Tuesday, July 10, 2012

When They "Age Out" of Us

In the comment section of a somewhat controversial post called "That's What Rents Are For" one of my readers made a very insightful statement that has had me thinking for ten days.  And that takes some doing ;-)

The comment was : 
You are assuming those children aging out of the foster care system want a family and everything it involves. Five of our adopted children have a family and I guess you could say they have 'aged out' of us. If we are not giving them things then they don't need us, want a relationship with us or have us involved in the things LT posted about. They 'aged out', left and here we sit shocked because they want that good life their bio fams modeled. I am not sure if they will ever 'age in' to our family.
We know exactly what that feels like.  We have several of our children who have left our family before or shortly after their 18th birthday to do all kinds of interesting things.  And they pop in and out when they need something simply to return back to a lifestyle that is harmful to them and completely against everything we have ever taught them. 

One of the hardest things about being an adoptive parent of adult children, especially during the ages of 16 to 25, is watching them walk away from really good stuff to really bad stuff.  As they leave our homes they express no gratitude for what we have tried to do for them and it is very painful.  I have had to battle resentment toward them daily for years (and I'm not always successful, but I know that resentment hurts only me as I pointed out in this blog post from three years ago).

But when I ask myself if my children are better off than they would have been had we not adopted them then the answer I always come back to is yes.  Because even for kids who, as the commenter pointed out above, don't want a relationship with us or have us involved in their lives, they have a choice.

Transition years are really tough for a lot of kids -- not just adopted kids, but for adoptees they are very complicated.  But our kids know (and by our I mean all of us who remain committed to adult children even when they aren't doing exactly what we prefer) that if they hit bottom there is someone to call.  Maybe they will call us and all we can say is, "I'm sorry that that happened to you, no we aren't going to give you more money, but we love you."  But even though that isn't much it is more than the kids who age out of the foster care system.

I look at some of my kids right now and I think that there is a good possibility that if they had stayed in foster care they would be in nearly exactly the same position they are at the moment (jail, unplanned children, on probation or parole, broke, unemployed, relationships disintegrating, etc.)   But there is a difference.  They have someone.

I have often said, "Having a mom or dad to call from jail is much better than not having a mom or dad to all from jail."

No, it wasn't my dream for my children.  But I tell myself daily that I am doing what I'm doing because it is the right thing to do -- regardless of the results.  They are my children and there is nothing they can do about that because I claimed them.  And even though I make tons of mistakes in my parenting, I'm not giving up on them.

There are a couple more reasons why I still would do this again even if all of my kids "age out" of us.  One is for the next generation.  The children who I am now parenting, at least according to the social workers in the regions they came from, had no viable relatives who could or would step in to care for them.  My grandkids do because they have us.   I'm very grateful that they don't need that -- they have plenty of support and my kids or their counterparts are doing a great job with the babies... my grandchildren are attached and did not have prenatal exposure to drugs or alcohol.  That generation has a better life because of what Bart and I are attempting to do as parents.   I was telling a friend yesterday who shares my passion that we have several children who if their children stay out of the system will be the first generation in 4 to not be in foster care.  Their parents were, their grandparents were, and their great-grandparents were.  Breaking that cycle is a powerful thing and so far it looks like we have done that by adopting the parents of our grandchildren.

The next thing is that we offer our kids a choice that without us they might not have ever been able to experience.  We show them what it means to live in a healthy family.  Those of us who are in a relationship model what a healthy one looks like on a daily basis.  We model the value of education and some of us acquaint them with a faith community.  We show them what it means to go to work, pay bills, budget money,  balance a checkbook, eat fairly healthy meals (some of us healthier than others, big smile), and the list goes on forever.  Exposure to all of this may never had happened had they stayed in the foster care system and been shuffled from group home to residential treatment, etc.

Finally, as I tell my kids often, "it's not over 'til the fat lady sings, and I ain't singing."  We have no idea what will happen in the future.  I have a younger brother who was an alcoholic from 21-40 when the doctors told him he would die if he kept drinking.  I believe he has been sober since.  My parents, wonderful people who raised him right, prayed that he would stop drinking for 20 years.  He did.  But it took 20 years (and he was raised by amazing parents who did everything "right."

So the bottom line is that it is not over yet.  These nutty kids who are finding their way in this world as young adults may just come around.  It may not be until our death bed, but some day they may say thank you.  Between now and then they may "age in" to our families again.  But even if they don't they still have that choice.

And that's the difference.


DF said...


I wonder if MN keeps data on the number of families who have been able to break that cycle of foster care. Great Post, Claudia. I know that the transition with our kids will be rocky, and I always need a perspective from a parent who has already "been there".

Kathleen said...


Christine Reed said...

I appreciate the reminder that our kids are better off for having been in our family, even if they decide to leave and go back to the unhealthy ways of their biological family. It's easy to get discouraged sometimes. But, I know that they are better off for being part of our family.

FerJeniB said...

C - True that! We are witnessing the difference having parents makes everyday with our adopted sons, 14 and 19 and their eldest brother who was not cared for during his youth and at the age of 30 has been in prison for over half of his life. He had one month until release and walked away from the facility to spend a weekend partying.

Other Mother said...

Well said, Claudia!

MARY B. said...

Great Post! Love your perspective because it is so "human" for us to get discouraged and angry at the "aged out" behaviours. Ours our young and we can see the writing on the wall...prayerfully we have time to teach them about life before they stop listening to us :).

Anonymous said...

WONDERFUL POST!!!! And very, very true!!!

Anonymous said...

I think they are thankful too, Claudia. Even if they don't say it.

Lulu McCabe said...

Oh I just love this post! Thank you for writing it. "I tell myself daily that I am doing what I'm doing because it is the right thing to do -- regardless of the results." Exactly!!!

Gloria said...

Thank you, thank you for writing this post. This is exactly what I need to hear. I have three adopted children, 16g, 15b and 14b and one legal guardianship of a child,16g.
The three adopted children are in full blown rebellion against everything we have taught them and can't wait to move out of our house. It hurts that they don't seem to appreciate all the time, scarifices and effort we took to raise them. Your explaintations of how they age out of the family and perhaps never really age into our family makes perfect sense to me. I feel better know that I am not the only one and did not do anything that caused them to behave this way. I will continue to do the right thing for them until they move out.