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In this section of our newsletter, we often feature stories of families that have adopted through PWNL and have gone on to do very well. Recently, I had one such parent ask me why we never feature stories of the families that struggle. I shared with her that while I would love to do that, very few people are willing to give us permission to share those stories in our newsletter. So, in lieu of a family story – I thought that I could share some insight as a professional that has been working in foster care and adoption for over 16 years.
We have been fortunate in PWNL to have had very few adoption disruptions. Generally, parents in our program have realistic expectations of what parenting an older child may look like and the youth we place go on to successfully meet many positive milestones. There are however, other times, when “success” is not defined as we might expect. We see many of our children go through periods of intense struggle and do our best to support the amazing parents that work so hard to get them to the “other side” of these crisis points.
About a year ago, I was talking to a mom - that was really struggling with the somewhat aggressive behaviors of her son (adopted at 10 years old). She asked me “What happens if I just can’t do this? What happens if it gets too hard?” I reminded her that because parenting is forever, “can’t” is no longer an option when you have made the decision to adopt a child. When the going gets tough we have to figure out the “how”. At the time, it was a hard but necessary message for her to hear.
Several months later, this mom (whose son is doing amazingly well) shared with me that the turning point in her mind was when I pointed out to her that many people parenting biological children have to seek outside help for their children if they cannot live safely at home. In the most extreme cases (and thankfully we don’t see many of these) children may temporarily need hospitalization, residential care, boarding school, military school or even respite with a family member or friend.
Through it all, parents can remain active in their child’s treatment plan, visit regularly and continue to be loving and supportive parents. I remember her saying to me “I hope it doesn’t ever come to that, but if it did, I can do that”.
Getting care for our children in crisis can be expensive, frustrating and overwhelming, but if you choose to be a parent, you have to choose to be there through the thick and the thin. You have to be ready to give everything you have in order to meet the needs of your child – sometimes, even as they reject you. If a child has confidence that you will be there forever it can be the boost they need to make changes in their behaviors. On the flip side – if they sense you are not 100% committed to them, it can have a devastating impact on their ability to trust, attach, heal or make behavioral changes. Children cannot thrive if they feel “optional”. Inevitably the children who struggle the most are the ones whose parents have been reserving the right to “opt out” of parenting when things get unbelievably hard.
Through the years, I have been fortunate to work with some wonderful families. I have seen families that have really struggled. I have seen high highs and dreadfully low lows. I have witnessed parents struggle to provide their children with the services, support and unconditional love that they hope will create the “turning point” they are looking for. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Yet – in many of these stories - I see success.
For me, success is not defined by a child’s behaviors. Success is defined by finding parents (rare and wonderful jewels) who will stick with their children, and be parents to them no matter what. Parents who will put the needs of their children above all else. Parents who will remain steadfast and committed to never giving up through rejection, aggression and many sleepless nights. Parents who understand that “forever” does not come with conditions.