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."