September 28, 2012

The Out Clause

*** I've sat on publishing this post for several days now, because it's hard to be vulnerable and admit your own fears and shortcomings.  However, in this space, I try hard to be brutally honest and the fears that I have about fostering fall into that brutally honest place- especially as we've been inquiring about adopting children who've been in the system for a long time or who've had MANY placements.  Contemplating parenting these kinds of kids really makes you think about what kind of person you are and what you are made of.  Please be kind.***

If I'm being honest, can I tell you what the scariest part of foster care for me is?  Since we are awaiting our first placement, I can only speculate what the experience will be like- but for me the scary part is not navigating birth parent relationships, or lice, or court appearances or even creepy, disgruntled mama's boyfriend showing up on my doorstep.  Nope- those things don't scare me a bit.  In fact, I'm almost conditioned to think that might be normal.  What gets me is "the out clause".

That little thing they casually mention during class that says if a kid just isn't a good fit that you can essentially give "2 weeks notice" and walk away scares the crap out of me.

I am the last person in the world to judge someone about a disruption.  It's part of adoption and fostering.  I get it.  I know there are people out there who would like to rake parents who disrupt a placement over the coals and tell them that they are bad people who "quit on a kid."  To be truthful, there was probably a day when I would have passed the same judgement.  And then I met moms who have actually had to dissolve an adoption.  The situations were never easy.

If you look online at "second chance adoptions" (this is often what adopting a child who has previously been adopted and disrupted is called) the nice tidy little bios of those children always do make it sound like their adoptive parents just quit on them.  They say things like "child bites".  And as a mom, our instinct is to say, "Hey!  Wait a minute!  All kids bite.  That mother must have been awful to send her kid away because he bites.  I'd never do that!  That kid deserves better."  But I can guarantee that there is always more to the story.  I used this biting example because last week we called about a child who's very profile read this way.  I thought we could handle a biter. I mean, "Charlie bit my finger" went viral so biting is not a big deal, right?  But when we dug deeper, it was revealed that this child has severe schitzophrenia and the voices she hears tell her to wake up in the middle of the night and bite the family's pets until they die.  And she's done it.  And many times the voices tell her to hurt the babies in the house.  None of that was wrapped up in that nice little bio we read online. 

The family that adopted her didn't know of her mental illness before hand and as much as they loved this little girl, the area where they lived did not have the kind of mental health services that she would need.  And she needed to be in a home where there were no animals or younger children- not only for the family's safety, but also to keep this girl from continuing the cycle of shame she had when she hurt someone.  It wasn't good for anyone.

The story is the same so many times- especially regarding sexual abuse.  I am a firm believer that children can recover from sexual abuse.  It's not a reason not to foster/adopt kids.  But when children who were once victims then become perpetrators, it's more often best for them to not have younger siblings in the home.  And sometimes these things aren't discovered until it's too late.  While there are lots of things that you can change in your life to accomodate your kid's needs- the number of siblings you already have isn't something that's going to change.  Sometimes the combination just isn't right.

No one in a great situation ever just wakes up one morning and decides to disrupt an adoption just because.  It's never that black and white.  There's always more to the story.

So judgement about disruptions is not something you'll find here because it's not a road I've walked and I can't imagine how difficult it is as a mother to have to make that decision.  But it scares me that this seems to be such an easy option in fostering.

If you are a relatively new reader here and you aren't super familiar with our whole story, you may look at our kids now and think that we are living in a fairy tale. While life is ridiculously good right now, it hasn't always been this way. Here is the back story in a nutshell:

Family wants a baby from Africa.
Family adopts the most adorable two year old on the planet.
Two year old has been through an insane amount of loss, suspected abuse, is nearly starving to death and has a whole host of medical issues that naive parents never anticipated.
Two year old is extremely pissed about following rules and having siblings and having to adapt to a whole new life. (Understandably so!)
Two year old is fully capable of making meaningful relationships yet chooses not to use those capabilities.  Instead, he uses the only tools he has to cope: manipulation, anger, violence, selective mutism and withdrawl
Family stays in a state of chaos and spins their wheels trying to figure out what to do.
It takes nearly TWO whole years to equip this precious child with the tools he needs to function in a family, in school and in social situations.
Many ups and downs happen.  Times of closeness and then times of serious regression occur.
Meaningful, safe, healthy relationships are FINALLY achieved.

