Friday, January 05, 2007

Preferring Teens

Every now and then someone or other will tell me that they are impressed that I take teenagers. I get that they find the idea daunting, but I really prefer them. I know Brian would be thrilled if we were asked to take a 9-year-old, but thinking about it gives me a tummy ache. Unlike so many of you, I did not get into foster care because it was my way into parenting. When I wanted kids I got pregnant and had them. It took 5 months the first time and 1 month the second time. I had the whole experience: the vomiting; the nerve pain shooting down my leg; gestational diabetes; over-sized babies that got stuck on the way out. Then there were the baby and toddler years, which I seem to remember as a combination of joyful cuddles and books balanced by spit-up, leaking diapers, and EVERYthing being sticky.

My mother used to say that some of her friends missed the years when their children were small, but that she liked me and my sister more the older we got. I understand exactly what she meant, as I now feel the same way. Children get more and more interesting as they grow up.

I know that I don't actually have much choice about what age my next kid will be. Well, I do, it is just that I have made other factors more important. I have said that I want a kid under 17, which is a pretty wide range, even for an agency that deals with teens. Brian wants a kid younger than he. That is not going to happen, which may be one of the reasons why I am willing to consider his request for a dog. But I know that even if I had the option of asking for a 9-10 year old, I would be nervous.

Most people doing care would be worried that a 10-year-old would already be "too old." I understand their perspective. They worry that they will not have much influence over the child; the child will have experienced more trauma. They worry that they will not be able to help that child heal.

I have the opposite response and I think it comes from (at least) two very different places.

One is a "been there, done that" feeling. I think I could do ten, but there is no way in hell I am going back to diapers, or even the crayon and play dough years. I just can't face sticky anymore. It has been more than a decade since I purchased disposable bottle liners to use as remote-control covers, and I do NOT want to go back to that. I do miss reading out loud to children at bedtime, but not enough to go back to having to jumping out of bed in the morning when I hear kids because they can't be trusted to pour their own cereal and milk.

The other source is that I am more confident that I will know what I am getting into if I take older kids. Having raised birth kids, I know that they come with personalities. Andrew I "get." I notice and understand his moods without trying. Hubby doesn't always. Brian is often a mystery to me, perhaps another reason I am willing to consider getting him a dog. I did all the right things during both pregnancies, and I ended up with one child who is easy for me to raise and one who is challenging. If I am going to raise a child with trauma in his/her history, I want that child to be old enough that I can know in advance how they deal with their pain. I know what I can handle and what I can't, and I want to take a kid that I can know something about.

The way I think about it is this: all the kids are going to turn into teenagers. It is better to know what sort of teenager you are going to have to deal with. Any kid can of course surprise you, but the older the child is, the fewer surprises there are.

[Inner voice 1: Of course you took a kid whom you did not know was addicted to codeine. That was a honking big surprise.
Inner voice 2: Well, yeah, but any kid could have troubles with addiction. Remember all those good, nice parents at Alanon? Getting a child at 5 years or 5 months does not guarantee that won't happen.
Inner voice 1: Just don't mislead anyone. Teenagers come with surprises too.
Inner voice 2: I put "fewer" in italics!]

There's a third reason too, and it does not reflect well on me. It has to do with the length of the commitment. When they called about Evan I was torn. The last months of David's time living here had been difficult and I had a desire to try again and I was tired and not certain I was up to it. When they said he was 17 but was only a junior I thought, "So I am only making a commitment for a year to a year and a half. I can do that." Of course, I hope that these kids will remain part of my life indefinitely, but I only have to promise to live with them for a relatively short period of time.

3 comments:

  1. I'm starting to agree with you.

    Though haven't hit those teen years and won't for another 9-10, but...

    the older my daughter gets the more interesting she is and the more I love interacting with her. Funny too, I always think I can't enjoy her as a person. and then I do.

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  2. I can imagine that years of diapers and messes would make me think twice about taking a baby... but I haven't reached my limit yet. Plus I know how crazy I was when I was a teenager *cringing at thought*

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  3. I think it's all a matter of perspective. Teenagers make sense in your life.

    I had a little 5-year old presented to me this week and it really gave me pause. I'm looking for an "older" child. But it's all a matter of how you look at it. I read another blog where the writer says she's looking for an "older" child and her top age range is 4. And for me, my home study cuts off at 12. Right now I can't imagine adopting a teenager... but maybe one day that will be the best option for me, too!

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