Tomorrow afternoon, I have to be part of a team of people that tells an eleven year old that his parents are surrendering their rights to him (legally severing their parental connection). This is not something that I have ever done before. At my adoption agency (commercial: familyfocusadoption.org), we either place children who are newborns or children who have been in foster care for years and have had their legal bond to their parents broken for a very long time – long before we ever meet them.
The object of the game will be somehow to show this boy that his parents’ decision is neither his fault nor his responsibility. Yet, when the consequences for him are so severe, and the relationship with the people doing it to him, so personal – his parents, after all – what chance do we have of doing that?
It has made me do a lot of thinking this week. After all, all adoptive parents are never a child’s first parents. And the fact that there’s been an adoption always means that the first parents are no longer parenting their child. In the case of some kids that is a good thing: e.g., abusive and neglectful parents lose their legal parental rights. And in some cases, very good people give up their children because they recognize that they cannot effectively parent them. A fifteen year old pregnant high school girl who makes a wonderful adoptive plan for her child is a perfect example.
Yet, I have already described, in last Friday’s post, an example of parents who apparently decided that they could not effectively parent their gay son. But my gut insists that that circumstance is the polar opposite of the fifteen year old girl above. What is the difference? Because knowing that difference may help us tomorrow with this boy.
I was long ago taught, by my brilliant and wonderful mentor, the late Msgr. Christopher Huntington, that “all motivation is mixed.” There is no such thing as a person with pure motivation. We all do what we do, and don’t do what we don’t do, for various mixed reasons, some good, some bad. But our mission, he taught me, is to constantly strive to purify our motivation. Work to get rid of the bad, and reinforce the good. And the measure of – and means for – our success is how much we are focused on the good of the other vs. the feelings within ourselves.
And there, I realized this morning, is the direction we have to go in with this boy tomorrow. Are his folks working with the foster care team, to develop a future plan that is best for him? Or are they primarily reacting to their own feelings of pain, anger, and frustration, that they have experienced in their relationship with him? When I look at that, when I try to measure which is the primary experience that the team has had with them, it becomes frighteningly clear what is going on.
In the infamous biblical story of King Solomon, the woman whom Solomon figured out was the “real” mother, was the one who was willing to sacrifice all that she wanted as a parent in order to save her child from being cut in half. In the contemporary world, the example of those Jews from the Holocaust who turned their children over to Christian families in order to save them from the camps and/or death, transcended their feelings; and did so for the good of their children.
It is possible, very much so, to give up one’s children and still love them; even give them up because one loves them. But the love is measured by the good done for the children, and never by the feelings entertained or indulged within by the parent, no matter how strong or overwhelming those feelings may be. Attachment, after all, is not love.
How on earth can we show that to this eleven year old?