Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Talking People Out of It

I came to a conclusion yesterday. Maybe us parents of troubled kids shouldn't have started blogging or connecting online. Now, before you have a hissy fit, hear me out.

For me, blogging has been a lifesaver. Sharing my story with the world, the struggles we've faced and the joys, has been life-giving and cathartic. But I fear it is doing harm to children.

Not my children. They are fine. They know I blog, they know I call them by name, and they know that they can read it any time. They don't bother. But they know they can.

But the children that are being harmed are those out there in the system who are waiting to be adopted. Because our blogs, I fear, are talking people out of adopting.

I recently talked to an experienced adoptive parent of a large family who was recently matched and she said that almost every online support person she knew was telling her she shouldn't take the kids she was matched with. In our conversation, I told her why I thought that we should never talk people out of adopting kids with special needs.

I think before I talk someone out of an adoption, I should as myself the following questions:

1. How do I know what the family can handle? In a lot of cases, I don't even know the family. Sure, I know them from reading their blog, I may know them from phone calls, and I may even have been able to spend time with them in person once or twice. But unless I have lived in some kind of constant relationship with them, I don't know them. For example, I can say that I know Mike and Kari. I have spent time with them in person at least once a week since we moved here almost three years ago. We see them with their kids. We share life together. We talk almost daily. If they were talking to me about what kind of kid might match into their family, I would feel like I could give an educated opinion. I also can say that I know Cindy. We have been together in person three times in our life and I have read her blog daily for almost 4 years. We talk on the phone every once and a while. But in saying that I know her, I realize that it is a very distant way and in a very limited one. Even though I have met many of her children and been in her home, I have not been there during crisis to see how she responds. I know her family dynamics from her expression of them on her blog, but I have not experienced them. I have met and spent time with Linda and her kids and have met Mimi (not her real name) in person, and talked on the phone with both of them, but basically they are online friends. And while I can claim to know Sheri, truth is that I have never spent a second in her physical presence. So how do I know what any of these people can or cannot handle, with the exception of Mike and Kari who I am with weekly and communicate with on a very intimate level?

2. How do I know what the kids will be like? Every time I help a family make a decision about kids they have been matched with it is without ever meeting the children. A case file is not a crystal ball, and neither are diagnosis. As I have written many times in the past, there have been children's whose paperwork and psych evals have painted them to be nearly psychopathic who have moved into homes with their adoptive parents and permanency has settled them down and they haven't had a single struggle. And then there are children with absolutely no diagnosis who when they hit their teen years nearly implode and the whole family system is in shock. So nobody can read the bios of kids and their case history and say "these kids will ruin your family." There is no way to know.

3. How do I know what God wants for someone else? I have a hard enough time knowing what God wants me to do. Could God not be calling them to take those kids for reasons unseen? And if God wants those kids there, will God not be able to provide the strength for them to make it through and eventually look back and be glad they did it?

4. How do I know the future? I truly believe that if we were given a case file that was supposed to predict our future in a job, or with a birth child, or in a marriage, or with our health and we had a chance to say no to that future, we might often miss out on the greatest things in the world. Would a person who survives cancer and looks back on it, seeing how their perspective in life has changed, or how rich and full their lives have become because of the people they met, or how they have grown and changed CHOOSE to have cancer if given a choice? Not in a million years. And so we are handed a case file and told -- you can choose NOT to do this. Or what about a family who is going to give birth to a child who will later have a stroke? If someone handed them a file and said, read through this. This is what you might give. Wanna get pregnant? Not in a million years. But in adoption we have that choice. We see kids and read about them and then we have to say "sure, I'll take that" or "no, thanks, I'll pass." And I truly believe many people pass on the very things that could have made them into even more amazing human beings because the task looked too daunting and the price to pay too high. The rest of life doesn't offer us a peak at the future -- neither should a case file.

5. How do I know that my own story isn't influencing my advice-giving too much? If I am in the middle of hell (and all of us go through times when we are experiencing difficult times) how do I give someone advice without letting my current situation cloud my thinking?

