Guidelines needed for troubled youth moving in with heart of gold grandmother
October 24, 2012 11:56 AM   Subscribe

Quick version: My elderly neighbor "Ruth" needs help creating a contract with her grandson. He is 25 and has had a history of drug abuse. He has been through rehab. She has agreed to let him move in with her so he can get his life back on track. Another neighbor and I are close to "Ruth". Against our recommendations she has decided she must do this. We have convinced her that she needs to create a contract of house rules, expectations and timeline for him to agree to and sign. We are concerned for her health and safety.

Back story: Ruth has a heart of gold and is the go-to person for any problem her family is experiencing. Her adult children all have medical, financial and judgement issues. Their constant requests are causing her much emotional distress. In a perfect world they would be helping in this situation...

The grandson: "Hank" lives with his mother 3 hours away. He wants to move to Ruth's town because most of his family is there and he wants a clean start. She says he has ADHD. He does not have a car and this is an area with "ok" bus service. He has a history of poor planning and lack of responsibility. From what I have observed he seems manipulative, self absorbed and knows exactly how to play his grandmother. He has been in the tri-town area visiting and staying with friends for several days. He had Ruth bring her to the local Technical school where he says he has applied. (He wants to be a history teacher and this school does not offer that curriculum... Much of what he says just doesn't jibe.)

The goal: A clear list of rules, expectations and consequences. She has decided he can live there 3 months, that he will take a weekly drug test in her presence and that he must work. She has agreed to require rent which she will save so he will have funds to move out. Other ideas :
Show her his grades
Can not bring his friends to or in her house
Must get and keep a job
Can not use her phone
Can not use her laptop
Must have a move out date (3 months from move in date)
Must do his own laundry
Must abide by Ruth’s curfews
Ruth MUST NOT give him cash or gift cards (including a phone card)
He must agree to all items in the contract and sign the contract.
Copies of the contract should go to Ruth’s son (Hank's father) and his mother
NO drinking, drugs, or smoking in or around her house

I would greatly appreciate any ideas on things to add to the contract. Suggestions of resources which could help this fellow get on tract are welcome. My main goal is to give Ruth the resources to protect herself and provide a clear ending point to the arrangement. I hope Hank is serious about changing his life and that this will work out well.

I am rather distressed by her decision and am not thinking as clearly as I would like...thanks in advance!
posted by cat_link to Human Relations (21 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
One way to appeal to Ruth (from one Ruth to another) is to find out if there is a Sober Living facility where you are. Then it's a moot point. Anyone fresh out of rehab, who is serious about working a program, should be researching Sober Living as an option. Take her to Sober Living and talk with the folks there. The "House Parent" should be able to talk turkey with her about what's needed to keep an addict on the road to recovery.

Failing that, for sure add:

Must attend 12-Step or other Sober Living-type meeting X times per week.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:03 PM on October 24, 2012 [4 favorites]

IAAL, IANYL. I do a fair amount of landlord/tenant work, but probably not in your unnamed state.

What is the purpose of the contract? Is it intended to be legal enforceable, or just "ground rules"? Some "ground rules", even if written down, don't really do anything. What is the "or else" if he doesn't follow the rules?

What Ruth needs is a lease. That way, if the grandson breaches a material condition or overstays the three-month term, she can have him evicted. Of course, she would need to pay the filing fees for such an action. Did I mention that Hank's parents should be co-signers of the lease?
posted by Tanizaki at 12:06 PM on October 24, 2012 [7 favorites]

I would focus on what she plans to do if he breaks the contract. If he's that much of a manipulator, he'll sweet-talk her into staying there anyway while still breaking the rules.
posted by Melismata at 12:09 PM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

She should formally rent him a room with provisions in the lease about drugs, drinking and smoking as well as overnight guests, that way she can evict him if she needs to.

And the grandson should know that her neighbors come by frequently and are aware of his issues and feel protective of his grandmother.
posted by fshgrl at 12:12 PM on October 24, 2012 [7 favorites]

He should set aside two hours each Sunday to do yard work or other maintenance around the house for Ruth.
posted by Nickel Pickle at 12:13 PM on October 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

I suspect the more detailed the rules, the less likely he'll be to follow them, especially if he has (untreated?) ADHD.

