Is it wrong how much I want T. to go back to school? He was placed with us in a "pre-adoptive" placement just over a month ago, and he's been on Christmas break for the last two-and-a-half weeks. We owe DCFS for the brilliant timing and total lack of support around that set of circumstances, but that's a matter for a future blog post.
Mary the Mom, one of my favorite bloggers and most supportive foster/adopt resources, recently told me I make adopting a teenager look easy. I'm philosophical by nature, and I think that inadvertently inclines me toward a reflective wisened tone. But I just want to be clear that I'm not that way at all in real life. I don't want to mislead. This isn't easy.
Yes, adopting an older kid from foster care is incredibly rewarding. It's the most significant thing we've ever done in our lives. It's incredibly profound to intervene in someone's destiny in that way. And I'm sure I'll feel particularly good about it decades from now when I reflect on the meaning of my life. Meanwhile, there are plenty of times when it seems like a terrible idea.
For example: as a result of a severely disrupted childhood and multiple placements, T.'s social skills...well, frankly, they suck. Half his friends are thugs. He constantly tries to buy friendship, unsure that anyone will like him beyond the perks he can provide. He's clingy. He's annoying. And he has no idea how to make constructive plans with peers. My incredibly patient partner Tim, who models unconditional love nearly all the time, referred to T.'s social life as "disgusting" and "repulsive" the other night. I have to say, that was the source of a good hard laugh. Now when we want to run away to Tahiti, we just ask each other "are you disgusted?" and it cracks us up all over again.
Here's more: T. is also rude. I love him, but let's not lie. Once he relaxes (which in our case didn't happen until after about four months of weekend overnight stays in our house) he's utterly rude. Other parents of teenagers that they've raised since birth assure me that all teenagers are obscenely inconsiderate. But he's the only one I've got and, lemme tell ya, living with him is a pain in the butt some days. He blasts his headphones and shrugs when we talk to him. He interrupts important conversations to send scandalous text messages to girls. He refuses to eat most of what we serve and usually gets up and walks away from the table halfway through dinner. Yesterday he gave all the money we gave him for the bus to a homeless man, then called us to come pick him up.
We aren't letting him get away with all this - we usually respond with a calm correction and sometimes a consequence. We're learning that you have to set up the consequences in advance, or you can really find yourself in a pickle. T. is remarkably self-correcting, and even when we think our explanation of expectations have fallen on i-Pod-deafened ears, he often returns and models exactly the behavior we asked for within a day or two. NEVERTHELESS. Having to explain and deliver appropriate consequences and make sure they are implemented is enough to make you want to take a long, long unannounced vacation some days.
We were more or less prepared. I've known a bunch of foster kids over the course of my life, and I've also had quite a few friends who were raised in chaotic circumstances and acquired feral behaviors similar to T's. But that doesn't mean it isn't majorly irksome - after all, alot of the behaviors are expressly intended to be irksome. Maybe all teenagers tend to provoke, but I'd say emotionally distressed teenagers coming out of long term foster care excel far beyond the cultural norm in their total mastery of provocation. They have way more anger to release. They have a compulsive need to try to destroy connections in order to test their strength before they get hurt again. They are hugely confused about loyalties and boundaries and what love really looks like.
So there, I said it. It's working for us - in part, I think, because all along this is the kind of parenting we wanted to do. We didn't want to have babies, we wanted to adopt older kids. We didn't expect immediate gratification- though when we get those unexpected bursts of pure affection from him, it's totally blissful. We waited until we were older - until years of experience at work and at home and with friends and with each other tempered our personalities and taught us that most conflicts eventually blow over. But it's still hard - hard to be patient enough, to be warm enough, to complement as well as criticize, to choose battles wisely and overlook the things that there isn't time to address. I'll try in the future to write more about those parts, because I think it's important for adoptive parents of older kids to be honest about the difficulties so we can be a resource for each other!