6. How do I know that my own story isn't going to end up with a happier ending? I am a firm believer that if I can't do it now, that some day I am going to look back on all that I've been through and be glad I did it. Sure, I'm going to have lived through some awful times and I am going to wish I would have done things differently, but even in the midst of bad times I have been able to see that at some point in the future i am going to be able to look back and be grateful that each of my kids is my kid and that God choose me to be their mother.

7. How do I know the fact that something is going to be awfully hard means I shouldn't do it? Society tells us that if something is difficult we should avoid it at all costs. But as mentioned above, what about all the good that comes from doing very difficult and hard things? Living a life where we dodge and attempt to escape the hard things has turned us into a society of selfish folks with weak characters and very little passion or purpose. Don't even get me started.

If I don't stop writing I may never stop and I have many things to do, but let me tell you how I am able to encourage families, instead of discourage them, from adopting hurt kids.

My underlying philosophy of adoptive parenting is that I know it's not about me. It's not about the parents, it is about the kids. If I focus on the parents -- how their lives will change, how bad it could be for them, how much the system might put them through, how little support they might get -- I will never ever be able to suggest adoption.

But if I look at a child or a sibling group and I begin to think about them if they are not matched .... aging out of foster care without parents to advocate for them -- I can't talk someone out of adopting them. They may grow up to be worse than they are now, but that is a risk every parent takes, whether they are parents by birth or adoption. But they will have had the advantage of having parents and of seeing a different kind of life.

Our oldest son is not a giving person. He has attachment issues and he is not one we have ever gotten much back from. It is emotionally exhausting for us to be his parents, even when he doesn't live here, because he expects things but doesn't give back.

Last month he hurt his knee trying to do a back flip with some buddies in Cancun. He's a third grade teacher and he took the school's spring break to go on a vacation. When he returned home, he found out he had to have surgery. Not having seen him or heard much from him since Christmas, we of course knew that when he needed something he'd call.

And so after his surgery Bart stopped by to find him broke and without groceries. Bart went to the store and came back and stocked his shelves. He spent time with him. He listened to him worry aloud about his finances. And then Bart came home.

Maybe Kyle only needs parents once or twice a year. Maybe we aren't going to ever get much back from him. But to me, it was that afternoon -- that one day in his life -- that adopting him was worth paying the price. Because even as a 3rd grade teacher, living on his own, financially independent though careless, needs a parent. And on that particular day, had he aged out of foster care, he wouldn't have had one.

Was raising Kyle easy? No way. Were we idealistic, naive idiots when we read his case file and said yes? You better believe it. Did he put our marriage through stress and strain and cause us many sleepless nights? You know it.

But a couple weeks ago, at the ripe old age of 22, he needed a dad. And because we said yes we read a file when he was 10, and brought him home at 11, he had one.

It's not about us folks. It simply isn't. Because if it is, then we are the biggest of fools. But if it is about the kids, and obeying God to provide those kids with someone that most of us received without having to ask (loving nurturing parents), then we are doing one of the most powerful things anyone can do.

So I won't talk anyone out of it. Never. I will talk you into it. Because it is the hardest thing you'll ever love. And with a strong faith, I truly believe that all of us, blogging from nursing homes in 40 years, will be looking back and saying "those years were AWFUL. But they made me who I am today. And I'd do it again."


FosterAbba said...

I have to see that I think prospective adoptive parents should read blogs like yours, mine and Cindy's. I think that adoption workers should try to scare parents off.

The reason why I believe this is that if a family finally does make it to finalization, they know what they are getting into, and they are probably more prepared to stick it out, even when the going gets tough.

You have to make sure, especially for the older kids, the tougher kids, or the kids with profound issues, that their families will be able to stick with them.

Yeah, our blogs might scare people off. But maybe that's not such a bad thing.

Linda up north said...

Oh this is so very well put.
I see what FosterAbba is saying, but I also can't help but think it may be an unwise thing to talk people out of doing something that God may intend for the highest good... how CAN you know? How can anyone know what God has yet to reveal?
I feel a blog post coming on ;)

Sheri said...