If you'd like to read between those lines, this mom nearly lost her mind in the mix.  I documented it here and people either got it and appreciated my honesty or they criticized me and wished me ill, so there's no need to rehash it all.  The truth is, until you've lived it, you don't realize how much it wears on you.  Proving yourself day after day is exhausting.  The reason that I put in there that our son was capable of making relationships is because I recognize that some adults have damaged children so badly that not all kids are capable of making meaningful relationships by the time they get to their new families.  Ours was and it was a matter of teaching him, showing him, and proving to him over and over again that we loved him and that he could trust us.  It was by far the hardest thing that I've ever done and I'd even venture to say that ours was a very NORMAL adoption experience.  We weren't an extreme case.  You hear me?  NORMAL.  But still hard as hard can be. 

There were so many times when I wondered if we'd make it.  I wondered if we'd ever feel like a family.

I wondered if I'd ever stop punishing myself or stop feeling guilty about our whole situation.  I wondered if Miles would ever act like he loved me and actually mean it.

Looking back on it now, if there had been an "out clause" I wonder if I'd have taken it.  I wonder if I'd have had the opportunity, if I'd have given up.  There were days that I might have.  It's hard to admit that- even in retrospect.  Two and a half years later, I have the perspective to look back and see that our son was capable of developing the skills that he needed- BUT AT THE TIME, I DIDN'T SEE IT.  I didn't feel like I was what he needed and was convinced that I'd never be what he needed. 

BUT- because there was no other option- we plowed through.  Not because we are awesome people, but because we got help.  We discovered that we had some rockin' therapists in our area.  We got medical interventions and developemental interventions.  We had a school system that was willing to bend over backwards to accomodate all the quirks in our son's IEP.  I see now how lucky we are- so many families don't have those resources.  And sometimes even if those resources exist- paying for them would nearly bury a person.  Last year at tax time, I added up that Miles had to have nearly $100,000 worth of medical proceedures, surgeries, doctor visits, therapies and medications in 2 years. Yes, you read that right.  That's a one followed by 5 zeros.  Thankfully, we had decent insurance and a state that provided lots of services and a savings account to help make that managable for us.  But what about the people who don't have those things? 

I know without a doubt that without those things, we'd still be drowning.  And how long can you drown before you give up?  I don't know the answer.  As women, we are capable of managing things that seem impossible.  But there's a fine line between managing something and doing what might be in the best interest of a child who might do better in another setting.  But what about the healing?  If we hadn't hung in there and persevered, we'd have never gotten to the good.  AND THE GOOD IS SO GOOD! 

I wish that I was one of those people who could look at the bleakest of situations and trust that things will work out.  I wish that I could see these kids who kill their pets or who abuse their siblings and say, "Yep.  We'll just love them through it.  These kids have been dealt a bad hand and we'll just love them through it."  I'm so glad that there are people out there who do think that way.  Those kids need and deserve that!  I don't fall completely on the other side, though, and believe that tough cases are hopeless.  I believe in healing.  I believe in being molded and refined.  But I also believe in evil in the world.  I'd put myself right in the middle of those two schools of thought.  And sometimes the middle is an awkward place to be.

It might not make sense to anyone but me, but these questions take up a lot of space in my brain.  Maybe it's partly the fear of the unknown.  Maybe it's worrying that we aren't equipped.  Maybe it's worrying that we'll hang on too long in a bad situation or go the opposite way and pull the trigger before we ever get to the good.   As we prepare to take in more kids who've been through some major things (after all, kids don't end up in foster care because their lives are awesome), I anticipate that there will be lots of times that we feel like we are drowning again.  And I anticipate times that will be amazing and so stinkin' good for our family that we'll wonder why we didn't foster kids years ago.  But the unknown is scary and that "out clause" looms heavy in the back of my mind because that fine road to walk between sticking it out and giving up is precarious.  And when real lives are involved, those decisions become nearly impossible.  And I have three other children to think about. And, and, and...  So while I typically feel all Pollyanna about fostering and how awesome it's going to be, sometimes the what if's crawl in and take over my brain and I get fearful. 

Wouldn't it be nice if we could just get this show on the road and make the unknown, well, known?  

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