"I Have No Life!"

I Have No Life But This
by: Emily Dickinson (1830 - 1886)

I have no life but this,
To lead it here;
Nor any death, but lest
Dispelled from there;
Nor tie to earths to come,
Nor action new,
Except through this extent,
The Realm of You!

Q:Is there such a thing as becoming "co-dependent" on a child with FAS? I feel like I have no life of my own. My entire life centers around FAS and meeting my child's needs. I pay his bills, deal with the police, talk to the debt collectors. I feel trapped. --J
There is no room for me or for a relationship with my husband. My child needs me for everything. I wonder if I'll ever lead a normal life. Does anyone else feel this way? --K

A: Being the parent of a child with FAS/E means you're carrying on the details of another life along with your own life. Hopefully, little by little, we can allow our kids take over tasks for their own lives... as much as possible.

By mid-20s, our kids can often hold jobs... especially a job that has something to do with their interests. For instance, my son, now 26, loves movies. He worked at Blockbuster Video for over a year. (I had to encourage him to apply, take him to pick up the application, give him cues for filling out the application, take him to turn in the application, take him to an interview, and take him to work and pick him up from work everyday.)

My son began to dislike the Blockbuster job after a while. Partly, this was due to some nasty customers and even more, it was due to the disorganization and illogical rules that are rampant in corporate franchises. This dislike grew to an intense wish to get out of there, but my son is not able to face people and disappoint them with the words, "I'm quitting."

Instead, he started coming in late, not appearing for work at all -- with no notice, and walking off the job early. He was warned a few times, and then, after 15 months of a perfect record (until the last month), including several requests to move up to store manager, he was fired. It was a relief to him. Now, he was free of a job he'd grown to hate.

DJ He applied for (with my urging and help) and got a job at a major copy center. On the first day he showed up for work, the manager very kindly and very regretfully told him that his police record showed he had an assault charge and they therefore couldn't hire him after all. He was devastated. I tried to help him see this as a valuable life experience by telling him that here was yet another reason to keep out of trouble and to think before acting. I reminded him that if he stays out of trouble, his police record will be expunged in 2003, and then he'll be able to apply for any job he wants without fear of a youthful police record haunting him.

He was pretty discouraged after this and he slept a lot, sometimes round the clock, for a month or six weeks. One day, I bought the local newspaper just to check the Help Wanted ads and I saw the ad for someone to work in a pet-grooming place. He was interested immediately. I think he liked the idea of working with animals rather than with people. I helped him apply and he got the job. He's been there since early summer 2001. He likes the job a lot, never complains, and never misses a day.

A long time ago, he agreed to let me bank his money. He gives his paycheck to me, I put it in the bank, then he asks me for money when he wants it. I *always* give it to him with no hassles -- otherwise he wouldn't let me bank it for him any longer. Sometimes, but not often, he cashes his paycheck and blows it all, but he doesn't like that feeling of waste.

My son lives at home and I am grateful for that because I think the longer he's around a stable, well-functioning household, the more he'll absorb in terms of how to live a healthy life. He pays no rent, although many have told me I should make him pay rent. I want him to live at home, so I don't rock the boat with this, although someday, for his own good, in terms of learning to budget, I may ask him to pay rent.

His room is often a disaster area, but every once in a while he gets on a cleaning kick and really fixes it up. He does his own laundry, goes to work everyday, and is keeping out of legal trouble (which was a big problem in his late teens - early 20s). Right now, that's enough for me.

In terms of our kids being involved with the criminal justice system, I doubt there is much choice but to help them out. The details of the system are so complex they're seemingly designed to make people fail.

Dianne Yee It's critical to have a life of your own too, with your own interests and your own friends. Exercising everyday to ward off depression is critical for me.

In my experience, at least to this point, my life is not like my friends' lives and it's not likely to ever be like their lives in terms of the freedom they have. But as my son gets older, I have somewhat more freedom than I did when he was younger.

In the end, we cannot control every eventuality. Something bad may happen when we're not there to prevent it. Maybe my son would be okay if I wasn't here at all and he was completely on his own. I don't think so though, and I am content to be there for him to the extent that I am for the foreseeable future. I gave myself permission to make that choice though because I had gotten bogged down in the mindset of "I have to do this. I have no freedom" and that was very bad for me.

No one HAS to do anything. We do things because we hope for certain results. It's important not to feel like a victim, but like a person who definitely has choices.

Dianne Yee

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