Friday, August 10, 2012

Someone to Watch Our Movie

Jen in a comment asked the following questions:

Did you adopt any children who were aged 15-18 at the time of adoption? Have you assisted with any adoptions of kids in this age range? At such an independent stage of a person's life, do teenagers see their adoptive parents as forever parents to depend on, or more as mentors or worse, nuisances?

I figured the answers were worthy of a blog post.

I did not adopt any children that age, but if we ever adopt again that is exactly the age we will be looking for.

I have been the social worker for a few adoptions of kids in that age range.

And your last question is a good one. It reminds me of a conversation I had with Pat O'Brien of You Gotta Believe at NACAC this year. We were talking about why he enjoys placing kids of that age. He mentioned that younger kids -- especially those from about ages 8-14 or 15 -- are directing their anger toward their families and try to destroy their parents and their family. By the time they get to be 15 or 16, Pat says, they are too self-destructive to have time to destroy their families. In my experience it is very true -- it takes a different kind of parenting to adopt kids over 14.

So -- to answer the last question.

Teenagers are teenagers. So seeing adults as "forever parents to depend on" is a little much for most of them. They might view them as mentors. They might even in fact view them as a nuisance.

It's funny though -- I bet if we asked most teenagers that question -- emotionally healthy, attached, parented by birth parents from birth kinda teenagers -- how they saw their parents -- few of them would likely use the words "forever parents to depend on" and most of them would probably say something less sophisticated that would mean nuisance.

The trick with adopting older kids as not in how they see us -- but in the expectations we have for the relationship. I heard it said once that a child or teen needs to live with their new family as long as they didn't live with them to feel like part of the family. Not sure that was clear -- but for example, if a child moves in at 8 by 16 they will feel like they are really a part of the family. If they move in at 11 -- it's 22. At 16 -- well you do the math.

So I guess my point is that it takes a lot of time and that the answer to your question is fluid. There are days when a teenager will see their new adoptive parents as mentors.... there are days when they see them as forever parents they can depend on ... and there are many days when they will see them as a nuisance. But that all will change and ebb and flow as the years go by and I think that at 28, or 32, or 40 it will click that their parents are forever people that they can rely on.

Even though I haven't adopted a child at this age, I have now parented 11 children who are at this age or have passed through it. And I compare the experience to watching a movie. I'm not the director of the kids life any more -- if I ever was. I'm not a screen writer of the movie either. I have no control over which way the story is going to go. In fact, there are many scenes of the movie that I don't even appear in.

Sometimes I'm allowed to comment on the film -- occasionally even invited to do so. Sometimes I can't keep my mouth shut and I have to comment whether or not commenting is welcome.

But really, I think for any of us, it is important that we have a person that is watching the movie of our lives and cares how it turns out. There are times that we need the involvement of that person more than others. I think of my own parents -- I talk to them once a week whether I feel I need to or not... but some weeks I need to talk to them several times. But the thing that matters most is that I know, that regardless of the drama in my life, my parents will ALWAYS care and want to hear about it.

Does adopting a teenager provide immediate rewards or warm fuzzies? Most likely not. Will the kids be grateful and appreciative? Almost never. Will we see progress that makes it feel like it's worth it? Some days but not many.

But we still need people to do it...creative people who have the right perspective and who are willing to do it not because it is something they need -- but because it is something the soon to be adult needs.

People who adopt teenagers should be able to create their own normal as Brenda McCreight pointed out in a recent blog post It's not going to look like other relationships or other families. Each relationship is going to be as unique as the two people who are involved in it.

It's an amazing adventure though -- interesting and captivating -- like a roller coaster ride.. and people who go into it with realistic expectations, tenacity, and a good support system (which has to include their county social services) can make a difference in the world in a major way by doing it. Sold yet?

(To further elaborate on what I said yesterday, this blog entry sheds some more clarity on the situation).


Jen said...

I am sold. I want to do my part in making sure kids don't age out of foster care. I'm not sure I am tenacious enough (lol) but I sure am learning alot by parenting my teenage boy. He is my oldest, therefore my practice child. I have lots of plans to foster teens and babies when my kids get a little older. I want to adopt again, also. Maybe I will foster pregnant teens. Who knows? (Well, God knows, but He's keeping it a secret from me.)

Nightaura said...

I foster the older teen (in the past couple years, the youngest we had at placement was 16, many were 17/18). We try to remain in their lives after they leave. There are only a couple we do not wish to have communication with now. They all need family even when they leave, especially when they leave. We haven't adopted, as none have been without parental rights and/or wanted to be adopted, but that doesn't matter to us. They are "our boys". They all call often, visit occasionally.