Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Reflections On a Decade as an Adoptive Parent

It was ten years ago this month that Claudia and I departed our small, west-central Minnesota community to meet our first older children. We left behind (in good care, of course) our then foster sons Anthony (then 2) and Dominyk (then 1) to meet Kyle (then 11) and Mike (then 8). We were naive, we were young, we had no idea what we would be getting ourselves into.

But we knew a couple of things: (1) that these two boys needed a permanent family, (2) that we would never "return" them, and (3) they would be our children forever, come hell or high water.

Short story: it has not been an easy decade. Kyle entered our lives as an angry, manipulative, parentified, bossy, noncompliant, oppositional child. Mike was scattered, more compliant, destructive and, did I say, scattered?

As you probably know, at this point in time Kyle is finishing his second-to-last semester of college (he will grade in May with a degree in Education). And Mike is currently sitting in the county jail (the second time in four days), having not (yet) completed high school and having a questionable future.

Over the years Claudia and I have been asked, "Has it been worth it?"

Ahhh. How to answer that question. Has it been worth it in terms of financial investment, time given and property defaced, stolen or missing? No. Adoption is never a good financial plan.

Has it been worth it in terms of the emotional distress and weariness? No. Adopting older children seldom accords one an immediate sense of well-being or contentment.

Has it been worth it in terms of outcome? Yes and no. Yes, it has been satisfying to see Kyle rise above the challenges of his first years with us to become a calm, centered, goal-oriented young adult who lives morally and with a conscience. No, it has not felt so good in considering how Mike's years have gone. There are always moments when I second-guess myself and the effort that has been poured into his life to this point. Did it make any real difference? Would his outcome have been the same had he never been adopted by us or never been adopted at all? We do not know. But adopting older children never comes with a guarantee. And, of course, parenting any child never comes with a guarantee.

So, has it been worth it?

Yes. It has been worth it because we have offered two boys the opportunity to have a life. They have both had choices to make along the way, but at least they have had choices. Had they never been adopted, or had they remained in a neglectful and dysfunctional birth family they wouldn't even have had a choice. At least we've offered them a choice.

And it has been worth it because these boys know that have parents who are not going to abandon them, or reject them or leave them behind. Ever. We have stuck with them through good and bad times, and we they will always know we are there. They may not be happy with us (I'm sure Mike continues to blame us for his current location), they may not choose to talk to us or to live life the way we have lived life, but at least they know where to find us. And they know that we will love them forever, no matter what.

It has been worth it knowing that we have one son who will soon be a college graduate, and another who may one day have that opportunity if the can get his life together enough to make it happen. And even if he does not, he will be loved as much as his achieving brother.

In the years that have followed we have added other children to our and their lives. We have done this so often in the last ten years it feels like the "right" and "normal" thing to have done. We don't spend too much time wondering "what might have been" or "what it could have been like." And that's a good thing. Because all we can really know is what has happened to this point. And to this point it feels pretty good to know that we have done a good thing in the world, and that we are providing the opportunity for a few of the children of our world to one day give back.

When the end comes I will not be able to say I made my first million by the time I was 40, or that I pastored the largest United Methodist Church in Minnesota by the time I was 50, or that we were able to purchase the nicest home in the community. I'll only be able to say that I have been the father of many children, some of whom I hope will surround my deathbed when that day comes. They will be my "million dollars," "my largest church," "my nicest home."

And that will be all that really has mattered.


Sage said...

Another beautiful post, Bart. And you echo my sentiments exactly.
Thank you for putting it in words.

debbie said...

do you think, and again i am asking as i will no doubt be in a similar position eventually, do you think if you had known when you first adopted mike that he had FAS and what that actually meant in terms of his life and yours, would that have made a difference? would you have planned for him differently? or do you think the attachment issues "overtake" the FAS? what i learn through endless hours of reading and foster care is attachment issues do not ever seem to resolve unless you get the child as an infant and are aware of what could still be done.

Bart said...

Debbie, that's a great question, and one that Claudia and I continue to wonder about as the years go by. Ironically, at that early stage in our adoption lives we decided FASD was a condition we would not be able to parent. But then again, so was the Conduct Disorder (we mistakenly thought CD was a less challenging form of ODD, when it is really the opposite) with which Kyle had been diagnosed. I doubt, frankly, we would have done anything different in terms of our choice to adopt. Had we known earlier the ramifications of FASD and the RAD coupled with it, we may have well done some things very differently. We would, for example, have changed our parenting techniques (all we knew about at that point was "love and logic" and "natural consequences" and such). Attachment issues can be resolved ... our son Kyle is proof of that ... although I don't think it is a universal principle. That is, some parents can find success with the attachment piece with some kids and not with others. And where there are co-occurring diagnoses, that brings down the likelihood quite a bit. My experience (and accounts from others confirm) that the co-occurrence of FASD and RAD is almost always a lethal combination. We will never give up hope, but we have become more realistic, offering grace (with boundaries) not only to our son in question, but also to ourselves.

Don said...

Amen, amen, amen.