Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Will Danielle Leave When She Turns 18?

In response to Is it Better to Disengage than to Argue?, ricecakesandredemption asked:

I'm just curious -- do you really think Danielle will leave when she [is] old enough?

The short answer to this question is yes.

There are several reasons why Danielle will leave when she's 18.

The first reason is very simple: Danielle doesn't want to live here.  She frequently talks about how she can't wait until she's 18, and she can move out.  She regularly fantasizes about a world in which she doesn't have to live with us and our "stupid rules."  She looks forward to the day where we (and everyone else, for that matter) won't be able to tell her what to do.

She wants to leave, and she has several escape plans in mind.  She consistently expresses a desire to leave the minute she is able.

In all honesty, I'm not sure how workable any of her plans are.  The main idea is that she will move in with other people.  Some variations involve her moving in with friends, while others involve living with members of her birth family.  I'm not sure how any of these plans will work out, as our friends have already told Danielle she's not welcome to move in, and her birth family isn't capable of providing her with a stable living arrangement, even if they were willing.

Even if she does manage to convince someone to allow her to move in, she's going to have a big surprise coming.  Nobody is going to be willing to allow her to live there for free.  She's going to have to get a job and support herself, and it's clear she has no idea of the difficulties that face her.

I'm not going to bother trying to argue the merits of her exit plans with her.  She'll find out how workable they are in a year and a half from now.  For her sake, I'd like to hope that things will work out.  Based on our past experience with her behavior, I fear they will not.  Danielle is handicapped by that magical thinking that gets in the way of her seeing the true reality of the world that faces her.

I believe that Danielle will leave, of her own volition, when she turns 18.

That, I think, would be the best possible outcome for all of us.

If it turns out that Danielle doesn't leave when the time comes, it won't be because she is freely choosing to stay here.  She will stay because she will have realized that life in the big, bad world is too difficult.  She won't choose to stay here because she wants to be here; instead, she'll be staying because her plans to move out and be independent have been foiled for one reason or another.  Living here will be her undesirable second choice, and I can only see that as being a breeding ground for conflict.  She will be angry that her plans haven't worked out, and I foresee her taking her disappointment out on us.

Given that, if Danielle doesn't move out under her own power, she will move out with our encouragement.

The sad reality is, even when things are going relatively well around here, it's not good enough.  Sure, making it through an hour, a day, or even a week or two without a major temper tantrum is a huge victory.  When things are calm, and Danielle is not breaking things, she's a lot nicer to live with.

But even that isn't really enough.  As I wrote about before, peace doesn't mean that things are perfect around here, or that they are even all that good.  Danielle is still difficult to live with, even when she's not exploding all over the place like the cement mixer featured in the show Mythbusters.  She is still uncooperative, argumentative, disrespectful and unpleasant, and I do not see these behaviors changing any time in the near future.

Even if Danielle was somehow able to magically transform herself into a cooperative, agreeable, respectful and pleasant young adult, we still have the more fundamental problem of her impulsiveness and poor decision-making skills.  She is grossly irresponsible, and even if all of her unpleasant characteristics were to suddenly disappear, we still have the problem of being completely unable to trust her.

At 16.5 years old, Danielle cannot be left alone in our home even for as long as it would take for us to go to the store.  I don't see this magically changing when she becomes an adult, so I find myself wondering how her continuing to live with us could be workable.  If she's 18, we can't very well force her to go with us everywhere we go, yet we can't trust her to stay home alone when we aren't there.

Even if Danielle's decision-making skills weren't called into question, we still have the problem of the kids with whom she chooses to associate.  With the exception of one friend, the kids she chooses are not the kind of people we want around our home.  These are kids who, at least in my day, would have been called "troublemakers."  I don't feel safe inviting them to our home when we are here, and I certainly wouldn't want them over when we were not.

For all of these reasons, all signs point towards the exit when Danielle turns 18.

I can't say I feel good about this reality.  I know that Danielle is unprepared for life as an independent young adult.  I also realize that, for all the reasons I've explained above and a few that I choose not to share publicly, her continuing to live here is unworkable.  She is on a collision course with a destiny we had hoped adoption would prevent.

When Danielle becomes an adult and we are no longer required to support her, the rules of the game change.  Right now, we tolerate living with a mentally ill, and physically and verbally aggressive person because the law says that we must.  Once we are relieved of that obligation, why should we continue to tolerate her unsafe behavior? 