You mad me cry and in true Claudia fashion the last part cracked me up . . . the picture of us all in nursing homes blogging . . . LOL

Rose Adoption Journey said...

I aagree with both of you. There needs to be reality and hope at the same time. Quite frankly, if I knew now what we have gone through with our first son and now our second, I may not have made the decision to adopt(ok..well maybe..I like a challenge).

I see prospective parents now who wont listen to reality. One couple in particular needs to be talked out of it. They are not listening to anyone, they are SURE God is going to give THEM the "easy" child and they sit and tell us how to parent our children. (I know them very well)I pray every day for them..I pray that God WILL send them the "right" child. That is what I can hope for. Unfortunately, if they never get a match, they will blame the system for being lousy and be bitter the rest of their lives. That is what makes me sad.

I think too prospective parents should read our blogs and see what reality is...but you know what else, through all the blogs I read, along with the struggles we face, I see love, commitment and endurance. That is what I hope others see when they read our blogs. That all of us seem to be in it for the long haul and that is the decision you have to make as a prospective adoptive parent. THE LONG HAUL!!

Happy Tuesday!

Torina said...

Best. Post. EVER.

Not to mention, how can anyone tell what a kid is like by reading incident reports and psych evals??? Does your homestudy really reflect who you are as a family? Mine doesn't. It just gives some bland information. Likewise, those files that people review do not give an accurate picture of a CHILD. Just bland and negative information.

If it is any consolation, I adopted a really difficult kid for my first, then I started reading your blog around the time you had to get a restraining order on Mike, and I still ended up adopting two more kids. And who is say that is all?

Nobody said...

I've read that in the old days, the missionaries to remote areas would pack their belongings in a coffin as they headed out, because the expectation was that their mission would be so hard and dangerous, that they would not survive to return home. Clearly this was happening, and the information had made it back to these young green ones heading out, and yet it did not deter them one bit. Sure, there were likely those who opted out when they discovered how hard the mission field would be, but many went, expecting their lives to be snuffed out prematurely, but certain of God's call to "do this hard thing". If you can be deterred from obeying God, because you suspect it might become hard, then you will never obey God, and you probably aren't all that well acquainted with Him either.

Marge said...

Excellent post, Claudia. Like Linda said, you cannot talk people out of something that God intended for them to do. And.....if He brings you to it, He will bring you through it. No one said He would make it a bed of roses, but if you are traveling this road with Him, you will make it in the end. Joy cometh in the morning.

But, I don't think I have 40 years before I'm blogging from the nursing home! But then, you never know, do you.

debbie said...

not to be repititious, but you are so dead on. there are so very many unknowns when making that decision. i read many blogs on a regular basis and sometimes i think, wow, i can't believe they wrote that, but it always come down to how that particular person and that particular family lives. some people do know what they are getting into, as much as they are able, and chose it anyway because it is their calling. the biggest thing i get from my reading is that each family has different limits as to what they are willing to do for that child. you are exactly right when you say that we don't really know all these people. they may have a very chaotic home and a child that needs a quiet home and that would change everything for that child. it all depends. i was reading before i adopted but it only made me better prepared, it never made me want to say no. i am rarely shocked by anything my children do as i expected it. is it truly the better option for these children to grow up moving from home to home? of course not. and your story about your oldest son should be on a poster somewhere. it just about sums up parenting in a simple story.

Ferjenib said...

Claudia - The Lord is truly working through you and I am glad. I am a foster parent (which I love) and have no homemade children. We have a pre-teen boy who is an absolute joy (even with the boundary issues and security issues). He has been with us for a year and the sw has asked us about adoption, (although I am hoping he will re-unite). I have been reluctant to commit because the thought of what is to come scares me. I never intended to raise a child to adulthood. Your perspective about aging out of care and having parents because someone took a chance on faith really touched me! Keep up the good work. - JB

sarsmile said...

I am considering adopting, and I am very grateful for all of you who put your stories out there - the good, the bad, and the ugly. As far as I am concerned, the more information I have going into this, the better prepared I will be, and the more likely I am to be an effective parent.

