Thursday, December 24, 2009

Evan and (the myth of) Adoption

I had a longish conversation with Evan yesterday and I have been trying to write a post that is about my feelings without violating his privacy.

The conversation was mostly about his mother. He wanted to talk about what he did, and did not, owe her. She is far less self-destructive than many people I have known, but she does get herself into difficult situations and wants and expects her son to rescue her. That Evan's baby sister's welfare is sometimes at stake makes it all the more difficult.

Now, as most readers know, Roland and I are planning on adopting the boys who came to us from foster care. They range from 17 to 26. The older two have no parents. The stories are complex, but there is nothing in them that gives me pause. Adopting them fits clearly into my ethical framework. Adoption is to provide parents for children who don't have them. That these young men are legal adults does not mean that they don't need parents. They do, and we are the only candidates. The youngest is more complicated, but I've written about that recently and that is not what this post is about. The short version is that I wish what was happening to him wasn't happening, but if it does we will adopt him and not regret it.

I can't however find myself at peace with respect to Evan.

The truth is (and my darling, if you are reading, please don't be hurt) that if he were the only boy to come to us from foster care we never have considered adopting him. He has a mother. She is part of his life. She is a difficult, pain-causing part of his life, but she is there.

When Evan talks to me about his mother I think a lot about my father. I remember when I was Evan's age that I did not want to acknowledge his (my father's) existence. I was hurt and angry and slowly coming to terms with the truth that he was never going to be different. I had to give up on that dream. I was jealous of my mother because she was able to divorce him. She wasn't related to him any more and she didn't have to worry about him. She was no longer his wife, but I would always be his daughter. I struggled to figure out what that meant. I toyed with the idea of cutting him out of my life entirely. If I just didn't give him my address when I moved, would anyone else? Could I go on as though he didn't exist?

So when Evan talks to me and our conversation shifts from his mother to the adoption, I find myself wondering if it would have changed things if someone had adopted me. If I had a new, legal father, would that have given my father less power to hurt me? Would it have settled any of the questions about what, if anything, I owed him?

I don't think it would.

Because it is a myth that adoption, especially adoption of older children and adults, unmakes the previous relationships. I think it can make a new one, but it does not erase the past. It doesn't even create barrier between the past and the future.

I eventually found a degree of peace in my relationship with my father. He can certainly make me moderately nuts, but mostly I have my boundaries set in ways that make me comfortable. I accept what he wants to give us, but I no longer expect or hope for something he isn't. And if I had been adopted by someone else as a teen or an adult, I suspect I would have had to travel the same journey. It would have been no easier. And I think the same is true for Evan. My adopting him won't make his relationship with his mother easier. It could though make it worse.

One way that it would make his life easier is in all those getting-to-know you conversations, one of the really difficult things for kids who have been in the system. Most of us have different levels in friendship. Some people we interact with and know almost nothing about. Some we know better and we share a bit more. Some are intimates and know our pain. When you grow up in foster care (and probably other situations) it is difficult maintain that. So many questions don't have truthful, non-mysterious answers. It would be easier for Evan when he meets people to be able to truthfully tell them that his parents live in Our Small Town, are educators, and members of PFLAG, and only later share that we are adoptive parents, that he still has a relationship with his mother, and that relationship is complicated and sometimes painful.

I get that.

But here is my dilemma.

On one hand it feels impossible to deny to Evan what I am offering to the other boys and wrong for me to decide what is best for him and his life. I don't love him less than the other boys. I don't want to offer him less.

On the other hand, the idea of adopting Evan without his mother's consent, probably even against her wishes, is anathema to me. David and Gary's mothers have been completely out of their lives for more than a decade. Though I believe they think about their sons and love them still, they simply are not there. Attempts at reconciliation have been exhausted.

But Evan's mother is there. She is making him crazy and sometimes miserable, but she is there.

Though I say and believe that it is a myth that adoption unmakes families, myths are powerful things. And there are some things that are not myth. The legal changes will not matter as much as they would have if he were younger, but they are real. Part of me is firmly convinced that it is just wrong to do this.

And yet it feels wrong to tell Evan that I won't adopt him too. I feels wrong to make this decision for Evan. He has my heart as much as any of the boys. If he wants to be legally ours, it feels like that should be his choice. Telling him no just feels wrong.

I hate it when there are not right answers.


  1. This is a heartbreaking post. I sympathize with your quandry. Can you explain to Evan that you have claimed him and are willing to adopt him but feel it should be his choice?

    Second thought. I'm not sure if you have second parent adoptions in your state but wondering if it would be and option for you or Roland to do a 2nd parent adoption provided you all sat down and discussed it and it was a viable option to include the bio-mother and y'all. That way it wouldn't dismiss the bio-mom.
    Just a thought.....

  2. I don't know exactly what you mean by second parent adoption, but I expect we don't have whatever it is. A child here can only have two parents. Roland and I could both adopt him and his mother would no longer be his legal mother, or Roland could adopt him. That is the option I feel more comfortable with. In that case his mother would remain legally his mother and I would be his step-mother.

    Evan doesn't seem to like that option. Part of it is his extreme sensitivity to fairness. It bothers him that the other boys would be "all ours" and he would only be "half ours."

  3. I don't want this to sound like I'm oversimplifying the issues, but if adoption does not unmake the previous relationship, then surely going with Evan's wishes ( what I am assuming are Evan's wishes) is not going to cut him off from his mother in any way?
    Hope you and yours have a lovely Christmas, I always enjoy reading your thoughts here.

  4. What a heart wrenching position to be in. This doesn't in any way make it easier for you but if someone I loved and respected had offered to adopt me and that would have "given" me a dad that I could love and be proud of, I'd have done it in NY minute. My parents divorced when I was 19. My father and I never ever had a good relationship (and I have all the milestone pics of me in tears to prove it; he was the master of saying the most cutting thing at the perfect time) When they divorced he kept contact with my sister a couple towns away but moved w/out giving me his address. I originally tried to heal the relationship. Thought grandkids would build a bridge. He moved again. No address given. I don't need to get hit in the head too many times to figure out that I was getting a message. I don't know where he lives now though I have heard he is on wife #3.

    I miss having a "dad" someone stable that I can confide in, that can help with the "boy" issues I have dealt with raising my kids. I have been lucky that my FIL has somewhat stepped into that breach, but I miss it.

    The only plus side for me is that I can have really honest discussions with my kids (Rob especially) about how it feels to have biological family members disappear and walk out of your life.

    Sorry for rambling; obviously feeling emotional at Christmas! (smile)

  5. Your posts are so wonderfully stark and open! You once again hit a big emotional button with me in your comments about your dad. Both my parents are alcolholics and big pains in the a**es. But they are the hand I was dealt and I am spending my adult life learning how to love them and accept them as they are, not as I would wish they would be...

  6. Annie,

    Adopting Evan doesn't have to affect his relationship with his mother, but it would. I think, based on information I'm not ready to share here, that she would feel that he was rejecting her. Perhaps he would be.

    I'm afraid he wants to do it without her knowledge, which also makes me uncomfortable.

  7. Lee & Marthamuffin,

    Thanks for your comments. It is so helpful to have people out there who understand. There do seem to be a lot of us.


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