Bonding When the Biological Clock Says Go Away

I was listening to a news report the other day about Washington state's child welfare system.  They were interviewing a guy who works for the department that is responsible for children and families caught up in the foster care/adoption/preservation system.  He was talking about the fact that the state of Washington now realizes that it's better to keep families together, if at all possible.  Hallelujah, someone besides us has figured that out.  The interviewer asked him why he thinks state and local departments are so quick to rip children away from their biological parents.  He responded, "Fear."  He admitted that no one wants to make the mistake of leaving a child in a truly dangerous home.  He noted, however, that in 90% of the reported cases, children are taken away from their parents for issues related to poverty or general lack of parenting skills.  Understanding this, the state of Washington has changed the role of social workers from that of gate keeper and watch dog to parent coach and supportive ally.  Moreover, the state is shifting the resources from foster parenting to helping preserve the biological family.  I wanted to cry; this is exactly what they should be doing.  Because guess what, it's hard on children to break the bond they have with their biological families.  It hurts, it's painful; it creates trust issues and unnecessary insecurities that were never present before the system intervened.

Not to mention, what happens to the millions of children who end up in foster care?  The reality is that there are so few of us who really give a damn about them, who even give these innocent, young children a second thought.  And while it would be nice to think that all of us become adoptive parents because we have always longed to be viewed as society's second class parents, the reality is that many of us chose to adopt out of a sense of obligation, a strong belief that we should give a shit about these kids.  We care, and we can't stand the idea that there are children facing the world alone.  People like us adopt everything: causes, cats, you name it.  We have this internal voice that is constantly harassing, do more, be more, not enough.  Let's be real, we're just special people.  And while we're awesome, there are not enough of us to adopt every single child who the state has shoved into foster care.

The guy suggested that about 10% of children legitimately cannot be reunified with their biological parents.  He acknowledged that for those children, the system needs to do a better job of identifying them when they are much younger.  Additionally, he said that as soon as the state has identified the child, an adoptive home needs to be secured sooner than later.  Of course, this would not be nearly as difficult were there less children unnecessarily languishing in the system.  The employee went on to admit that finding adoptive homes for teenagers is extremely challenging.  He noted that this is undoubtedly related to the fact that adopting teenagers is very difficult, for everyone.  The teenager's biological clock is telling him or her to establish independence at the same time that the adoptive family is trying to bond.  This is complicated on so many levels.  Listening to him speak this truth, I almost started crying.

Yes, news flash, it's very hard to bond with teenagers.  Teenagers by nature can't stand their parents.  If they don't, there is likely something wrong with them.  Like my mother has professed to have felt about me when I was a teenager, I wanted Malcolm and Mychael to establish their independence from me and to want to leave one day.  Isn't that most parents' dream?  But, the signals get so confusing when it happens at the same time that you are trying to form a permanent bond as a family.  "Leave me alone, I can't stand it here, I can't wait to leave."  How many times did we tell our parents this?  Yet, when it comes from the mouth of a teenager who has just been adopted, it feels so different.  The parents perceive the sentiments as rejection of them and the adoptive family.  Meanwhile, the children are confused because while they want to be part of the family, they also want their parents to butt out and go away.  In the end, everyone feels bad, like it's not working, like they messed up.  And that sucks because it's all so normal!

The other day I was talking with Malcolm, who admittedly is struggling a little and who likely is doing so as a result of issues related to him not initially living the American dream.  Yes, okay, we aren't perfect.  We're still awesome, but we have issues.  And no those issues do not justify us being considered second class, damaged family members.  Anyway, Malcolm was talking about being depressed and his low self esteem issues.  I can't remember exactly what preceded his comment, but I do remember what he said next, "Whenever I pull away or don't want to talk to anyone, it's not because I'm rejecting you or our family."  I told him I knew that because in my heart I do.  But, that's because it's been 18 years, and we have lived a lot of life, I mean A LOT OF LIFE since then.

I remember that when I first adopted the kids, I wasn't so sure that they wanted to be a part of our family; I didn't appreciate the complexity of the situation.  In retrospect, I know that whether I chose to admit it at the time, I often felt insecure.  And unfortunately, those insecurities likely influenced some of my parenting strategies.  "You see in others what you see in yourself," my mom likes to say.  That is the truth.  It's important to keep our insecurities in check and appreciate how they influence what we think is happening within our family.  It's hard though because emotions are so powerful.   Talk to your kids about how you are feeling because they are likely feeling the same way and will be relieved that there is a reason for it.  Use this experience as a means to bond; we're in this fight together.  Whatever you do, don't give up.  When your emotions are trying to get the best of you, rely on what you know versus how you feel.  Eventually the two will come together.