Tuesday, October 25, 2005

The Biggest Loser

It is human nature, I suppose, to do with our lives those things that promise a degree of success. I have yet to meet a couple intending to marry, spend the time and money for the ceremony, and then plan to divorce a few months later. A college-bound high school senior with a 3.0 average doesn't take the time to apply to Harvard for obvious reasons. The average McDonald's employee isn't expected to send a curriculum vitae in order to be considered for a university Presidential opening. Even though we may take risks in our decision-making processes (and should, really take risks in order to discover our full potential), most of us are insightful enough to recognize the provenance of our lives at a particular time and place.

Occasionally, though, we take bigger risks. The greater the risk, the more potential for great, surprising joy ... and the greater the possibility that we may lose with deep, sustained pain. Parenting is one of those risks. Whether forming a family through birth or by adoption, the risks of parenting hold the potential for deep, abiding delight or paroxysms of painful disappointment.

For parents who adopt older children, the risk is even steeper. Child development theorists are clear that the first months and years of a child's life are foundational. By the time we adopt an older child, much of his or her future has already been set into motion, the secret recesses of early life hidden from our view. I'm beginning to think that adopting older children (who are, by very definition, "special needs," no matter what the on-paper diagnoses may indicate) is reckless parenting.

I didn't always think that way. There was a time when I believed adoptive parenting was a noble, socially just, admirable opportunity. I believed that parents who really cared, who were intelligent and educated and committed could form the direction of a child's life. Any child's life. There was a time when I thought that the social services system saw adoptive parents as partners in providing the best interest of the child. Any child's life. There was a time when I assumed neighbors would see adoptive parents as society's assets. I really believed they care more about raising children than raising grass. I am discovering that I was wrong.

Today we met with our 16 year-old son's social worker who apprised us of her plan. Her plan is that he will remain in permanent foster care unti he is 18. She will do "all [she] can to encourage his independent living skills" in the next 18 months. She will use his $300 annual allotment to provide him with opportunities to become independent. It was hard for me not to cynically laugh and sneer at her well-intentioned but naive plans to give the son we adopted (to prevent his living in foster care) the chance to become successful and independent. When he turns 18 it will be our door he comes to, not hers, and he will return to us with less attachment than he had when he left. We will be forced into an ethically ambiguous confrontation, and our parental commitment to one who has used and been used in the system will be tested in an extreme way.

Sadly, we have all lost in the past few months. The social services system has lost, unless its goal has been to enhance the perceived power of a narcissistic personality or further degrade the attachment of a reactive-attachment child. He has lost, because his intended goal (to find independence and fewer guidelines) will not come to fruition. And we as parents and a family have lost, because we never adopted Mike to so that he could live a solitary life of desparate existence.

So, who is the biggest loser? The social services system? The child? The parents and family?

Yes.

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