As I start this post I feel committed to posting it no matter how disjointed it is. However, I may change my mind.
Like many of you, I have concerns about the ways in which we fail to take care of families. I believe that many of the children end up in foster care because their families did not get the help the needed when they needed it. In other words, many of their parents are not bad people who never should have had children. They are ordinary, decent people who were put into a situation I don't know if I could survive.
Those of you who do care for babies see a lot of mothers with drug problems. I take care of kids who entered foster care in middle or late childhood and though substance abuse is often part of the equation, poverty and domestic violence plays a bigger role. So very many of the kids have common themes in their histories. Their mothers were young when they were born. Their biological father usually wasn't around. The man that was around, was abusive. Their mothers lacked education and job skills and were abandoned by people who should have cared for them.* I have had four boys on permanent placement. In not one case was the parent who last had custody of them a substance abuser. Not one of them lacked the ability to be a good parent, though the lacked the resources.
My point though is that my experience has taught me that many people who have lost their children to foster care are not "people who never should have had children to begin with." Many of them are victims of injustice. Many of them would have, could have been successful parents if the world had been just a little bit different. A certain number of them never should have lost their children at all.
I've thought about that, worried over it sometimes, as I have also worried about private adoption. Though some agencies are clearly far better than others, I wonder how any agency that is funded by adopting parenting can meet the standards I would like set for them.
My mantra has been, as I know it is for many of you, that adoption should exist to find parents for kids who need them, not to find children for parents.
I have, and this is something of a confession, comforted myself with the fact that I am personally insulated from these problems. I am a citizen of this country and so share responsibility for its laws, but I have not been part of the decision to remove a child from his or her parents care. No one's parental rights were terminated so that I could adopt. All that happened before I came along.
Only now that is not what is happening. Now the court has said that Gary's parents' rights should be terminated, and a big part of the reason why is that Roland and I will adopt. That is not what I wanted to happen, but it is what happened.
My high horse just up and left me standing in this moral swamp.
And there is no Right Thing to do. I have no control over what is said to his parents and how it is said. I don't know whether, when or how the state worker will contact Gary's parents. I don't know if he will tell them that they should relinquish because we want to adopt. I'm not part of the conversation. I have no contact with his parents, and I'm pretty sure the social workers want it that way. I don't get to tell them that if they want to claim him, I will not fight them. I can't tell them how important I think they are to his life.
I'm pretty sure that the state worker will not talk to his parents the way I would want him to. The worker is very excited about being a part of an adoption ... and of a 17 year old boy! He is a specialized worker. He gets assigned teens who are going to emancipate from the system. They need to be prepared to have no one in their lives. Their foster parents don't want to adopt them. Termination either happened in the past or won't happen at all, because what's the point? But adoption is the "gold standard," he says. He wants it to happen. He wants, I believe, to have this experience of being part of the adoption of an older teen. He wants to tell his colleagues that it does happen sometimes.
When he looks at us and our situation I feel like a rare bird in the presence of an enthusiastic bird watcher.
I'm thinking, "I hope we are doing the right thing, in the right way."
He seems to be thinking, "This is SO COOL!" (I could be wrong. These are my impressions.)
It isn't a closed adoption because Gary is almost 17. He knows who his parents are. He can contact them whenever he wants. They can find him and contact him.
It doesn't come close to my conception of an open adoption because there is no conversation between us and Gary's parents. I don't get to tell them that I know they are still his parents, that I will continue to do anything I can to support his relationship with them, and that I don't want whatever happens to get in the way of that.
Being insulated by time was a comfort. I could tell myself that it happened long ago and I wasn't a part of it. Being insulated while it is happening is not. It means that I have no idea if his parents are being treated ethically. There is nothing I can do or say to mitigate ... anything.
And yeah, I know that his mother hasn't made contact with him for nearly a decade and that his father went 10 months without any contact at all. I know that in his last contact he said terrible things, including saying that he was going to initiate termination himself. (Which he didn't understand that he couldn't do.) I get that those are reasons for the current actions. But I also know that life is complicated and that isn't all of the story. I know that people make mistakes and I believe they should be given a chance to rectify them.
And I am part of this whether I want to be or not.
And it is all complicated and distressing with Evan too. He indicated in our last conversation that he wanted for me and Roland to adopt him (as opposed to just Roland) because that would keep things "even" with the other boys. In other words, he would prefer that I not give something to Gary, David, and Carl that he is not given. Now that might just be his gut reaction which he reconsiders, but it was really strange. Adopting someone who has a mother, even a far from perfect mother, in order to satisfy a narrow notion of fairness is so absurd I know how to make him understand that it is absurd.
And then I wonder how the heck I got to this place. It feels so wrong, and yet I can't leave. I can't take promises back that I have made. And I don't want to leave, and it feels right. And yes, I know that's confused, but I'm confused.
There is no moral ambiguity in me with respect to Carl and David. They are alone in the world.
And then sometimes I just want to slap myself for being so damn self-involved. Are my qualms about justice? About what is right for the boys? Or is it about my having clean hands?
So what is best for Gary? His family, for complicated reasons, decided they had no place for him. He went into foster care not because he needed to be protected, but because otherwise he would have been homeless, maybe. Though I wonder about that too. If the state hadn't been there, would he have been homeless? Would different relatives have taken him in and perhaps passed him around? There were good reasons why various relatives either could not or should not take him, but would they have just done it anyway? His younger sister, also a child of his father and not his step-mother, has also been deemed impossible to live with. Last we heard, she is living with the grandmother who was judged unable to take Gary.
But what might have happened isn't really the issue is it? There is only what did happen. His mother left his life. It wasn't a free, uncoerced choice, but it happened. His immediate family said he couldn't live with them. His extended family said, "not us either." Then his father said he was giving him up, at least legally.
And we said, "We want you."
My response to what his father said was primitive and immediate. I thought, if he is giving Gary away, then I will take him. I told Gary I couldn't imagine anyone not wanting to be his parent.
I meant it then, and I still do.
But nothing is ever that simple.
But I want it to be.
*Please understand that most teen moms are great moms. Most step fathers, and romantic partners of parents, are good people who care appropriately and lovingly to the children in their lives. And most people who are poor and/or have less education than the average are wonderful parents who provide for their children's needs. Even if it were true, and it isn't, that all the kids in foster care have mothers who were young when they had their first child, that would not mean that all or most of teen moms will have kids who end up in foster care.