I have always been the kind of person who learned from other's mistakes. It's why I have never been drunk. I watched my friends slowly succumb to this form of "fun" and quickly learned that it was not the kind of fun that was for me. It also applies to life's little lessons, like choosing a career path or even proper etiquette at certain events. I watch YouTube Fail videos and wonder why on earth anyone would think any of that stuff was a good idea. You are 250 pounds, jumping on an old trampoline with two similarly weighted friends. I can't see how this is going to go wrong. Obviously, I still make plenty of my own mistakes, but if there is any way to avoid them, I do.
As we approach the beginning of our adoption journey, I have been scouring the internet for information, learning as much as I can so that when it comes time, I will have a lot of tools on my toolbelt and a lot of other parent's experiences to refer to. One of the greatest resources has actually been a former co-worker/friend. She and her husband are doing exactly what my husband and I want to do, which is adopt teens from foster care. At least, that was how it started for them.
A quick synopsis of their journey: Were matched with a sibling set from across the state. Oldest child of the sibling set decided they did not want to move so far away. Kids never came to their home. Having lost some faith in being matched again and it working out, they then decide to try fostering a legally free child (but not so gung-ho about adoption) who they may eventually adopt. Enter E, a manipulative twelve-year-old whose sole mission seemed to break up their marriage. Things had not settled with E, but they decided to bring another child into the home anyways. Enter J, seventeen-years-old with anger management issues out the wazoo. Things quickly fell apart with E and within a few months she asked to be removed from their home after a series of false accusations and manipulations. J is struggling to attach to them, but at this point it has only been six months. Rather than be patient, they decide things aren't going to work out and help J get into his own apartment. J is developmentally delayed, possibly has some kind of mental health issue, and hasn't graduated high school yet, but none of that matters because the mom isn't feeling it. Three months later, he moves back in with them. Things start to get better with J. A lot better. A few weeks after J's return, a new kid, R arrives. As far as I can tell, J is never given any say in the matter, just told that he is going to get a new sibling a little younger than him. Also seventeen, R has serious health concerns that don't seem to concern him and immediately starts talking about moving out the day he turns eighteen. This is not what we signed up for, the "mother" laments. She wanted to adopt. Not get kids who refuse to connect with them. J is a little jealous of R, but he has started to bond and is even saying "I love you" to the family. Then the family takes in two foster babies. Not foster to adopt, no adoption promises whatsoever. Just foster kids, which is noble but now they have seriously deviated from the original adoption plan of older kids. But they are babies and how can you say no to babies? So they go from a barely functioning family of four to six and that was the nail in the coffin for J. All progress was lost. Violent outbursts have forced him to leave the home for the safety of the other foster children. R is ready to leave in a few months, clearly not connecting to the family and with no interest of being adopted. They are in love with the babies, their faces glowing in every picture although there are rarely pictures of the older boys. One of the babies if calling the dad, daddy, which sounds adorable until you remember that they are foster kids and these aren't their parents. In fact, besides some illness, they seem to be over the moon about the babies. If only the big boys didn't keep complicating things.
And the worst part is this quote, "Maybe it is too late for these bigger kids."
I have unfollowed this woman, because I just can't. You shouldn't be fostering or adopting older children if this is your conclusion. It's time to stop. You have tried now with three children and it hasn't worked and I think that despite their best intentions, they just aren't right for foster parenting. And certainly not right for parenting teens.
What I have also learned from them is this: Be patient. If the goal is to adopt, then don't settle for just fostering. Don't take in kids that have no interest in being adopted. Talk to them about what their goals are. Ask them to be honest with you. Meet with them several times before they move into your home. Don't just take the word of a social worker or even a former foster parent, talk to the kid, because at sixteen and seventeen they are almost adults anyway. If they say that they plan on reconnecting with their birth family on their eighteenth birthday and that isn't okay with you, then don't take that kid. More than that though, don't take more kids if the ones you already have are still having problems. E was not ready to have a brother, and certainly not an older one. They didn't ask her opinion nor did they care, because the goal wasn't to have a well-adjusted kid, it seems to be taking in as many kids as they can to make themselves feel better. The same happened with J and then R. And if you really just wanted babies all along, then be honest with yourself about that too.
