Wednesday, April 23, 2014

We started fostering because ...

(already "parenting" my sister)

From way way way back when I wanted to adopt.
That desire to adopt evolved from wanting to operate an orphanage ... until realizing that children would move away from my home, and I really wanted to raise kids to adulthood (and beyond).
So I decided to adopt 50 kids and birth 50 kids.
Then I realized that was a little impractical or more accurately: impossible.
I then discovered India and decided I wanted to go there and care for children.
In fact, I wanted to do everything Mother Theresa did (except the Catholic part).
And then I found out about Mother Theresa and was pretty upset that she lived the life I'd dreamed for myself.

And my hopes and dreams were dashed (apparently this drive for the "first" one to do x, y, z started at birth, being the first born).

But adoption stayed with me. An important goal in life. I wanted to adopt. So much, that it was one of those things I stated when Ren Man and I started "dating". I wanted to do good in the world and I wanted to help those that would need my protection the most.

Ren Man was adamant that he wanted to birth one kid first - because he didn't think it was fair to "screw up" someone else's child (in hindsight this is a loaded term and says that children are "owned", something we're not so comfortable with. Also, Ren Man has turned out to be the best dad I know. Hands down. I'm not (too) biased. Objectively speaking, he's only matched by one dad in how involved he is in day-to-day-life of childrearing. That's how much his fathering excels in our culture, which is sad, because he's just parenting).

I was adamant I wanted to start raising babies asap.
So we made Noah.

And then we met a friend who had a baby very close in age.
Adoption quickly came up ... because it was next on life's "to-do" list, in my mind.
Coincidentally this friend was adopted.
And, this is shocking, she was: anti adoption. Did you know there was such a thing? There is. I didn't know either. I was amazed.
Through hours and hours of respectful and gentle debate she pointed out that:

- if there was such a need for adoption, the cost wouldn't be so great. Somebody is making money off of adoptions. In other countries (Australia, in particular) the adoption culture is different and while not perfect, may be worth considering.
- while adoption may feel like a "blessing" to the adopting family, it's a loss for the child and their original family. In fact, in the case of infant adoption, the child's first experience is loss.
- if one has that much money to go through the adoption process, why aren't we using that to help that parent raise their child? (although, it takes more than throwing money at a problem to solve that, I know)
- there is evidence to suggest that the "supply" (of adoptable children) is not always available to meet the demand, and unscrupulous (to say the least) measures have been taken
- this idea that original families are all drug-using, uncaring, homeless ruffians feeds an industry, but isn't necessarily accurate. (There are parents who are pressured into relinquishing their parental rights for all sorts of reasons.)

But she was right. All of this was food for thought.

I had just come off of nine months working closely with pregnant and parenting teens. I'd seen 15 year olds living in their own apartments with pealing linoleum tiles in the living room, sandy grit beneath my feet, a toddling diapered child with smeared faces sucking juice from a bottle. I'd seen bugs and rodents, clutter and squalor. I'd seen bruises from fists and heard 2 year olds use swear words I didn't know could be used so frequently in one sentence. I'd met a mom in the homeless shelter and had her 18mos old cling to me when she woke from her nap, not reaching for her mom. I'd listened as the 18 year old told me she was pregnant again, and the 19 year old as she explained that she'd slept in after being in the ER with her one year old late into the night - not because the baby was hurt, but because she'd been whacked with a tire iron in the head at 1am, with the baby awake in the room with her. I'd heard the 30 year old mom mention to the 15 year old girl holding her infant, how she'd also tried to get her GED.

In other words: I'd seen evidence for the cycle of poverty that included babies that could have a better chance at life if not raised by their original family.
But was that true? Is it better to be raised by your family of origin and end up like them for better or worse? or better to be raised by another family with the chance of becoming more than a teen-mom-trying-to-avoid-the-abusive-boyfriend-and-get-her-ged?
I still don't know the answer.

And here's the thing: of those teen moms would shudder at the suggestion of "adoption". They saw that as a loveless choice - they would never give up on their baby to some stranger! And they ostracized peers who did choose adoption.
And I don't know that I blamed them. I was a teen not so long before, and I knew that desperate desire for a baby to call my own.

Teens are supposed to be self-involved, selfish even. That's their job. That's essential to their maturation process. And what I realized was: these teens couldn't make a selfless choice. And the selfless choice would be taking a deep breath and hoping for better for their child. But it's a risk. For sure. Adoption doesn't mean happily-ever-after automatically. And being a teen parent doesn't mean sadly-ever-after. But the parents who would mostly likely see positive outcomes if they chose adoption, won't choose that for their children. They can't.

But those that do choose adoption - just by making that choice - indicate that they can or could in fact raise their child satisfactorily. (And the whole idea of what is "satisfactory" in terms of parenting is tricky too - who gets to decide ultimately, if a person is parenting well enough?)

It seems that the issue isn't your age or economic stability or job potential or anything like that. It seems to me that the number one indicator of your success as a parent is your support network.

This whole process of grappling with this complicated morality of adoption (or not) took a few months of many-houred conversations.

In the end fostering seemed to be the most "right" or "moral" way to adopt. No one (as far as I can tell) is making money through the fostering system. And these are kids who have families who have consistently shown that they can not keep their child safe. This doesn't mean they can't keep their child in organic clothing or even clean clothing. This doesn't mean they aren't feeding their child healthy foods or even 3 meals a day. This doesn't mean they aren't reading to their child every night. All of these things would (and ... should I say: worse?) are completely acceptable parenting methods in our culture. These are parents who aren't clothing, feeding, interacting with, supervising their children - if we're talking about neglect. And these are things we've decided, as a culture, are essential to child rearing. So much so, that we'll remove your child if you do not clothe, feed, interact with, or supervise your child.
Yes, this is a broken system too (like adoption) and yes there are mistakes made (that's what happens when people get involved).

I want to do good in the world and I want to help those that need protection the most. To me, children in foster care fit that. It's not that their parents don't want to do good or don't want to protect their children. But for whatever reason (and so often it seems to be from lack of support, not lack of desire to care for their child(ren)). And this whole thing is so cyclical. Often the children in foster care have parents who were also in foster care. I want to break that cycle - by parenting children forever, or not. Sometimes it means parenting children as a way to provide support and time for their parents while they learn how to parent.

So that's why we foster (as with most everything we do), because we want to leave the world a better place than when we arrived.

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