Wednesday, August 01, 2007

The Long View

In 1991 Peter Schwartz wrote The Art of the Long View: Planning for the Future in an Uncertain World, in which he argues for something he calls "scenario planning": a tool for ordering one's perceptions about alternative future environments in which one's decisions might be played out (4). More than fifteen years later his work doesn't seem that revolutionary, but in the early 1990s with the emphasis upon strategic plans and linear, check-off-the-items-as-you go kinds of business management planning models, he had something rather innovative to say.

Adoptive parents need to discover the art of scenario planning as well. This is something we have learned over our past decade of parenting children whose issues range from very difficult to rather minimal. It is always necessary to have a plan in place, but it is more important to have more than one plan ready.

We have learned this, especially, in our relationship with Mike, our eighteen-year-old son. Over the past ten years since his arrival in our lives, we have learned that nearly every plan for him has been short-lived. The only plan Mike has been able to successfully complete has been a plan where he has been in a locked-down facility where he has nearly complete supervision and the inability to flee when he feels the need. Typically he has fled whatever plan we have made within days of its beginning.

If you have only ready my blogs concerning Mike over the past two months, you probably do not have the "long view" we have had during that time. In fact, if may appear that we have been anxious to boot Mike out of our home and rather brutal in telling him that he cannot live in our home at this time. It may appear that we have not tried nearly enough, or that somehow we have not been able to come up with the "right" or "appropriate" plan for Mike. One would think that if the "right" plan was created, Mike would be following it, with the insinuation being that we need to try something different.

The fact of the matter is that over the past ten years we have tried virtually every plan we can think of (and which has been recommended to us), including:

• keeping Mike in our home for the first four years of his life, supplementing our home environment with therapeutic interventions and regular sessions with counselors
• working with our county social services agency to hire Mike a Personal Care Attendant (PCA) to provide supervision and direction during those hours we parents could not
• special, one-on-one times with Mike, one of which involved his traveling to New York City with me (an education-related trip)
• working with the school to develop an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) year by year
• on a near daily basis providing reasurrance and appropriate holding time during his 45-minute raging, screaming episodes
• patiently receiving Mike home after numerous bouting of running away (which began at the age of 13 and could last anywhere from a few hours to a few days in duration)
• reluctantly (and only as a last resort and as the only legal option, we were told) allowing ourselves to be subject to a CHIPS ("child in need of protection or services") petition in order that Mike could receive residential treatment services
• Visiting on a weekly basis at difficult times (visitation times usually on the weekends, and often on Sundays, my busiest time and day of the week as a pastor) Mike in RTCs
• Refusing to relinquish our parental rights (about eighteen months ago) when the county social services agency suggested that we agree with Mike and "be done with him"
• Agreeing to allow Mike to return home this past September after his (first) successful completion of a program, this one administered by our state Department of Corrections
• Assisting Mike in finding a job, which he was unable to ever begin because his drug screen came back dirty
• Assisting Mike in finding a second job, providing transportation to and from work, loaning him up-front money for work-related expenses, only to discover that he spent more time smoking weed with fellow employees and earning no (not one) paycheck in the six weeks he was "employed"
• Allowing Mike to live in our home from September through February, when Mike's juvenile offenses resulted in probation that he would not comply with; accompanying Mike to chemical dependency treatment and encouraging his successful completion of the program (a $28,000 stay, of which much was paid by medical assistance)
• Transporting Mike to his post-CD treatment halfway house, working with him an staff to create a transition plan; Mike would not comply and within three weeks was dismissed from the program.

We have done what we have done because we made a lifetime commitment to Mike when we adopted him. We have chosen to take the long view, even when it has jeopardized our finances, subjected our other children to repeated dysfunction and inappropriate behaviors, and caused our integrity to be questioned by community members at large (no small thing when you consider how public my vocation as an ordained minister is).

We continue to be committed to Mike's well-being, but we cannot be committed in the same way that we have been committed in the past. He is now legally an adult, and our involvement in his life is more about what he will allow us to do (within the parameters of our boundaries) than about what can be "done for him."

In the long view I see a young man with marvelous artistic and creative capacities, a socially appropriate person who can find success with the help of someone he can trust. In the short view, however, I see a troubled young man who has had numerous opportunities to grasp success, untrusting of everyone but himself (which in itself is a sad paradox).

I would never recommend to a parent (adoptive or otherwise) that the door be shut on his or her child, but there comes a point when it is not safe for other family members to live with a person so invested (knowingly or unknowingly) in a path of self-destruction. Currently, while Mike is unable to live in our home, we are willing to work with him in a number of ways. We are willing to help Mike make the connections with social services he needs in order to find assistance. We are willing to assist him in thinking through options, but they cannot be options that involve him living in our home. In no case and in no way are we shutting Mike out, but he must be willing to work with us (or anyone else, for that matter, who can help him).

My conclusion of the matter is this: take the long view with your son or daughter, never stop creating possible scenarios for success, understand your boundaries, and never let go of being their parent, even if they choose (for a time or longer) to let go of you.

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