Having watched their journey, my husband and I have decided that no, we don't want babies, no matter what. We do want older children, because we do not believe that they are so damaged they can't be helped. We don't care if they leave the day they turn eighteen. We also don't care if they stay until they are twenty-five. We will not bring a second child into our home until we know that our first is adjusted, happy, and thriving. This may mean that we will only adopt one child. It could mean that we adopt ten over a period of twenty years. We don't move onto a new kid though if the first one isn't "working out" in the way we hoped. By taking in a child and promising to be their forever family, you are obligated to make sure that that promise becomes a reality. That may mean that your dream of adopting ten kids will never be a reality. Unlike with biological siblings, one must also remember that these kids have been traumatized and abused. They should have a say in how your family grows because there is just as much at stake for them, if not more.
I am sure that we will make mistakes. We will do things wrong and someone else out there will judge me as harshly as I am judging my co-worker. But I make this promise: We will be patient. We will be patient with the process, with our social worker, the recruiters, and the court system. But we will be especially patient with our child. They need time to adjust and a few months isn't enough. We will work through their issues first before we even consider adding someone else to the mix. We will extend to them unconditional love no matter that they choose to do on their eighteenth birthday or even if they decide not to let us adopt them, although they will certainly know from the beginning that this is the goal.
Hard times are ahead of us. I expect to be broken and frustrated. I expect that I may even think some of the things this woman has. But I won't give up and I won't rush the process, even if it takes them a lifetime to say "I love you".
Last thing, concerning religion. My biggest issue with this whole business is that these people believe that God has been "ordering their steps" this whole time so all the things that have happened have been God-ordained. God meant for their adoptions to be disrupted. It was in God's plan for them to get these babies even though everything has gone wrong since. And now she is quoting Job, as if maybe all this craziness has been a test of some kind. That makes it better right? Instead of owning up to their own errors in judgment, they have placed the blame solidly on a deity. They believe that they are being tested and if not tested, that somehow all of this will work out. I am curious to see what they have to say if things don't work out or these babies are returned to their bio parents. Nevermind that God is a real dick if he is orchestrating this whole thing because he has thrown the lives of seven people into complete chaos. It would mean that he allowed five children to be abused/neglected so badly that they had to be removed from their families. The damage is irreparable. But somehow it will all be okay because in the end you will get your imagined perfect family, right? Kids that call you mom and dad? And I wonder how these people would feel if they thought that there was no god. That there is no rhyme or reason to any of this and that the responsibility for success or failure rests solely on them. It's a lot weightier and surely carries with it a good deal of responsibility, but it is a burden that I am gladly taking on. I also know that this is why you build a support system, so that they can help you carry this very heavy load.
I grew up in an environment where science was scoffed at and ridiculed. My textbooks were full of factual errors concerning biology, chemistry, astronomy, and physics. In this environment, the word theory was thrown around like a put down, a young earth creationists go to when combating evolution in any form. We were taught that a theory meant guesswork. That anything with the word theory attached to it meant that it was false and untrue, the work of charletons trying to deceive the true believer.
Which is why I may have jumped all over my husband the other day when he said that Evolution was "just a theory." Now, I know that my husband is by no means a young earth creationist. Exceptionally intelligent, he understands and believes evolution to be an explanation of how things happened. He, unlike me, went to public schools where he was taught real science and learned about evolution. He, unlike me, accepted it as truth years before I would ever dare to question my upbringing. I know all of this, but that statement...just a theory...triggers something in me in relation to religious people. I see it as a dismissal. He saw it as an acknowledgment that although there is a lot of evidence in support of evolution, it is not a law and is currently scientists best guess as to how things happened. In his mind, acknowledging it as a theory is not dismissing anything and is in fact verifying what it is and isn't.
