Monday, July 29, 2013

"We'll just adopt…"

A couple we're very close to is adopting an older child next week, and it's weirding me out. We've adjusted to the new mom thing with many friends by now, but this time instead of an infant entering everyone's lives it's an 11-year-old girl. She's already almost my height, and she has a personality that's all her own. A few years in the foster system have left her a little immature for her age, but she's this person. A whole person with a history and hopes and dreams and interests. It's taking some getting used to.

My husband and I got to meet her last week on one of her last visits before she permanently moves in with her new family. She's a sweet girl, eager to please but a little clingy. She's as good a fit for this family that could possibly exist, I think, and I'm super excited that we'll get to be a part of their lives. They wanted to adopt an older child for many reasons, but I think one of the reasons was that they thought it would be easier.

It's not easier.

A lot of childfree women say "If I want kids later, I'll adopt." A couple of my best friends have been adopted. It seemed simple enough. But now, watching my friends' experiences through this process — entering the foster system with the goal of adopting, not just fostering — have shown me how complicated it is. Promises of a child coming into their life until the birth mother (or, in one case, a former foster mother) files an appeal. Getting hopes up based on profiles only to find out that the caseworker grossly understated psychological issues or abuse histories. The horrible guilt at having to reject a child after going through a good portion of the process because it "just didn't feel right" when they finally met the child in person.

In the beginning I thought I was one of those women, the ones who would take in foster kids if I got the urge to parent later in life. Long ago I decided that wasn't for me, but seeing this process is reinforcing that. New Mom is finding bonding with the child a challenge for a number of reasons. She's finding herself a little resentful of the time, the money, the changes that are happening. I worry she's regretting her decision. She even told me that in just the last few home visits she's realized that she probably would have been okay if she and her husband were childfree.

Luckily, her husband is over the moon about the whole thing. He loves being a dad to his new daughter and is helping to compensate for Mom's nerves. I think it will be okay, in time, but as the reality is hitting, as moving day approaches next week, she's really scared. She's also nervous because she's not feeling "like a mom" yet.

My husband and I have committed to supporting our friends and talked a lot about it. It's important to us that they're a part of our lives and we're ready to accept her. But it's a whole new kind of strange. From a selfish point of view, our relationship with them will be changing in a different way than new parents with infants changes. There will be this extra person there, one that we have to engage and include in conversation. Will we still be able to rant about work, gossip about friends, bitch about family when there's this girl who needs role models more than most kids?

It will obviously be more challenging for them. They're going to spend the next year or two adjusting her expectations, making her a part of the family. She's likely going to go through a phase, as "most foster kids do (according to their caseworker)" where she tries everything in her power to make their lives miserable as a challenge to see if they send her back to the group home and back into the system. It could be years before she calls them "mom and dad". In just a few years she'll be dating, driving.

And here's what gets me. They're changing this girl's life for the better, for sure. Without them, it's highly likely she'd be in the system until she's 18. They're giving her a chance at a life. But even so, they're starting from so far behind that by the time they're truly bonded, she could be starting high school.

I'm excited for them, but I find myself hoping they're doing this for the right reasons. Occasionally I wonder whether they went down this path because Dad wanted to be a father so bad and Mom just doesn't do babies. I wonder whether she does motherhood at all, or if this will change her, make her want one of her own to raise. It's going to be an interesting journey.

It's a window into the life I used to use as a way to get people off my back about not having kids. "We'll just adopt." It's far more complicated than I could have imagined.


Olimpia said...

I used to feel the same way, I could always just adopt an older child. But now, I can't decide what's worse - a screaming toddler or a rebellious teenager. I'll stick to my dogs, at the end of the day they're better behaved and better company than either (and dare I say it, a lot cuter!)

Lyz Klein said...

Bravo to your friends, we need more people willing to get children out of our god-forsaken foster systems. I definitely hear where you're coming from, thought. DH and I have talked about adopting, and we may yet decide to foster when we have the space, time, and money. But like Olimpia, the one stage of "childhood" that I would definitely fast-forward through if I could would be the teen years. No. Thank you.

Stasha said...

Amen to that. I don't mean to minimize what a great, brave thing they're doing.

Ari said...

Hi! I just came across your blog and read much of the archives, and am glad you are still around and speaking your mind. I'm 33, never married, and don't want kids. I'll even take it a step further and say that I don't think I'll ever really want to be married, either. Explaining this to people is like trying to explain the color blue to someone who has never seen it, and I'm also dealing with being the only one of my friends who has chosen not to procreate, so It's a relief to know there are others out there who can relate to me.

Anonymous said...

This is the one that's come out of my mouth too: If I want a kid one day when I'm past my prime to procreate, I'll adopt. But I know deep down inside that's a statement I hide behind with the truth - I don't want kids ever at all. Kudos to those who do adopt, but I know kids in any fashion are just not for me.

Anonymous said...

I love that your friends are taking a child into their homes and their lives. I wish *most* well-off people in the world would consider adopting in addition to or instead of biologically reproducing. Yay for adoption!

At the same time, I know that I would never do it. I applaud it, but I would never be able to handle it. And especially an 11-year-old, omg can you imagine. I can picture myself blaming every single thing that the child ever did that was annoying or dangerous or bratty on those *other* people, you know, the ones who conceived and gave birth to it, the ones who raised it, the ones who taught it before it came to me. I would just be full of eye-rolling and blame-placing all the time. No no no no no. Do not want.

Kim said...

You know, as an adoptee and someone who is childfree, this is something that really bothers me about the childfree community. I hate when people use "we'll just adopt" as a backup, like it's no big deal. It's insulting to us who have been adopted and it's insulting to the parents who truly understand what an immense undertaking the adoption process is and who want to be parents enough to go through it. I feel like the people who say it often don't see an adopted child as a "real" child. Like they think it will be easier to parent someone else's child (like it's babysitting or something), without realizing that you have to go into it 100% prepared to be a parent and already thinking of this child as yours. Granted, the way most people who haven't adopted or aren't adopted view and speak of adoption annoys the hell out of me.

That said, I hope for the child's sake (and your friends') that they are able to make this relationship successful and your friend ends up loving being a mother.