During July, someone responded to one of my much earlier posts. However, when one does that, the comment is attached to that posting and so people who read the blog currently do not ever even know that there was a response. The only way around it, I guess, is to subscribe to the “comments.” Then any and all comments are emailed to you as they are published.
Anyway, her point was that no one should be judged for giving up a child that they adopted unless one had walked in their shoes. Yes, that’s right. I wrote to that person (“Mom” – 3.11.2011 posting) at the email address the site had but it bounced back to me. So I responded online to her comment – something I never do – and asked her to get in touch with me, but she hasn’t as of yet. Maybe she will if and when she reads this posting.
Our stance at Family Focus fits right into the mainstream of the adoption world (for decades now) and it is pretty simple: every child is entitled to a permanent, loving, committed family. There is no child, our common wisdom claims, who is “unadoptable.” Yes. But there are children who – for extreme behavioral reasons – cannot live in the community, either temporarily or permanently. To expect adoptive parents to be running residential treatment centers, residential treatment facilities, jails, group homes, physical hospitals, or mental hospitals in their homes and communities is ridiculous. It is unfair. And it is counterproductive. Children who belong in those places do not belong living at home. What does that have to do with having families? Theoretically, nothing. But in real life, the bureaucracy often insists that the adoptive parents of these children must hold onto them, and give them no options – certainly no easy ones – for placement outside the family home. That puts tremendous – and immoral – pressure on the families often putting them into Catch-22 situations. In order to get the help that their children need, – and that’s only a maybe – they are forced to re-surrender their children to the system – ending their legal relationship and, most of the time, ending any contact. By the time it gets to that point, parents have long had it and have given up hope. And that is what “Mom” was talking about. She’s right. As far as she goes.
That road that she apparently went down is one that must be avoided. The system must take these kids who don’t belong living in the community back into their care. And they need to do it earlier and without all the blame that is so easily flung around. Let’s change the laws; let’s change the financial incentives or penalties to allow it. But whether the system does it or doesn’t do it, adults have a responsibility to protect their own. Their own families, their own feelings. That’s what I was getting at all those many months ago; that’s what adoptive parents need to hear; and that, in no small measure, is why I write this blog in the first place.
It is conceptually pretty simple: behavior in the community has nothing to do with whether or not a child is entitled to a family. Behavior in the community has to do only with whether or not a child should be allowed to live in the community. Sometimes the very act of adoption triggers incredible depths of pain, loss, and traumatic feelings and memories within a child that were repressed while in foster care. The vulnerability within the family relationship brings them back to their original vulnerabilities. And that, in turn, triggers extremes of behavior that no family – do you hear me “Mom”? – should be asked, let alone required, to tolerate. Until we figure out how to help these kids therapeutically they need to be removed from the community. And if the local DSS won’t help and forces parents to surrender their children to get those kids out of the community, then so be it: surrender them guilt free.
But no legal surrender also demands an internal surrender. Those also are two very different things. The legal relationship that is created by adoption, is nothing compared to the personal relationship that adoption creates -and always between two people of unequal power. And since it is the adult who has the power always, it is the adult who must protect their internal relationship with the child, no matter what the child or the system says, implies, believes, or does. Adults adopt; children are adopted.
That “Mom” was not given the help that her family was entitled to is simple inexcusable. But what she needed more was a perspective of hope that it is the job of the adoption community to give her. Hope that her child will one day straighten out? The child might, so I guess so. I’ve had my kids go both ways. But no, the hope is that her commitment to be her child’s parent need not be a victim of either her child’s behavior or of her particular (apparently useless) DSS. The commitment lies inside her where no one else can ever touch it, without her permission. That is theory. And that is personal experience. And that is what the adoptive parents of “Ted” (see old posts) took away from him. We gave them the perspective I offer here, but they refused it. Walking away from his behavior was fine; walking away from him was not. Too little, too late? This boy, this human being, was their son. One takes whatever little wisp of hope one can, and wherever one can find it. One then builds that hope up over time. But to internally walk away from one’s child? No. Unacceptable. And, as I said then, phoney-baloney. Without that stance that adoption is irrevocable, unconditional, and forever final, then adoption becomes make-believe. And make-believe is the last thing that multiply betrayed people – especially our young and vulnerable children – need.
Do I blame “Mom” for what she apparently did? No. Choosing among terrible options, one does the best one can. But not blaming her doesn’t mean that I agree that her decision was correct. Adoption is a forever claim of the head and the heart. By an adult. And no one has the power to drop that claim, but the adult.