Saturday, December 08, 2007

Why Parents Raising Difficult Children Are Heroes

You may have already heard the details regarding the Omaha mall shooting, in which a nineteen-year-old male kills eight people before turning the gun on himself. This young man's early life was characterized by disruption and breaks in attachment, and he spent the better part of his teenage years in treatment facilities for his aggressive, oppositional and antisocial activities.

Sound familiar to any of you raising children who have joined your family through adoption?

Certainly not every adopted child faces such significant challenges, nor does every adopted child die in a homicidal/suicidal act of devastation. But it is striking, isn't it, that so many of the traits identified in this article apply to so many of the children so many of us have adopted? To greater or lesser degrees, those of who are parenting difficult children encounter situations that worry us, frustrate us, and produce anxieties that "ordinary" people have no way of understanding.

When we adopt older children we are taking upon ourselves a mysterious opportunity. It may be, and thank God that most often it turns out this way, that we are offering a child the possibility of life he or she would not have had otherwise. It may be as simple as regular meals, living in a stable home environment, having a home that is clean, safe and in a neighborhood that promotes health. It might be attending children's conferences, concerts and nourishing their spiritual lives. It may be the chance to go to college, to live without chemical use or to see what a faithful marriage relationship looks like. Some kids are able to see the advantages of such a life, and they respond accordingly in ways that promote their health, society's well-being and a promising future.

But it doesn't always turn out that way. Some kids, for whatever reason, are unable to respond to their parents' love, affection or direction. They have been injured psychologically in too severe of ways to recover even enough to maintain a modicum of health or future possibility. They continue to need parents who love them, even if they cannot live with them. They need to have connections even if all along the way they rebuff such parental efforts. They need to know "home" always exists. And even then it may not turn out very happily or well.

Fortunately, even the more damaged of the kids we adopted parents call our own will not resort to such violent acts as the mass killing of innocent strangers. Their infractions "against" society may be illegal acts that result in probation or jail time, they may self-saboutage their future success, they may alienate those who love them most. But in the end they do not make all of society "pay" because their early years of neglect or abuse. In those situations it is "only" we adoptive parents who "pay" because of their challenges, and I suppose in the larger sphere of things, that's one of the possibilities we bring upon ourselves when we say "yes" to a challenging child.

But it is also the reason why parents raising difficult children are the real heroes in our society.

1 comment:

Pat O'Brien said...

Hey Bart:

I agree that adoptive parents raising kids with special needs are heroes. We throw that word around alot these days, but in this case I think it is well used.

I'd like to caution, however, bringing up that 19 year old Omaha's Boy name in any context that you or other adoptive parents might be going through. Yes, he may have spent his teen years in care, however he didn't spend his childhood in care. He was raised by people who probably didn't raise him well and he was not taken out of that environment until after he hit puberty.

While it is good that you point out that most adoptive kids will never do this. "Most" is not strong enough a word. How about pointing out that almost all, 99.99999% of all older kids (I'm leaving room for the possibility there might have been one in the history of mankind) adopted out of the foster care system, let's say age 3 and over, have not done what this boy in Omaha did.

Adoptive parents are heroes for many reasons. But perhaps the greatest reason would be that the primary reason Mike will never be a mass murderer who shoots up people in a mall was the fact that he was raised by you and Claudia and not his original family. Yes he'll be self destructive. Yes he'll commit crimes. Yes, perhaps one day he'll get so angry in a fight he'll really hurt someone and cause their death. But the reason he'll never be that kid in Omaha is because he did have real parents. Doesn't sound like that kid in Omaha ever did.

And never forget to play the odds. Logical people should play the odds. The reason we should never bring that Omaha boys name up in a conversation about parents adopting special needs kids is to remember that out of all the kids adopted out of the United States foster care system over the age of 3, 99.99999% of them have not become mass murders.

This is what America never learns about: one of the many reasons why adoptive parents of special needs kids are heroes. If your kids didn't have you all as parents, could they have been that boy in Omaha. We'll never know because none of them ever did what that boy in Omaha did. And we can't prove a negative. But let's remember the positive. When you guys raise kids, those kids don't go out and shoot up folks in Malls or anywhere else.

Pat O'Brien