I've got a part-time used car lot I w*ork at 3 hours a day that keeps me in beer money.....
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Old 01-19-2011, 08:49 AM   #13
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You have done a lot for your son, giving him many options and chances and he does not seem to respond favorably to any of them. Obviously, he, for all intents and purposes, is like an immature 15 year old. So, I would treat him as such.

I would not give or lend him money to live outside the home. He blew that when he went to school an hour away and did poorly. I would find a junior college or college courses he could take close by so he could commute every day and live home. I would pay for the courses, and tell him, if he gets a job, every penny goes toward his car gas, insurance, personal expenses for college, etc. If he refuses to go back to school, tell him he must get a job and pay you for room and board.

At this point, he must PROVE to you, he is turning over a new leaf, BEFORE you give him any money and HOPE he does better.

And take AWAY the computer mouse, and get rid of, or disable the TV.

A friend of mine has a 26 year old, very capable son, that she and her husband are still giving money to on a regular basis! She will wire him $500 one month, and $1200 another month to pay his rent, or buy food, or whatever he tells her he needs and he has no money for. He does this because he CAN, and he KNOWS his mom will come to his rescue.
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Old 01-19-2011, 09:01 AM   #14
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I don't think parents can have much effect on a 19-year-old's decisions. Sometimes they just have to make mistakes for themselves. It's hard to watch. Doing so is part of letting go, and letting go can be so hard.

Parents can be there to help pick up the pieces; obviously you don't want him to end up homeless and starving. I think you are right in insisting on certain rules during times when he lives in your house.

If it helps, I think you are doing the right things with him, Katsmeow.
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Old 01-19-2011, 09:11 AM   #15
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I do not have children & hence, no advice to you.

I just wanted to say I empathize & wish you all the best.
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Old 01-19-2011, 09:17 AM   #16
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As others have said... it is his decision on the path he wishes to follow...

I have a nephew that sounds a lot like your son... he decided to leave home when he was still in HS and another sister took him in... he was lazy.. he just wanted to sit around and play guitar... he made one semester of college and then dropped out after being caught with dope.. (he also had bad grades)... he had a mental breakdown and was in an institute for awhile...

He joined the Navy which seemed to be good for him... but in a foreign country met the love of his life... who was pregnant (not by him)... he decided the Navy was not for him and told them he was going nuts again.. they kicked him out... he brought over his girlfriend and both were lazy... his mom let them stay at her place for awhile... but then kicked them out because they were not trying to do anything... another sister took them all in... (not the same for HS)... after two months, she kicks them out...

They finally get enough money (don't know how) to fly back to her country where they were on the dole... another kid... joing the Hari Krishnas... then divorce.. he moved to another country... got remarried... had another kid.. moved back to the first dole country and there he is... in a Hari Krishna camp with two or three kids (not sure)... and still to this day does nothing much... around 35yo... this is one path he can go...

OR... one of my friends kid sound a bit the same as yours... he moved out and got odd jobs here and there... moved in with people... got ripped off a few times, but that is learning... he finally went back and got a technical degree and is starting to turn around his life... he is in his mid 20s now... I think he will do fine....
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Old 01-19-2011, 09:38 AM   #17
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I don't have kids so can't offer advice. I can, however, offer some observations. DH and I have some friends with a 19 year old son who sounds a lot like your son. He's basically a nice guy, but irresponsible. We've seen how adept he's become at manipulating his parents to get what he wants so he can continue on his path to nowhere. He mainly uses guilt trips and their love for him but is not above making them feel fearful of what will happen to him if they don't continue their support.

We learned years ago it's best not to give advice to parents, so we keep our mouths shut and just offer them supportive friendship. It's pretty painful to watch though. I hope things work out for your family. I'm sure this is stressful to your other kids too.
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Old 01-19-2011, 09:42 AM   #18
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Wow - I thought I was reading the story of my husband's older son!!! Things haven't improved much, but my husband has definitely set limits - there is no more $$$ being sent to the young man. The issue we see is he wants to be treated as an adult yet behaves like a child. My husband and I have talked about possible outcomes and are so far prepared. The younger son is a bit more resilient and I have higher hopes for him.
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Old 01-19-2011, 09:46 AM   #19
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Oh, I'm sorry you are going through this! We have a now 20 year old and have gone thru (still going) much of this as well!