Asking an abusive young adult to leave our home, if she doesn't choose to leave on her own, isn't about being mean.  It is about responsible self-care and being safe in our home.  If we don't feel safe with her staying here now, while she is still a technically a child, how is that going to change when she's an adult?

It isn't going to change.

Knowing that Danielle isn't and likely won't be ready doesn't make me feel very good about this decision.  It pains me greatly as I recognize she is likely going to repeat many of the same mistakes made by her birth mother.  It makes me sad to know that I can't help my kid.  I feel great anguish when I recognize she is the horse, dying of thirst, even though she is standing chest-deep in a fresh, clean river.

I can't make Danielle change.  I can't cure her mental illness, nor can I force her to become interested and motivated to learn.  I can't change her past.  I can't fix her.  We've done our best to help her, but clearly it hasn't been good enough, nor will it ever be.

This isn't about throwing our kid out in some form of vindictive punishment for her difficult behavior over the years since her adoption.  This isn't about retribution, or even about whether or not we care about the kid.  We do care.  This is about the fact that our current situation isn't safe, nor will it be safe after she becomes a legal adult.

How long should we have to live in a situation that is not only abusive, but isn't safe?

Our answer is that we won't live this way one day longer than we are legally required to do so.


  1. Great response. My concern was not for Danielle but for you once she is incapable of executing any of her "exit plans" and tries to remain resentfully in your home. I'm hoping peace returns to your home soon. Danielle sounds like she might be a good candidate for an adult group home.

  2. I could have wrote this post. Substitute Daniel (my ds) for Danielle and change the timeline by 13 mos. and I swear I have given the exact same explanation to several people who question what exactly we are going to do for our son when he turns 18. He will be 18 in 43 days. We checked into a youth transitional living program (2 yrs in duration) about a year ago that we thought would be wonderful to help him transition to adulthood. They could tell him the exact same things we were telling him and I believed he'd listen to them and get a much better start than what he was planning for himself (go live at a homeless shelter and get on with his life are his exact words). He tanked the interview process and they told me he was much too disturbed and immature for their program. That was our only good option.

    One other thing. We started getting harassed about getting guardianship of our son. For years we've been told he's too high functioning to qualify for any services/programs in our county. Now the dr. is saying he thinks we should get guardianship. Why? We go to court, spend money we don't have to begin with, only to be shot down once again because all the documentation portrays him as "too high functioning" to receive services? Also, even if we got guardianship (I assure you, it wouldn't happen) how do we physically force him to stay in our home or in a home we choose for him? How do we pay for out of home placement? I was even told by the (one and only) worker who supports our decision to let him leave that if he were living at the homeless shelter, he would automatically qualify for tons of programs, but if he were living in our home, they would put him at the bottom of any service lists because he wouldn't be a priority. That is just wrong. We need help. We've needed help for 4 yrs. with my son. He hasn't changed in the slightest in spite of all our efforts, counseling, meds, etc. Age 18 is not the magical number they think it is. Our kids will be legal adults, which is great for us, liability wise, but I doubt we'll be able to call them "adults" for many, many years.

    I think you're doing the right thing.

  3. We're in this exact same situation, and it is incredibly frustrating that there are NO options for kids who are too "high functioning" to qualify for group homes or other services, but at the SAME TIME are not capable of making it on their own due to mental illness, low IQ (but not low enough to qualify for services), brain damage and immaturity (probably permanently) caused by the trauma. You are right, we don't have any real choices.

    Honestly I see jail (structured setting where he'll have his basic needs met) as being the best viable option for my son (18.5yo)who just moved out and is bouncing from friend to friend while he tries to finish high school. I hope he doesn't have to seriously harm someone to get there.

    My almost 17yo daughter is not as violent, is emotionally only a 6yo although she doesn't believe it and resents us like crazy for not letting her be a "normal teen," and has a tiny bit more "damage" so we will most likely have to go the very expensive legal guardianship route for her.

    Ok, that was humiliating. I stopped typing this comment to answer the door and when the Jehovah's Witness started talking about family, I started crying. I'm going to blame it on low blood sugar (it's 10:30am) and I haven't eaten anything yet so I'm gonna grab something.

    Thank you again for letting me know that I'm not alone.



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