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Just when you think you have something licked, it rears up again. Some kids Just need more work.


That sound was me, venting. This is not an informative article. It is a commiserative piece, designed to encourage those of you dealing with kids who have attachment issues. It’s tough parenting what many call a “radish.” We could probably deal with the bonding thing. And I’ve given you some ideas in another article on this site. AGGIE AND REACTIVE ATTACHMENT DISORDER But emotional issues seldom show up alone. They’re co-morbid, which means they exist within an array of other problems.

So, your attachment-challenged child may be anti-social. Or bi-polar. Or maybe she’s schizophrenic. 

Jimmy is. He’s one of those things—which, his parents are not sure. Does diagnosis make a difference? Yes, it does. Because, at least it helps us understand why, when we’ve gotten somewhere with the child…when he finally seems to care if we are ill, or offers to do the dishes because we look tired…he suddenly does a back flip off society’s pool edge and we have to save him from drowning.

Jimmy (not his real name) has a long history of behavior problems. At thirteen, he ran away to avoid peer pressure at school and hitched a ride with a truck driver. The driver faced some legal issues for picking up a minor, and Jimmy shrugged the episode off. At 15,  Jimmy took a couple of hundred dollars from a community donations box. He used the money to buy an IPOD and used it openly. Why did he steal? Simple…he wanted the money.  When he was 16, Jimmy stole a family car and took a joy ride. He was stopped two hours from, home. The spikes the police threw down trashed the car tires, and the transmission was worse for the wear. He was unconcerned. At 17, Jimmy took several hundred dollars from the cash register at his evening job. He ran away to California, and was found wandering Watts. After he got out of detention, Jimmy returned to school, and seemed to be doing well. He graduated, went to live with a friend and got a temporary job. But the “temp” ran out and Jimmy found himself wandering the town along the same route, day-in and day-out, getting more ragged and dirtier each day.

His parents rescued him. They brought him home and got him into a Youth Job Corps program. It is a wonderful, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. JOB CORPS: COULD IT BE THE ANSWER? And he did well, for a time. His instructors bragged about his abilities and performance. They were excited to have him in the program…right up to the point he beat up another student and got expelled. Expulsion from the “no-tolerance for violence” organization means he can’t get into that location again, and he must wait a year before applying to another site.

Jimmy’s parents brought him home and helped him get a bus ticket to another town where he hadn’t burned all his employment opportunities. A local business hired him, and he was on the verge of getting his own place, when he decided it would be easier to go live in a homeless shelter. Then, Jimmy took a job with a magazine sales company  and disappeared, only to surface weeks later at another shelter.

He came home for the holidays, and stayed.

But what do you do with a kid who has no ambition, no drive, no concern for hygiene, no plans to move out on his own? And the second question, akin to the first…does it make you a bad person to WANT him to move out?

Jimmy’s parents urged him to look into the military. Turns out the military services are being pickier now than they used to be. Turns out they want kids with clean criminal records, and Jimmy had two felonies on his. But weren’t they juvy adjudications, expunged once he completed his probation? Well, they were only adjudications, but it is the kid’s responsibility to get them expunged, and, until he does, they are on his record.

Jimmy filled out applications for every open job in town. But he has no ID…no birth certificate or SS card. He lost these in his “travels.”

And many jobs require a drivers’ license, something Jimmy can’t get because he hasn’t applied to get it back after he lost it in the joy-riding incident. Getting a license involves filling out some paperwork, taking it and nearly a hundred dollars to a department of motor vehicles that handles reinstatement. (most do not because of budget cuts.) It also involves showing proof of insurance, which Jimmy can’t get until he has a job to pay the premiums as well as purchase and license a car to insure.

He also lost his Medicaid card. That’s a biggie, because, as a former system kid, he has the coverage until he’s 21.

And with all this, Jimmy is spending every waking moment trying to find employment, replace his ID cards and get his court records straight, right?


Jimmy is sleeping until 11:00 every day.

Okay, so THAT PART IS HIS PARENTS’ FAULT, right? I mean, they could get him up. But get him up to do what? Argue with whichever parent is home? Lounge around the house sighing and hanging off of whatever piece of furniture is nearest while his parents try to deal with their interrupted routines? It’s easier to let him sleep.