Figure out the most important 3-5 things that Ruth can reasonably enforce, and stick to those: Rent is X, move-out date is Y, drug tests are weekly, full-time job required, no guests. Failure to adhere to any of these rules requires immediate move-out and Ruth will change the locks.
posted by jaguar at 12:38 PM on October 24, 2012

If you're distressed by the situation, would you be the best person to help her?
posted by discopolo at 12:38 PM on October 24, 2012

And maybe you and Ruth could have a separate contract about her behavior, as detailed as you like, with penalties for each infraction (e.g., "For each dollar you give Hank, you will buy me a candy bar," etc.).
posted by jaguar at 12:40 PM on October 24, 2012

Listen to your instincts. This kid is still not someone she should trust. You can't force her to give up on her grandson, of course. But an informal list of "rules" probably isn't worth the paper it's written on.

I like the Sober Living suggestion; for one thing, he will need a sponsor and group to keep him straight, maybe for a long time. They are going to do more to hold him responsible than sweet old grandma.

Be prepared for it all to go to hell though. For him to still be using, for him to steal from her, lie, etc. etc.

The best thing you could do for her might be to make sure she has her valuables insured and whatever can be stored somewhere else safely (antiques, good jewelry) put in storage or a bank box. That she has a cell phone on her to call for help with.

She needs to secure her bank information, her computer if she has one, anything that might make her ripe for identity theft. Though he might not be smart enough for that.

Set up a regular schedule of checking on her, and then come unexpectedly sometimes. Keep your eyes open. Document any suspicious activities.

(oh yeah, I have a user in my family. She's always in recovery when she talks to you, no matter how high she is. Once she drove three states away to steal her mom's car. I nearly ended up raising her kid. I may be a little bitter.)
posted by emjaybee at 12:41 PM on October 24, 2012 [6 favorites]

Continue to visit and phone Ruth frequently to check on her: do not accept any excuses from Hank as to why you can't come over or she can't talk on the phone! If at all possible, try to get a copy of her house keys --- without letting Hank know you have them, because I could see him then changing the locks --- so that, if necessary, you can go in to help her.

Have Hank sign a formal, written lease, stating the rent and the maximum amount of time he can stay there, plus all the above-mentioned house rules (no visitors, no alcohol or drugs, x number of NA or whatever meetings required per week, etc.)

Is there any way, any way at all, you could talk Ruth into giving you or another friend (not Not NOT one of her family members) a power of attorney? I know that sounds extreme, but it could be used to block attempts to rip her off. Alternatively, could Hank move into a local halfway house instead?
posted by easily confused at 12:43 PM on October 24, 2012

emjaybee: The thing about a written list of rules isn't that any of us truly believe Hank will suddenly behave and walk the straight and narrow; it's just that as part of a formal agreement to live with Ruth, it'll hopefully act as one more way to evict him if needed. Ditto the rent amount and the term limit to living there: you want clearcut REASONS to evict his ass.
posted by easily confused at 12:46 PM on October 24, 2012

Oh yeah, Ruth needs to put all the blocks you can imagine on her phone, no accepting collect calls from jail, no porno lines (if they even still exist), get an unlimited long distance plan. Also, block the cable, no downloads for movies, porn, etc.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:54 PM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

If Ruth is super soft-hearted, though, then she's likely to let infractions on "minor" written rules slide, which will then make her feel like she shouldn't enforce the "major" rules because that wouldn't be fair, and then it's nine months later and she's doing his laundry and he's stolen her laptop.

Not only will Hank not magically become a standup citizen, Ruth will also not magically become an authoritarian enforcer. You have to figure Ruth's guilt into the equation. Stick to a few rules that are important enough that Hank might actually follow them and Ruth might actually enforce them in order to give BOTH of them a shot at making this work.

And I very much agree about locking up her valuables somewhere outside the house.
posted by jaguar at 1:01 PM on October 24, 2012 [4 favorites]

I think a contract may help you and her feel better about getting into this situation, but honestly will have little effect.