"These are your hangups," he told me. "You have to figure out a way not to get all emotional whenever something from your childhood is triggered. You have to learn how to lessen those triggers and not be so sensitive about it."
From the outside, this may seem like the usual male statement of you-are-being-too-emotional. What you should know is that I normally consider myself to be a very analytical, rational, and logical person who tries to not allow emotions to cloud my decision-making processes or my interactions with other people. My husband knows this. This is something that he loves about me. What he is also seeing is that, despite my rational mind, when it comes to topics of religion, I am raw and emotional when I don't need to be. My loss of faith has become like an invisible bruise, sensitive to the touch and deep under the skin. My husband, because I live with him and talk to him about almost everything, has grown wary around this topic because he is never sure when he will press too hard and set me off.
It's a lot to think about and I'm not entirely sure how to make myself be less emotional about this topic. It's not as if my past can be erased. I was raised how I was raised. The most I can do is acknowledge when I am triggered and try to not let it impact in the same way going forward.
A good thing that came of this conversation was that I got to finally tell my husband that my deconversion was not because of how I was raised nor because of issues with the church. I explained that I rejected my parents version of religion when I was around eighteen and had pretty much become a liberal Christian by the time I was twenty-three. I understand that not every Christian believes the way my parents did/do, because I was a Christian who didn't believe like they did for almost a decade. (as he knows) I also reminded him that the church, even with all it's issues, was not a reason to quit being a Christian either. At least not for me. No, my loss of faith stems directly from the Bible. I cannot continue to believe in something that I see as inherintly false. A mixture of history, myth, and pure fiction that has been used to control people for thousands of years. I explained that when you reject Adam & Eve, Noah, Joseph, Moses, and King David, there is nothing left to believe. Jesus believed in Moses and King David. But if I am acknowledging that both men were most likely myths, and at the most real men who made up a lot of shit, you just can't keep believing that Jesus is any kind of savior. And once you go there, you can't be a Christian anymore. I think he actually understood this time. Yes, my parents were fundamentalists, but it isn't why I'm not a Christian anymore. It triggers me to be sure, but my lack of faith is rooted firmly in the thing that my faith was based on--the Bible.
Part of the problem with being secretive and yet maintaining a web presence is that someone may eventually figure things out. If my family ever stumbled upon this blog, it wouldn't take much to figure out it was me. But this isn't the only place that I have mentioned my atheism. I also have a Jezebel account and then there is YouTube, which I stupidly have linked to my very public blog. Now, I have it set to semi-private, which means that what I post on YouTube doesn't show up on Google+, but anyone suspicious can find it. And of course, there is the risk that some of the things I post comments on are things that my Christian friends may frequent.
I think this may also be an example of wanting to be caught. I don't like lying to the people I love, but I also would rather them stumble upon it, deal with it in their own heads, discuss it with whomever, and then decide whether to confront me with it. Especially since my personal faith isn't really any of their business and clearly I haven't told them because I think they will be super judgmental, hyper-critical, and/or mean. I do not expect them to be understanding. I expect massive amounts of disappointment and sadness as these people will believe, as their religion has taught them, that I am now bound for hell and eternal damnation. Some will try to blame my husband before asking whether he is still a believer or not. Others will look to blame friends or my intellect. My parents will feel like they failed. My sister-in-law will claim she knew it all along. Some of my friends will no longer be my friend. Others will try to re-convert me.
Perhaps it is cowardice on my part to not want all that drama to happen all at once. To want one person at a time to stumble upon something or question something. I don't like confrontation. I don't want to explain myself. Even my husband still seems unsure as to why I am no longer a Christian, often correlating my childhood and religious upbringing with my lack of faith. As far as I can remember, he hasn't really asked.
This is a personal, but secret, blog archiving my deconversion from a Christian to a non-believer.