Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Foster Care Isn't Open Adoption

But sometimes that is what I want it to be.

I want to be in a cooperative relationship with my children's parents. I want us to be friends. I want them to trust me, and to know that I respect their relationship with their child. I want us to get along. When Evan's mom hugged and thanked me for taking care of her son when she couldn't I almost cried. I still get choked up when I think about it. I know her feelings towards me were a whole lot more complicated than gratitude, but gratitude was part of the mix.

I know there is a whole continuum of open adoptions. In my romanticized ideal, the first parents and the adoptive parents are all involved in the child's life. They cooperate in doing what is best for the child. Two families work together. I am an outsider to that world, but I imagine that a cornerstone of it is that the first parent, usually the mother, chose the adoptive parents. The mother may not have experienced a great deal of freedom or autonomy in her life. The choice to relinquish her parental rights might have been coerced, but she still had a choice about who would parent her child.

And I know I am idealizing this. I know that potential adoptive parents often mis-represent themselves. I know that even when they are honest they are representing what they believe about themselves, which is not necessarily how others would describe them. I know that even if they are honest and accurate, the adoptive families may change. So I know reality falls far short of this. Still, in the ideal, the first mother and hopefully father, have a general idea of the values and lifestyle in which their child will be raised.

Though we did not meet that ideal, I was within sight of it with Evan's family. I'm sure their feelings towards me were complicated, but among those feelings was an acceptance that they could not provide him with a home and gratitude to me for providing it. I was grateful to his extended family for supporting and including him, and grateful to his mom for not sending him the message that attaching to us was being disloyal to her. They did not chose me, but they seemed to think I was a good choice. As complicated as things were, at some basic level the endorsed me as the day-to-day parent.

I have wanted to have that with Gary's father. (He needs a blog name, don't you think? I think I will call him "Grant." Another "g" name will help me keep it clear.) I want him to know that I view his relationship with Gary as precious and irreplacable. Gary needs Grant in his life. I want them to have a relationship.

And I want Grant to view me as, if not the best, at least a good option for his son. Grant himself has stated that he cannot provide a home for Gary. He knows that no other family member can or will do so. He did not want for Gary to end up in foster care, but I want him to be relieved that his son ended up in one of the best private programs in the country. I want him to be relieved that he ended up with us. I want for him to have the thought, "If he has to be in foster care, at least he ended up with people as cool as Yondalla and Roland."

But I don't think he is there. I think the fundamental reality for Grant is that he did NOT CHOOSE THIS. He did not choose us. He was not consulted. He was not part of the committee that decided which foster families to approach to care for his son. Grant lives in a fundamentally impossible space. He wants to be the parent in every sense of the word, and he can't.

He wants to have visits with his son, and is deeply frustrated that people are getting in the way of that. No one has ever accused him of abusing Gary. Other people in the extended family did, but there is no evidence that he did. He is a law-abiding citizen, working full-time, providing for his family. He believes, and I agree, that he should be able to pick up his son and take him to the gym to shoot hoops. He also believes that anyone who doesn't trust him to do that must have their head up their ass and deserves to lose their job, and he has no problem telling people that to their faces.

He wants to have a say in how his son is raised. He does not hold the vision of a cooperative relationship as an ideal. He wants to make sure we are parenting his kid the way he wants his kid to be parented. He doesn't really trust anyone else to take care of his kid. I get that too. I can't imagine feeling good about strangers raising Brian. Just the though of it makes me nauseous. I would want to know everything: what sort of foods did they feed him; did they know how to deal with his anxiety; did they have crazy up-tight rules or no rules at all? I have very clear ideas about how Brian should be raised, and I know that Grant has his own values and ideas about how Gary should be raised.

He wants to be the dad. He wants to meet Gary's friends and those friends' parents. He wants to decide if Gary can be trusted to ride the bus to their houses. He wants to be in charge of how much soda he is permitted to drink and how many chores he is required to do. He has beliefs about how much time Gary should be allowed on the internet and what sort of movies he should be able to watch. He wants to be the father. He is the father.

A part of me wants to tell him he will just have to get over it. By his own admission he is not able to provide a home for Gary. Gary's being in foster care is not what he wanted, but it is the most reasonable option they can find for him. Only a part of me though. That does not recognize the complexity of the truth. Telling Gary's dad that he just has to accept reality and deal sounds to me an awful lot like telling foster parents, "Well, you knew it was going to be hard, didn't you? What are you complaining about?"

The emotional reality is more complex.

The point of writing this, by the way, was to remind myself that it isn't about me. When Grant complains to the social worker that I do not provide adequate supervision it is not based upon any assessment of me as a parent. Grant is thinking like a parent -- he is not comfortable with Gary going to friends' houses when he, Grant, knows nothing about these friends. He does not accept my judgement as a substitute for his own. He barely knows me and he certainly did not choose me.

So I don't think that there is anything I can do that will make Grant trust us, or feel good about Gary being with us. That is important for me to remember so I don't make myself crazy trying. He will not feel comfortable with decisions we made just because we made them and he didn't.


  1. Anonymous3:31 PM

    Wow, this is really thought-provoking. I'm just going through training now, but I was really impressed that our state's training has been created in collaboration with one of the Casey Foundations' programs about creating a collaborative team effort in which parents/foster parents/social workers/teachers/other parties with a stake work together on behalf of the child, but that parents and foster parents have the closest and most aligned bond there.

    Because I'm doing this as preadoptive training and any children in our house will already have gone through TPR, I've only thought about this in terms of open adoption and not about how an open-ended rather than temporary foster situation might work. You're certainly in a tough situation, but you articulate the strands of it well.


  2. Your last sentence is exactly what I've learned. I made the decisions, not them, and therefore they won't be exactly right. I had to stop letting it bother me. It is a hard hard road.

  3. You are so good at this. I'm sorry it's so hard but you are so good at this.

  4. I agree- it is hard- for everyone involved- we are the only ones who actually chose to be in this position- and we are looked upon as the "bad guy" by the first parents- but it is not about us. It is about the situation-


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