He also had less then ideal early years which can balloon your empathy for a kid - but in the end the best thing for him was for us to make him pay for a most of his own expenses (he still lives with us so no food or rent, he is going to school) and everything else is on his own - car/gas/insurance, going out etc. He also does chores around the house for some extra cash.

We went thru a LOT of angst (you can see some of my old posts) with him and in the end (or at least so far) the best course has been real life. When he turned 19 I have to say, there must be some developmental/hormonal change because he became a jerk (to me especially) and I could barely stand to be around him!

SO and I declared since he was a kid that we would pay rent/food as long as he went to school - he knows this and stuck to it for the first year. He is not really the school motivated kind of person - so after about a year of pointless general ed courses, he felt he could do better "working and paying rent." Also, on top of that his GF got prego and he was about to be a dad. At one point he said, "how much are you really going to charge me anyway!" ha! When we told him, he was shocked (I think it was $500 - rent for an apt around here would be at least $700, let alone utilities etc).

After hours of lecturing, I broke down and made a spreadsheet for him of what it would cost and said - here look this is why we are upset -because we care about you and don't want you to live like this - the chart basically showed him that he'd have to work at least 60 hours in a min to $10 job (less hours the more pay obviously) to cover his expenses (and baby) and he would have nothing in the end to show - he would also lose my insurance because it only covers you if you are going to school so that was an added cost that blew the budget. He had also had a minor medical scare w/in that time frame which helped him "get it" that insurance was important. After staring at the spreadsheet miraculously changed his mind and kept going to school.

After almost a year of searching he got a job with the "brown logistics company" (and let me tell you I nearly did a cartwheel!) and works nites from 10p to 2am and makes a whopping $400 net per month - that has been the best lesson of all! He works hard and is good at his job, but is not making enough to live on his own and he knows it. He also has coworkers in their 30's with families who have not moved up at all and that is another great lesson! We asked him if he wants to be there in that same position 5 years from now and he said "no way!" I told him to pay attention to who gets moved up and why/how and he has already received a raise and been given opportunities to move up and grow. No more lectures from us!

I have plenty of friends with young men or grown men who did not "grow up" - have babies they are not supporting at all or sufficiently and have been in and out of jobs. One common denominator are parents who kept bailing them out. One friend has 4 kids at home all over mid 20's. They don't pay rent! After much cajoling from other mom friends, she started asking them to pay about $250/month. Im not sure if any of them have actually paid! I'm not looking down at her at all - it is really easy to say you are gonna do this stuff and when it comes down to it - really hard to do what you said you were going to because it is your kid and you want to give them "one more chance".

We have no idea what is around the corner with our son - but for now everything is better than it was.

For the poster who asked about their kid working - I think that is a great idea. I think one of our biggest mistakes was sheltering our son because he had trouble in school and not making him work earlier...
Sorry I went on so long! Best wishes to you and your dh and son... it is not an easy time!!
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Old 01-19-2011, 10:03 AM   #20
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We were extremely fortunate in having our two children exit the nest to college, jobs, marriage, and kids (in that order). Not sure if it was anything more than luck and I also know it is too late for the OP, but for those of you with young kids, here's my $0.02 worth of advice: set your expectations for them early and often.

From as far back as I can recall, we talked to them in terms of "when you go to college" and "when you have a job" and "when you're on your own". We let them know from the time they were old enough to comprehend that they would go to college and become independent/off our payroll after graduating. It wasn't a matter of "we hope you will" or "we would like you to", it was always couched as a given.

Of course there are no guarantees, but if they grow up getting this constantly reinforced it may help guide them in that direction. Oh, and we also made it absolutely clear that our financial aid would end after four years of undergrad school. We also set the example by making good on all our threats promises as they passed through their teen years.

Now that they both have children and the oldest is approaching his teens, we are watching with great amusement fear interest to see how they handle things.

Numbers is hard.

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