But the parent who is not dealing with the attitude every moment isn’t satisfied with that And so, Jimmy’s mom and dad spend a lot of energy trying to ease the tension Jimmy’s presence puts on them.

Jimmy is overwhelmed. He realizes he created most of the problems he faces. He has burned bridges with a lot of employers, he has no drivers’ license, and little likelihood of getting one soon.  He has failed in at least one youth program. It is easier to sleep than to face the issues.

Still, as I read recently on Facebook (and everyone knows how reliable that is):  “Life has no remote. Get up off your backside and change it yourself.”

Jimmy’s parents are learning a lot dealing with the issues.

First, they say, remember that your child may have come out of abuse. Kids who are being abused stop growing emotionally until they feel secure. After his adoption, Jimmy started to catch up, but he still is probably closer to the emotional maturity of a 14-year-old than a 20- year- old, and his parents can’t expect him to deal with the problems the way a more secure child might.

For one thing, Jimmy decided college might give him the leg up he needed to land a career.  He chose a field of study that actually might be a good fit, but decided to apply to a pricey private arts college ($90,000 for a three-year stint.)

Jimmy’s mother liked that he had been proactive in thinking about college, and told him so. But Jimmy always hated school, she reminded him, and might not do well in college. It could be that beginning in a two-year junior college program might help him predict his level of satisfaction with higher education before he committed himself to a staggeringly high student loan. Another factor to consider…as a former foster child, Jimmy probably qualifies for a lot of financial aid (in some states complete tuition waivers.) which could mean an almost free associate degree. Then, if Jimmy was still interested in the arts college, he could transfer to it. She talked to the staff at the local Department of Human Services about possible grants and scholarships and gave the list to Jimmy for HIS exploration.

Much that Jimmy’s parents might do is hampered by the fact that he is an adult and most institutions will not release information about him to them.

Jimmy’s dad went online and found out about getting the juvenile records expunged. He got the phone numbers and told Jimmy what to say to the court. Then it was up to Jimmy to call.

Jimmy’s mom helped replace the lost birth certificate and showed him where to look for information about replacing his SS card (a simple online procedure.) Once the copies arrive, Jimmy’s mom will make photocopies to retain in her possession.

Together, Jimmy’s parents came up with a list of expectations for Jimmy while he was at home. And they decided upon their limits of involvement as well. They are fine with giving Jimmy a few dollars, but not with buying him cigarettes. They agree that they will take him to the limits of his abilities, and then help him. They will remember, in spite of how things appear, Jimmy is an adult. That means he is ultimately responsible for himself. Before Jimmy’s behaviors jeopardize their marriage, or the welfare of the children they still have at home, he will be asked to move out. In other words, they recommitted to each other and to their home.

They are working at keeping emotions in check as well. When arguments arise, it is easy to call up problems or issues one-by-one instead of just dealing with the issue at hand. Dealing with several issues at once is threatening to someone whose logic and understanding are compromised by stress. Jimmy becomes intransient at those times and further discussion is unfruitful.

They are also learning not to expect Jimmy to throw himself into the project. A few accomplishments a day is all they can expect of him After that, he goes to “hang out” with his friends. They can, however, demand that Jimmy adhere to house rules and return at an agreed-on time at night. They also can require him to keep his bed made, his clothing washed and to take showers. He has assigned chores and is expected to attend church with the family. If Jimmy decides not to comply with this program, his parents have agreed that he is free to leave.

That’s the hard part. They adopted this child. He is part of the family and they cannot give up on him. Still, he can’t be allowed to disrupt their lives. That’s where the GUILT comes in.

It will be there no matter what they do, if they don’t succeed.

For always.

But they can live with that guilt if they protect the integrity of the rest of their lives. And that’s the biggest lesson Jimmy’s parents have learned. They adopted this child after someone else damaged him. He is a hurt child and some wounds don’t heal easily. Some never heal. They can do their best, and pray for success, but if that doesn’t happen, they will have to settle for praying, and hoping, for the protection of the child.

That he has something to eat.

That he is not sleeping out in the cold.

That he knows they love him, and tried their best to help.

That he knows he has a home to come to in times of trouble, even if he can’t live there.


 It’s a hard row to hoe.


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