There is no question that life is unpredictable and kids even more so, so I do see what you are saying. But I don't think hiding the rough parts is an effective way to encourage adoption. You and others who share your reality aren't talking me out of it - you are providing me with tools that will benefit me and any children I end up parenting.

flacius1551 said...

This is a comment on your subsidiary point about your eldest son, from my perspective of constant dealings with 18-25 year olds: really, in his lack of connection to the family, he is not that different from most of them, or rather it's a difference of degree rather than of substance. I don't know him or you, but in our days of extended adolescence the differentiation phase seems to be longer than it used to be for late adolescents, and in a way, this is the typical behavior we used to see in older teenagers: do what I want and call mom and dad when I get in trouble. Again, I don't know him, but the fact that he felt obligated to try to help his brother suggests that he is at least somewhat attached, and you may find that he becomes closer to you as he gets older. (That is something that has also happened in my own life.)

southern living said...

We just completed the process for fostering to adopt and now are waiting on our first placement. For the last six months, I've been following your blog daily, as well as Cindy's, Kari's, Amanda's, Bart's and others. Your blogs have not been discouraging but educational and eye opening. I am no longer disillusioned, thinking that if we love them enough it will make everything better.

I am grateful for the candor and honesty I find on the blogs. I know the road ahead will be difficult but with the knowledge I've gained from these sources, I feel I have some of the tools needed on this journey.

My husband and I have been married almost 15 years and have no children of our own. We have been blessed with a wonderful marriage, good jobs, a strong church family, and in many other ways. Of course, we've heard the spectrum of remarks from others from very supportive to unsupportive. I often think of Christ and his time here on Earth. He knew before he came it would be hard. He knew he would be persecuted, he would suffer, and ultimately, he would die. But he did it for the well being of others. I tremor at the thought of meeting God on judgment day and having to say, "Sorry, I didn't want to leave my comfortable and stable life to help these children because it would be too hard."

I thank you for your blog. Yes, I'm scared but also hopeful that, if even for a little while, I can make the lives of someone a little happier, safer, stable and joyful. As I read about the events on these blogs, I know from personal experience that these things also happen in biological families. While growing up I lived with family members with bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, Asperger's Syndrome, and drug addiction. These family members have become adults so as an adult, I continue to deal with these issues. The are not that much different, it's just that bio families don't usually make it so public. Also, the headlines never seem to note that crimes, etc are committed by "biological son" or "biological daughter."

Thank you for your blog. Yes, the brutal honesty of it all may be turning some away but it may very well be weeding out those who need to be.

Amie said...

I wish more adoption workers felt as you did. If so we would currently be raising 5 very tough kids from fostercare (yes, in addition to our current bio children), it would have been hard, heck, we probably would be miseriable at this point. I am not sure what is worse though, that or wondeirng what has happened to those kids? That was two years ago, I continue to read ya'lls blogs, at this point mostly because I have become connected to your families, but also because the hope is still alive that someday we will be able to try adoption again.

Robin said...

Wonderful post. I am another one who thanks you for your honesty. Our kids are young now, but blogs like yours help prepare me for what the future may hold for them and us. I cannot wait to adopt more, even thought I know it will be hard. It is both exciting and scary.

Melissa in Durham said...

For me I fid these honest blogs so helpful. They do scare me. They scare the heck out of me, but from that fear comes a prayer to God, to help me to follow His path in life. So, being scared helps me work on my relationship with God. Also, I believe knowledge is power, and as we prepare ourselves to become adoptive parents to kids inteh foster care system, knowledge and faith are the only powerful things I know of to arm myself. So with every blog about the difficulties, how you deal with it, how you get through it, how you move past it, how you keep your faith and your marriage alive and well, those help me every day in my quest to be as prepared as I possibly can. So, keep blogging. And, if someone is scared away, I think maybe it is not the calling for them. maybe they are meant to provide respite, or help a family to stay intact, or find another way to serve that might help keep kids out of foster care, and in their homes. It is better to know the truth and walk away. It is better not to talk someone out of a major life decision. We don't know what another person can handle or what God has planned for them. You are better to just help prepare them the best you can, and let the decision be theirs.