If he's trying to do the right thing, it won't be an issue, and a contract might be a small, temporary tool to help him continue to do the right thing. If he chooses not to do the right thing, no contract written will be enforceable by law enforcement once he has established residency (depending on the time frames for this in your local tenancy laws) unless he is proven to be a harm to himself or others, or he has committed an arrestable offense.

For example, in FL, even if you have a written agreement between a homeowner or lessee to a renter including general rules of the house, "code of conduct/sobriety" rules are not enforceable by the police unless you have a motel's license or they constitute arrestable offenses. Once residency is established, you cannot be removed from your residence without a civil proceeding for not following "play nice/don't drink" rules.

That said, I think it's more important if you want to be helpful to inquire to see if she would be willing to go to Family Anonymous or Al-Anon meetings. Perhaps you could go with her for support if she is nervous about going. Many people there will have had experience dealing with issues of this nature, and she could pick someone who is emotionally attractive to her to help her deal with this if she is dead set on going forward with letting him stay with her.

Clarification: The fact that she is involving herself in this would indicate to me that she needs to get better too. You may have a chance with her, maybe not so much with him.
posted by Debaser626 at 1:12 PM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

What would be the consequences of Hank not obeying the contract? Is Ruth prepared to change the locks and not let him back in?
posted by thermonuclear.jive.turkey at 3:49 PM on October 24, 2012

Keep it simple.
These are the conditions of living here:
1. No drugs.
2. Clean up after yourself. All the time.
3. Go to school (and show me your grades) or get a job and pay rent.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 4:05 PM on October 24, 2012

Thanks - many good ideas.

I found a N-anon (?) meeting for tonight. Unfortunately he was there when I stopped by to tell her about it & offer to drive/accompany and I couldn't mention it. Thanks to your suggestions I made it very clear to him that we love her and are by her apartment frequently. I also made it clear that the expectation is that he is just here for a short period to get on his feet.

He is going back (tomorrow?) to his mothers to pack and will return Saturday.

My impression meeting him was that he is accustomed to using charm to snow people. Once he realized the effect was lost on me he avoided eye contact.

Physically he looked good, arms were uncovered, hygiene appropriate. Eyes somewhat bloodshot. No idea what sort of drugs he had issues with. Many unanswered questions...

I have obtained a NC residential lease. At the very least it may give her a head start in obtaining police help if it comes to that.

Our thoughts regarding a "contract" were:
a) To help Ruth clarify and look at the long term potential issues in a rational manner - hopefully allowing her to change her mind.
b) To put Hank on alert that there were expectations and ramifications to poor choices on his part. Also to provide him with a defined road map of sorts. I am not well versed in ADHD but felt written expectations which he agreed to could be an aid to help him stay on track.
c) In the event that this turns terribly bad perhaps the document will be of use to a lawyer trying to make a point regarding character or safety issues to a judge.

I did not know about Sober Living. I am gathering info about group homes in our area. I think that would be the ideal situation - for both of them.

This is a tricky situation. It is hard enough when it is your family situation. With us not having that status it creates different issues. Luckily we have a wonderful neighborhood with a lot of people who love Ruth. There will be many keeping an eye on things.

Oh...another question - will a 12 step program provide an attendance form if requested? Trying to close potential loopholes to him lying about attending meetings.

The other neighbor and I had a brief pow-wow this evening. We are both gathering information and preparing to speak with Ruth together. She has met Ruth's family on more occasions so she may have some options to pursue in that quarter.

Again - much thanks. I feel better equipped due to your suggestions and comments.
posted by cat_link at 5:15 PM on October 24, 2012

First thought is that, as you realize, the biggest variable here is what Ruth is willing to do. Do a lot of listening about her concerns to help her really buy into what you are proposing, not just agreeing to get you off her back.

Second thought: It might help to break this into two parts: the lease - break the lease, get evicted. No illegal activities in the house (include theft as well as drug use).

