Friday, April 17, 2009

Laws, Rules and Norms

I need to have a discussion with my son concerning behaviors. It is so difficult for me to break things down sometimes to where it doesn't sound like a lecture. I'm trying not to hurry his progression but I want him to fit society and not experience the setbacks when society doesn't meet his expectations and he is being judged as a 21 year old man and not a recovering addict.

There are times his behavior makes little sense to me, but I have learned that people do what makes sense to them at the time. I have found in my job and in life seldom do people strive to do wrong, they do what makes sense in their world. The trouble is "their world" and "the world" may be disconnected at the time or not enough information or learning is available. My struggle is how to communicate this to him.

Laws, rules and norms are something I do not feel my son has a of grasp of in his life. Obviously laws are a problem otherwise we wouldn't be going to court next week. But once again, doing what makes sense to him, he needed drugs, he had no money so the only way to get money was to violate the laws. Laws are something I feel he gets, he just makes a choice to break them and doesn't connect consequences to actions.

From my perspective, rules are definitely something he feels if they don't make sense to him, they have no impact on him. As an example, a rule is no smoking in our house and the house includes my garage and shop. If it's raining or cold he thinks it is stupid to have to smoke in the rain or get cold. If we are home he will go outside but if we are not home he obviously thinks no one will know. But as any non-smoker knows you can smell that nasty stench long after the smoke disappears.

Norms are a whole other subject that I feel are just as important but I am not sure he even recognizes. To me behavioral norms are the lubricant of society. When people act as others expect them to act, societal actions move smoothly. When a person does something that may be fully within the law and not breaking a rule but it is recognized as bizarre by others a tremendous amount of processing power is expended by those adjusting to the action. This is hard for me to put into words, I'm not trying to deal in conformity and non-conformity. It's more about meeting the expectations of yourself and others. I guess some might say, "yea, common sense" but I was awakened a long time ago that common sense is not that common.

The problem is with most of us learn these these gradually. We learn to adjust and adhere.

It seems with my son at times he works very hard to try and please and want recognition for his work. I think this is from him being so far down sometimes he is just trying to get his bearings as to what actually is up. But as he begins to move forward, and he does have interviews at Oxford Houses this Sunday, he needs to fast track his learning of these concepts. I have supervised and managed people for over 25 years. In this time I have watched as people succeed and fail just because of the struggle with rules and norms. Maybe an example would be one way of illustrating what I feel. The other night I had forgotten to sweep up under my table saw and I ask him to sweep up under my saw in the shop. He really jumped right on it and did the task. That was exactly what I ask, he swept up and left 2 piles of sawdust sitting right next to the saw. In my world sweeping up means picking up the pile, obviously in his world sweeping up is just that. I tried being patient and explaining the concept of the whole job. He thought I was picking on him and I thought it was a teachable moment. I just kept thinking of if he was working for me at my work and he was just another employee it would not be handled as a "teachable moment".

I haven't decided whether to say anything about these things to him. First I'm not really sure how or what I would say, but I know it needs to be said. Secondly, I'm not even sure he is in a place where he could do anything about it. Maybe solving my own dilemma is exercising patience.


Syd said...

I wonder about this too...not picking up. It seems obvious to me. But I've learned that what's obvious to me, isn't obvious to others, especially those who are addicted.

Deadbeaten said...

I think you said it very clearly (and lovingly) in your post. Could you tweak it a bit to suit the purpose and send it to him as an email, or present it to him in a letter form? I left a letter for my daughter in a sealed envelope on her pillow at one point. I didn't ask her about it, or mention it - I gave her the chance to read and re-read it, go over it in her mind, and respond when she was ready. She subsequently sent me an email response, and we were able to come to a 'meeting of the minds' without having an uncomfortable, awkward conversation or confrontation.

You are all in my prayers.

Fractalmom said...

good luck. i personally don't think they get the whole concept of 'socially acceptable' or consequences, or even the basic 'for every action, there is an equal and opposite" reaction.

it just never seems to occur to them. And, further, everything bad that happens is always someone else's fault that it happened.

confusing to us as parents.

Laura said...

I am taking an on line class related to my work on managing behavior of young people. I had an "Ah Ha" moment when they discussed that some kids don't develop their inner "no". I think this is our son's problem- he knows what is right and wrong but he cannot say NO to himself. He may rationalize his yes as sometimes we all do. Of course, I then immediately think tha reason he doesn't have this inner NO is because we didn't say NO enough for him to learn it. I will admit he was the kind of kid that made it difficult to say no- but we said it a lot more with him that his sister and she developed that self control. But I know it has to do with many things including impulse control with the developing frontal lobe. If he would take time to think he might say no to himself.
You really are living our life. Today we found text messages, stuff in his car, and computer videos we didn't like. He can't seem to walk away from his addicted life for very long.

Our dinners also are toss- everyone always wondering if he will be in a "good mood". We feel your pain. It is sad to think so many parents are enduring this with their children.

Dad and Mom said...

Thanks for the comments, I am going to be patient and wait on this discussion. Or maybe he will read the blog.

Cheri said...


Thanks for sharing the link to your post on laws, rules, and norms. I enjoyed reading it. Teaching these concepts to any child is a challenge, but teaching them to a child who suffers from addiction is a much tougher issue. They simply do not think as we do, as you well know. Prayer and patience... that's what it takes.