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.
This post really gets to the heart of this important issue, and refusing “internal surrender” rings true. People change, and sometimes kids need time to work things through before they can come back into the fold of the community. A family is either forever or was never a real family. Thanks for keeping this real and true.
I can so appreciate this mom’s situation, but your child is your child, whether birth or adopted. And as a mother, you do what you have to for your kids. I was/am in this position. One of my sons (both adopted) is really struggling and needs 24/7 supervision right now. The more he settled into the family, the more the deep hurts in his past ripped open and led to increasingly foolish and dangerous decisions. During his most recent hospitalization, the social worker planning his discharge encouraged me to place him back in the system, back in an RTC. Her reasoning was that the state would pay for it and he would theoretically get the help he needed. I know, though, that if I were to to do that, we would lose all the ground we were starting to gain in the area of trust. I adopted him from an RTC, and he wasn’t safe there. Some of his deep hurts came there. He’s my son. There’s no way I could do that. Instead I have placed him in a small therapeutic boarding school and have worked out arrangements with them to cover the costs. The goal is not to warehouse him to keep him from ending up in jail or worse, as it would be if I sent him to an RTC. The goal is to teach him how to live in community while watching him 24/7, to help him develop the trust to start addressing these deep hurts, and to, in time, bring him home. At no point do I stop being his mother. I am a key part of this process. It doesn’t matter whether I gave birth to him or he entered my life just before he turned 11. He’s my son, for real and forever, and if he is ever going to heal at all, he needs to know and trust that I am going to keep my covenant to be his mother no matter what choices he has made to try to get me to dump him.
Spot on, Jack!
Every child “Needs” a family. I have been through this with both my adopted sons and no matter what they needed, my husband and I have been there for them- from getting them into the right school program to right hospital setting for their needs, to finding the right person to advacate for them to get them into mental health court and out of jail to, sending clothing to a shelther they choose to live in, to fighting for their children -my grandchildren to stay out of the Foster Care system. A family is like a ship-the parent(s) must guide, navigate, choice its crew(support system), but most of all be the anchor- the parents need to also be the stability that these children can always depend on for support, Love, understanding and Forgiveness. The anchor keeps the ship in dock , so the ship doesn’t drift when supplies and repairs are being done. I know this sounds corny
But, when you love someone no request or need is too small or too great.
So well said, Dorothy! Our boys are our boys. Our covenant to them is as strong or stronger than blood ties.
Dear Jack…this is really a wonderful blog…I was very sorry to hear about the loss of your son….You and your family are in our prayers. I know you didn’t like me much when you worked with Angelo and I to adopt our son Trevor, and lord knows at times I really didn’t like you. While you thought I was being manipulative, I thought you were over exaggerating the hardships …but now, years later, I know you were not. I felt that you were working against us, but really you were just trying to open our eyes and warn us. We have been through many ups and downs with Trevor, but he is still here and still living with us and our son in every sense of the word and I just wanted to say thank you and keep up the good work…..Reading your blog really does help get me through the tough times of parenting.