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The regrets of adoption

Publication Date: 2009-07-27

This Salon narrative is a moving, painful, very real account by a mother who was very well qualified to deal with a difficult child. As you read her account, think about the fact that for 13 years or so this child was in school. Think about the words "all children" and "no excuses."

Other parent/writers confess to the joy their disabled children have brought them. Can I confess to regrets? I adopted my son when he was eight from the foster care system. He was sweet, charming, and bright -- with a social background that I know now should have scared the heck out of me. I went through training. I knew there were no guarantees. I knew kids who had been abused/neglected/abandoned were bound to have emotional problems. I was committed to love him. I had committed my professional life to social justice/making a difference. I could make a difference for one small child and know the joy of parenting, expanding our family from the small single parent household-with-bio-son that I currently had. Besides, everybody who knew me said I was a great mom. My son would have a brother.

Twelve years later, I can tell you with clarity that I would not do it all over again. By the time this son was 13, I had long experience with emergency rooms, police calls, psychiatric units. I kept looking for the right psychiatrist or therapist who would make the right diagnosis and have the right therapy or the right medicine. He was fetal alcohol, reactive attachment disordered, depressed, oppositional defiant, ADHD... I am sure we could have kept accumulating diagnoses, none of which helped manage behavior. He lied, he stole, he was sexually inappropriate, he destroyed our house, he let the dog out to run the neighborhood, he broke into neighbors' houses, he went joy riding, he was expelled. He was funny, he told good stories, he could cuddle, he was an athlete, he made friends instantly. One psychiatrist told me he was a sociopath in progress. At one residential treatment center, he flung his own shit around the room, and refused to bathe for months. I lost at least one job because I couldn't manage the stress of the constant phone calls, emergencies, etc. Co-workers are only sympathetic so long. People said "I don't know how you do it," and I didn't know if that was admiringly or despairingly.

He is twenty now. He has been a gang member. He has worked a total of about 2 months in the past 2 years, when I have tried to encourage that he get a job. He just can't keep a job. He deals. He lies. He has been back home, to get back on his feet. He doesn't get back on his feet. He plays video games all day. I kick him out again, because he isn't keeping up the bargain... get a job, or volunteer, or help with chores. He has had years of therapy. He has had years of support. He has had years of tough love.

He feels entitled. He will be one of those guys who lives off girls. He will not hold a job. He will circle between social service agencies and jail. He will become the kind of person I have spent a lifetime as a social activist railing against: a leech on the system, on someone else, a petty criminal, a non-contributor to the larger good. He will have children he cannot support. I thought we could create policies, programs, and just plain love enough to make a difference. I cannot know, maybe he cannot know, if his brain is just too damaged, if he is truly incompetent, or he cannot muster the will to live a successful life when the culture provides so many alternative pathways. I know I lost years of my life, and my bio son --with my encouragement -- has sought his own opportunities far away, as he, too, figures out what is healthy and what is the detritus of a life with a brother that was always generating chaos.

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