Sunday, August 14, 2011

Conundrum: When To Stop Sacrificing?

I'm in a pickle here and I'm having a hard time figuring out what's the right thing to do. My 21-year-old foster son moved out four months ago, and since then I've been giving him his space. Which is what I assume he wants. It's a little difficult to figure out what he wants because he won't say, actually. So, the best I can do is make assumptions, and I've assumed he wanted me to keep my distance.

Recently, within the last few days, I have tried to gently open the lines of communication with him. It has been very difficult. Whatever I say seems to come across the wrong way, and before I know it he is unhappy with me. I'm walking on eggshells with him because he absolutely will not tell me what he wants from me (Back off? Stay in touch? Give him some time? Never call him again?), and ironically enough, he says he doesn't like it that I'm walking on eggshells... Yeah, tough one there.

Fortunately for all involved, I am patient and I can wait until the time comes when he is willing to talk. However, I have some decisions to make in the near future that will impact him, so there are some things that need to be talked about. One of the most important ones is this: Do I take him as a dependent on my taxes?

See, here's the deal: For years I have not been listing him as a dependent on my taxes, which of course is a sacrifice on my part financially, because if I do so it will interfere with his college financial aid. It's complicated, but basically unless he files independently he will have to go and get his biological parents' tax returns in order to file for the grant he receives. And the amount of their income will disqualify him for said grant. Upon the advice of his college financial aid office, the only way to go about this was for him to file independently and then provide a letter each year. I agreed to forego the tax deduction and this has been working for three years now.

But now things have changed. Now he is gone, separated from the entire family (not just me), and really appearing to want nothing to do with any of us. He refuses to say why, refuses to give any answers, and leaves me in a position of not knowing whether I am supposed to grieve a loss here and move on, or wait out some mysterious issue until he's ready to speak. For all I know he will sit down with me someday and explain to me what was going on in his mind and we will patch things up, or else perhaps I will never hear from him again. Either result is as likely as the other.

Meanwhile, I need to file my taxes. I've put it off because I couldn't decide what to do. Other kids in the family are upset that I have continued to help him and make sacrifices for him (which I have), that I have spoiled him and never held him accountable or required anything of him (which is also probably true), and that I've allowed him to be manipulative (maybe true - my perspective is admittedly not clear enough to be sure). Frankly, he is acting like a huge self-centered jerk (gotta admit that) and everyone but me has had enough of it. And here I am with another sacrifice to make - foregoing that deduction once again on the taxes so he can stay in school.

What makes this even more complicated is that he doesn't know this is an issue. He seems to have forgotten that I've been doing this for years, and if I decide that I am taking the deduction, I will need to contact him and let him know that he's got to talk to his financial aid office because he's not able to file as independent for this year. If I contact him and tell him this, I know it's going to come across as me being angry and vindictive. And THAT is counter-productive to my ultimate goal of patching up this relationship.

I should probably mention this, too: When he left, he didn't just move out in some kind of planned, organized way. He got upset and left in a huff, leaving unfinished projects and half his things and messes to be cleaned up - all of which fell on the shoulders of myself and the other kids. He apparently just expected that everyone would go ahead and clean up after him, take care of his things until he retrieved them, etc. Naturally the other kids are very, very unhappy about all this. So, if I make another sacrifice at the expense of this family in order to benefit him... Well, it could get ugly.

Besides all that, there's the matter of what is just good parenting. He's behaved very selfishly and irresponsibly, and I'm not sure I should continue rewarding that. I may already have contributed to the problem we're dealing with now by my past "spoiling" of him. He seems, at almost twenty-two years old now, to believe that he does not have any personal responsibility for the impact he has on those around him. He seems to believe he doesn't owe anyone anything, not even an explanation. He seems to feel entitled to act in any way he pleases with no accountability for how that affects others.

If I continue to make sacrifices for him, as much as I love him, I may be reinforcing these attitudes. If I don't make the sacrifices, he may lose out on his college education and also it may further damage our relationship since he'll interpret it as me being vindictive. Sigh...

If anyone has any thoughts on this, I'd sure appreciate hearing them. :-/

1 comment:

  1. Just want to thank everyone for the responses I've received on Twitter. Thanks for all your thoughts. For now, I guess my decision is to continue what I've been doing and leave him off my taxes. It may not be fair and I may or may not be making the right decision, but I'm doing the best I can and don't want to impact his educational goals. So, that's where things are for now!