Why I Stay

Family Focus is a private not-for-profit agency which is funded by fees for service; donations and grants; and a staff willing to tolerate low pay, regular cuts in that pay, and then sometimes skipped paydays. Our official salaries are low enough; what we actually see of them is too often far lower.  Without having a paid off mortgage, I couldn’t do it. My co-workers each have a phrase like that, They all begin: “Without …fill in the blank………… I couldn’t do it.”

In addition, we could place a hundred kids over eight years old into adoptive homes tomorrow if we only had the families willing to make the sacrifice and commitment of parenting permanently these multiply betrayed kids.  We have the fee structures, we have the reputation, we have the services. But we don’t have the families. And this economic environment – aka a depression for the very people who would consider adopting such kids – is not helping. (If my job is at risk of being lost, and my house is at risk of foreclosure, I don’t bring new kids into the family.)  It is frustrating always, but heartbreaking at the times when you actually meet a real kid and you have nothing to offer him/her.

So why do I stay?

For many reasons. Here’s only one.

When I was past high school age – both in college and in the working world – I heard more than once from people that I had a problem with authority. And it sure looked that way to me. I knew that I’d had a problem with my father and his authority, especially when I’d come home from school and he’d want to talk to me about my report card and he was, as they used to say, “drunk as a skunk.” At 3 in the afternoon.  I had a real problem with the way he used his authority at those times.

Later on, my first boss at Children’s Village was an articulate, educated, sober, well respected man. And I had tremendous problems with him and his authority. Especially when he would point out to me in supervision, using psychological mumbo-jumbo (I didn’t know it was mumbo-jumbo then) that I had the issue, not him. It caused me a real problem because I didn’t want to leave the job.  Everywhere I turned for advice or help, all I got told – besides being told to shoot the guy – was to suck it up; or to ask for a transfer; or to leave the job.  All of which would avoid the clashes but none of which would help me understand. For all my certainty that I was the one with the problem, my feelings overwhelmingly told me it was my boss, my teacher, my father, and not me.  No matter what, I was stuck. I couldn’t understand if I was blind, or broken, or a victim. And there was no one whom I could find – that’s the key – who could clarify for me.

I spent intense hours, days, weeks, and months trying to figure this out. And, one day, I finally got it. And when I did, a tremendous weight lifted off me and I felt terrific.  It still is off me, and I still do feel terrific. Nothing changed on the outside, and yet everything did. What I saw was that my problem had never been with authority – it had been with the misuse of authority. And that I could identify behaviorally, both what was done wrong, and, better still, how it could have been done right. And the misuse of authority, I later learned, has a name: abuse.  I had a problem – a deep-rooted objection actually – with being abused. I had a bigger problem though with me allowing myself to be abused: by putting up with my father, my teacher, my boss when they were abusive.  I immediately requested a transfer and have never been troubled by the outside accusation of a problem with authority ever again. The internal problem? Gone these past 40 years.

That keeps me at my job?  Among many other things, yep.

Children who have been multiply rejected, have been rejected, by the definition of  what a parent’s responsibility is, through no fault of their own.  A kid who has bounced out of home after home after home is no more responsible for each rejection, then is a kid who, a few generations back, developed, let’s say, polio.  Or more to the point, a kid who speaks only Greek, but is repeatedly placed in a home that not only speaks only English, but has no idea that there is such a language as Greek. Frustration, blame, and rejection are inevitable. It is the job of the adults to figure out how to solve the problems that come up when a multiply rejected child moves into the home of new, perhaps naïve, and probably insufficiently supported, adults.  And they should be figured out BEFORE the kid moves in.

Family Focus gets that. Family Focus gets that kids with bad experiences need clarity on what belongs to whom so they can be freed from any self-blame. Family Focus also gets that that clarity can free someone – as it did me – immediately and for a lifetime (go read “Unbroken” by Laura Hillenbrand for an example of that immediacy and perpetuity of freedom.)  And Family Focus gets that we can find no one else who is doing it (at least that we are aware of.)

We have a very narrow, but very deep focus, and it has helped us come up with some incredible ideas and develop some wonderful approaches over the years.  Our Covenants (see the website) are the single most protective thing that we have developed. And they cost zero to institute. The concept of chocolate milk is the single best protection against self blame for kids whose adoptive “parents” gave them back to the system. And so forth and so on.

Family Focus is focused on figuring out what our kids need from the adults and the system in order for the kids to get unstuck: to become certain to the depths of their identities that they are not broken, nor blind.  No one can do that without a committed parent or parent substitute. Thus, we do this work through the mechanism of adoption. It is a pre-requisite for parent-less kids. But as so many of the families who are struggling with their adopted children whom they love with their whole hearts will tell you: it is not enough.  The kids are struggling to figure something out and no one has figured it out yet.

Family Focus is determined to figure out the rest of what is missing.  We are determined to give our kids, and their families, that. That’s who we are.  No one will fund that search, so we stay poor. But we won’t trade in who we are for any amount of money.  Family Focus recognizes that “there but for the grace of God, go I.”  We recognize that any of us – but for the “bigness” of our own parents or substitute parents – could be one of our kids.

And that’s why I stay.  Could there be a better reason?


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7 Responses to Why I Stay

  1. Shakil says:

    That was really good.

  2. Maris says:

    Well said, Jack. You speak for all of us. I have said for years that adoption is a niche market – a place where most people don’t ever go. Adoption of waiting children, and working to insure that they have the best possible life once they enter the world of adoption, is a niche market within the niche market of adoption generally. To loosely quote one of my favorite statements from the ancient Ethics of the Fathers: “It is not your responsibility to finish the work [of perfecting the world], but you are not free to desist from it either.” As I see it, that’s a big part of why Family Focus staff holds on.

  3. It’s more important to me than you’ll ever know that I can feel secure in knowing that you guys at Family Focus GET IT and know what my son’s going through as he matures, and what I’m going through as his dad. Thank you!

  4. Susan says:

    Standing in my living room by myself clapping and giving you a standing ovation with tears falling down my face. Don’t ever quit, Jack. We need you. The kids need you.

  5. That’s an excellant reason; same here. If only everyone had the mentality “there but for the grace of God, go I” we have no problem. Enjoy your weekend.

  6. Dorothy Hannigan says:

    Thank you for all your Hard work, inspiration and security you give to the Parents and the Kids. The trust you give to these kids who have been betrayed gives them hope and confidence to move on be part of a family and believe it is Forever.

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