Where Did I Go Wrong?

I'm at my wit's end about my son. I can't even begin to tell you how bad it's gotten. He's 17 now, but I've been having trouble with Andres since the day he turned two years old. He just won't do anything I tell him, even the simplest little suggestions, even when it's clearly for his own good. I might as well be yelling at the ocean.

Even when he was little he was out of control. I would pick him up from after care and he'd be bouncing off the walls when we got home. I want to have a glass of wine and take a bath and he'd be all over the place. I have to work; his deadbeat father sends me enough child support to pay for about one new sneaker a year. I used to leave the house at 6:00 am to drop him at the program that takes care of the kids before school. When I get home--after being yelled at half the day by my psychotic, idiot of a boss--I need some peace and quiet, I need to regroup. So I did everything you can think of, everything anybody recommended to keep the kid quiet: I bought videos for the TV, I bought computer games, I bought about a hundred Kiddie Cable Channels. But the child would not leave me alone or stop moving for five minutes. You can't cook dinner, never mind relax after a hard day, with a kid who's climbing all over the furniture and trying to grab on to the ceiling fan.

School was a nightmare too. I kept getting calls from teachers: he wasn't doing homework. I tried everything to get him to comply. Homework is important. If kids don't have the discipline to do homework at age six, how are they going to have the discipline to make contributions to their retirement accounts when they are 40?

And he wasn't paying attention in class the teachers said, wouldn't focus on the lessons, wasn't learning as quickly as the rest of the kids.

I took him to the pediatrician. Thank goodness I have good health insurance from work. The doctor said that if my son wasn't paying attention in school that he must have attention deficits. I asked the doctor if he needed to see my son or ask him any questions and he said no, that it wouldn't be necessary. He prescribed a psycho-stimulant, I forget the name. "Adderol" maybe. But it didn't help. My son was still full of energy, running all around the house, wanting to play all the time, constantly asking me questions, annoying the heck out of me.

Somehow we got through elementary school. But in middle school things got even worse. Andres started moping around. All he wanted to do was skateboard. I didn't want him hanging around with those kids: where I live "skateboard" is another word for "pothead." I didn't let him go out to the skate park. (Can you believe it? We don't have money in the city budget for proper police protection, but we have money to build "half pipes.")

Andres acted more and more depressed so I called the pediatrician. The doctor gave me a prescription for an anti-depressant. I asked if I should bring Andres in so the doctor could see him, but the doctor said that an SSRI would be helpful. Andres didn't want to take the pills--he said they made his mouth dry and his head feel fuzzy--but what was I going to do? The doctor said Andres might be bi-polar and that the pills could help. I looked up "SSRI", "Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor" on the Internet. I didn't want Andres to be bi-polar.

But the pills didn't help. Andres still wasn't doing well in school. He still wasn't hanging out with the right kids. He was in tenth grade by now. I told him a hundred times: there are such nice children at the high school. There are kids involved in student council, kids working together on the yearbook, kids volunteering at Habitat for Humanity, great kids doing great things. But all he wanted to do was hang out with the skate board crowd. And I know those kids were all smoking pot.

So I took Andres to a psychiatrist. The doctor was on my health plan, thank goodness. He could only see Andres for eight minutes. (I think if you're that busy, you must be a good doctor.) He prescribed an "atypical antipsychotic," "abilify" I think it was called. Again, Andres didn't want to take it, but I insisted. He was going down the wrong road. The only kids he wanted to be friends with were those pot smoking, thuggy skate board kids. And they were the only kids who wanted to be friends with him. I thought the medication would help him, but I don't think it did.

Now we're supposed to be choosing and applying to colleges. He doesn't have the grades to get into a good college and anyway he's not interested in going. Worse, the other day, I found pills in his room--"Xanax." He says the pills don't belong to him, that he's holding them for a friend, but I don't believe him. Eighty pills? Why so many? Could he be selling them? If he's dealing I will be truly heart broken.

I feel terrible. I wish there were something more I could do or could have done when he was younger. I sacrificed everything for Andres. I never remarried. I never even dated much. I was working all the time just so we could live a half way decent life. I'm even making OK money now. I feel like I've done everything, tried everything and now I just don't know what to do.

***

It's easy to throw a stone at this parent, to give advice about what she did wrong. Clearly her child would have benefited from more time outdoors, a more developmentally appropriate schedule, some time to relax and grow into the ability to make good decisions. Homework for first graders is directly contrary to everything we know about how kids learn to love learning. You could argue that she was too controlling, telling Andres what to do rather than working with him to come up with a life that would make sense for him. A little human interaction, rather than all those TV, video games, and computer screens might have been helpful as well. And obviously, Andres wanted a peer group. All kids do. But no one in the group of "good kids"--the active and involved kids--would want to hang out with him. The "pot head" kids are more accepting. You don't need any social skills, you don't need any commitment, you don't need any abilities. You just need to be willing to smoke pot. Which is not a high barrier to cross.

The progression of prescribed "fix my kid" medications is as unfortunate as it is common: psycho-stimulants for attention, followed by SSRIs for depression, followed by atypical anti-psychotics and mood stabilizers. (Who wouldn't be energetic after being in school for ten hours at age six? The after school program at our neighborhood elementary has a curriculum of compliance--"sit down and pick up a pencil"--rather than one of discovery and age appropriate running around.)

There's enough sadness here--overworked single mom; overburdened school; insensitive pediatrician; incompetent psychiatrist; inappropriate peer group--to go around. Insights into our ongoing discussion of how to raise good kids in this tough culture are, as always, most welcome.

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