As I was driving to the office this morning I pondered my situation in life, seeking to organize the many fleeting thoughts erratically assaulting my brain. I thought, of course, of my work-related responsibilities and tasks, considering how to best organize my week, mentally checking off the numerous "to do's" that still remain from previous weeks, as well as he new ones that have surfaced. In my work life, I suspect, I am not that much different than most of us. There are certain tasks each week that need my attention, others that ought to be accomplished and still others that await resolution. Most of us make sure the necessities are covered in our work responsibilities and then we go from there. I try to be clear with mysefl and others that my work life is the third priority in my life.
Having made the requisite decisions about my work life, my mind slipped to the second priority of my life: my work as husband and father. I should append that phrase by adding that it isn't always "work," because, as with anything that really matters in our lives, there are moments when the work produces joy, accomplishment and contentment. But those positives are typically the overflow of intentional work and attention; they don't simply happen. And, as I often do, I began to assail myself with thoughts about our two most challenging children. [Last week when I was speaking at the Minnesota Fatherhood Summit on "Fathering the Special Needs Child," I suggested that we should refer to our special needs children simply as "special children."] Perhaps I should speak of our two "most special" children at this point.
Today we will be in court with our sixteen-year-old "most special" son. As I often do I began to enumerate mentally the ways we have sought to intervene his life over the past five years. (He has been with us for eight years now, but it has been only the past five that have been so difficult). We have been involved in his school life, we have taken the steps to get him involved in sports programs and community recreation. While he was living with us he was always in church, both to worship, as well as in Sunday School and youth group activities. We have worked with social services agencies, psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, teachers, coaches, and law enforcement. We have affirmed, nurtured and consequenced.
And yet today he will appear in court with the recommendation that he remain in permanent foster care until he reaches the age of majority. We cannot argue with the recommendation. We have witnessed on numerous occasions how his behaviors have contributed to the fragility of our other childen. We have observed that he does much better in a residential setting than in a home (whether it is our home or in the several foster homes in which he has been placed over the years). His only successful moments have been in the facility in which he now lives. We cannot deny him or the rest of our family this opportunity for success.
But it is still painful to recognize how little effect the multitude of attempted interventions has produced. I wonder often whether the outcome would have been much the same had we not worked nearly so hard on his behalf over the past eight years. It is, of course, a fruitless mental meandering, because there is no way to assess what "could have been." As my strong spouse reminds me (and these are my words but represent her sentiments expressed to me): every child needs parents who will do all they can do for him or her, even if it doesn't appear to have made any difference. She also reminds me often, "But it's too early to know. We have to wait until they are in their mid-twenties or thirties before we'll have any evidence of success or failure"). And she is right.
But what has made these eight years (and especially the intense previous five years) "enough"? I mean, why would we (and we do) encourage other parents to take on such a task, of parenting children who have been traumatized, abused, neglected and relegated early in life to the margins of society? What, if anything, have we done "right"? To the objective observer the answer to that question may be, "not enough."
However, I continue to learn that sometimes the only (and perhaps in the ultimate sense the most important) thing we have offered our sixteen-year-old "very special" son is to be present. In all these years of painful wanderings and disarray, we are still here. We have not walked away from him. We have not abandoned him. Our home is still his home, even if he is unable to live with us. His birth sisters are still our daughters, and he will always know where to find his "family." Whether he recognizes it or not (and I believe that he does), we have provided him with permanency.
Perhaps being present is not enough if parents do not do everything else they can possibly to intervene on their child's behalf. Technically, I suppose, a minimal presence could be constituted as benign neglect if it is not undergirded with every attempt to reach the child. But having been down that road time and time again, today I am feeling that to be present is enough.