House Rules/Expectations: these are things that she is likely to give him some slack on anyway. These should be framed as choices: you do this or I do that. You say he "must" do own laundry - but what if he doesn't? Instead, if you don't do laundry then it won't get done. Or one warning and then I want cook for you or drive for you until the room is clean. I'm not sure if this is legal but I would be inclined to have an option in the house expectations that says more than 3 warnings/conseqences in a 3 days and he needs to get out of the house and stay with friends for a night or two to give him a chance to think about if he wants to stay.

Third, absolutely agree with people who recommend Al-Anon (for family members of addicts/alcoholics, not the addict themselves) It will really help her figure out what she can do and what she is powerless to change about her nephew and give her support for what she is going through as someone who cares about him.
posted by metahawk at 6:16 PM on October 24, 2012

At the risk of sounding unsympathetic, I'd like to point out that a fair amount of what you have on your list is extraneous - showing his grades and following a curfew, for example. Someone new to recovery needs to not use drugs, and be a functioning member of a household, and that's pretty much it. All the other stuff is an attempt at control which I don't think is any of your business, or even Ruth's, for that matter.

I'm not saying you shouldn't have concerns. But the best thing you can do right now is be present for Ruth. Show him that people care about her, and are paying attention to her well-being. Get her to determine what is most important to her (not to you) and she should let him know those things.

There are no 12-step programs anywhere that would provide an attendance form. That's part of being anonymous.
posted by lyssabee at 5:23 PM on October 25, 2012

Sorry, I realize I'm late to the party.

Just wanted to add that there is *ALWAYS* a point in every 12 step program meeting you attend (usually halfway thru the meeting) where dues/donations are collected and a basket is passed for attendance slips. I have never attended a meeting where this didn't happen. I imagine if it didn't, at one particular meeting, the chairperson or secretary wouldn't find it unusual to be asked to sign in lieu of the basket being passed.

My estimate would be that roughly 10% (if not more) of attendees at any given meeting are there because they are court ordered to attend some form of outpatient therapy; and most OP groups require that you attend AA or NA x times per week. You show that you went to a meeting by having the chairperson sign your attendance slip.

Several of my close friends have been "forced" into meetings and have to collect signatures to turn in when they go back to their scheduled treatment OP meetings.

This doesn't break the anonymous part because no one really has to sign their full name, or even their real name. It just sort of shows that the effort was there. (On a side note, some meetings even pass around their own "attendance" sign in sheets; typically at larger meetings where the chairperson needs a list to refer to when calling on people to share)

This doesn't mean that a creative person can't fill out their own form, however. The part of AA & NA being anonymous means that you wouldn't have a way to "check" these signatures. There isn't anyone who would verify his signatures were legit. Also I'd mention that any decent addict or alcoholic is highly manipulative & would figure this out right away.

In fact, many chairpersons and secretaries at meetings will not pass back signed slips until the very end of the meeting to ensure people will stay thru the whole thing, but this varies from meeting to meeting.

Whether or not it's a good thing to force someone to go to meetings, I can't say. That's definitely up to the addict. At least this would get his foot in the door, if not glue his ass to a chair.

Good luck; Ruth is fortunate to have friends so concerned about her! :)
posted by wickedfat at 10:15 PM on October 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

The suggestions we put together for Ruth served as a starting point for a family discussion. Seeing the ideas in black and white made the possible implications have impact and actually motivated her children to join together and focus on her welfare. The suggestions helped the conversation stay focused. It seemed to have made an impact on Hank. He appeared very upset that his past actions could cause others to question his motives.

Hank passed several random drug tests administered by his Father. He worked and attended 12 step meetings. Some questionable stories were cleared up and new situations occurred.
He ended up loosing his job and was accused of stealing from the cash drawer. Details are sketchy. Several days later he opted to move back to his Mothers several hours away.

Ruth is relieved he has moved. She found the reality of adjusting to sharing her home much more stressful than anticipated. She still is not sure what to believe when it comes to Hank but her eyes are much more open. She is glad she followed her heart and hopes that her belief in him will be a help in his journey.

All in all it went well. Ruth came out of it sadder but wiser - without her safety being compromised.

Much appreciation to all who helped us anticipate possible problems and offered ways to minimize them.
posted by cat_link at 10:21 AM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

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