I said too much. Really I did. In preparation for this meeting I advised Claudia, "All we're going to do is to be factual and perfunctory. We don't have to express much emotion. It won't be helpful to us or them." Funny how sometimes we can't take even our own advice.
I was all right for the first ten minutes of the meeting. The social worker for our seventeen-year-old son (who is currently in a ninety-day legal limbo until an adjudication from the judge is handed down) asked us once again to tell her what our stance is. Evidently in our previous conversations we had not been clear with her as to our intent. Did we, she wanted to know, in fact desire a legal termination of parental rights (TPR) or not?
Claudia and I clearly stated the case that we have never desired a termination of parental rights, that we are morally opposed to the idea that parents would simply walk away from a child. Granted, we understand that this might be an easier way to resolve intractable situations and that it might even prevent our family and ourselves the further emotional trauma of a journey paved with perpetual emotional up's and down's, but that we opposed to a TPR.
"Well," she said, "I just have to tell you at this point that this is what [seventeen-year-old son's name] is requesting."
I was too quick with my rejoinder. "So," I said, "you will take the words of a seventeen-year-old child diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Affect, Reactive Attachment Disorder, Oppositional Defiant Disorder and Attention-Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder with as much weight as the words of mature, college-educated parents who have made a lifetime commitment to a difficult child?"
"Yes, that's my job," we were summarily informed.
And then I said too much again. "So you mean to tell me that that of the three options -- termination of parental rights, a reunification plan, or permanent foster care -- that a TPR would be in his or our best interest? I know of many cases where abusive, neglectful parents whose children cannot live with them are never terminated of their rights, but their children are in long-term foster care."
"Well, in Minnesota, each county has its own way of dealing with the issue."
And, you guessed it, I said too much again. Way too much. "And you don't think you should ask other social workers in other counties what they have done in situations like this? I mean, you think with your two years of experience on the job, the fact that you are in your twenties and that you have no children in your home, you think you have enough experience to make this call?"
Her response was terse. "Well, I think I have plenty of experience. And it is my job to make sure that all the players have an equal voice in the matter."
At that point I decided to back off a bit. Typically I am fairly diplomatic, kind-hearted, a generous conversationalist intent on hearing what the other person has to say. But I can take what I perceive to be as attacks only so long without expressing some intensity. And so I sat back and let Claudia steer the conversation toward less controversial and less personal directions. I guess this is one of the reasons we make a good team. When she is emotionally riled I can calm her; when I am emotionally intense she provides balance.
And so, here I sit, an hour after our 1.75 hour conversation with the social worker and a time-delayed Guardian Ad Litem, questioning my moral underpinnings. Do I really believe, at the foundation of it all, that a committed loving family is what kids -- all kids, no matter how difficult their needs, no matter how treasonous their attitudes, no matter how significant the early dysfunction of their lives and the depth of their diagnoses -- really need? And if this is what I believe, then at what cost to parents, siblings and others in society?
How hard do parents fight for a seventeen-year-old son who has in eight years never attached to them? To what lengths do good, committed parents go to prove their fierce determination in loving an organically disturbted, character-disordered child? Do parents ever relinquish their claim on a child's life, whether the child arrived by birth or by adoption? How would a TPR help our son believe that we have meant what we have said over the years ("you will always be our son, even if you cannot live with us"). What about all of the years that I held his raging, red-faced, fetal-positioned body in my arms, close to my heart, assuring that things would be all right, and that I would always love him? Has it all been for nothing? What does my broken heart tell me?
How hard do parents fight a system that is not designed to consider the unique needs of adoptive parents? How much time, energy and money should be invested in a series of battles that will likely produce an inevitable result? When, if ever, should parents simply cut their losses (emotionaly, spiritually, physically) and move on?
Ah, but here I go again. Saying too much.