Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Truth About Adopting A Teenager

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!

21 comments:

marythemom said...

Ahh much better! I was starting to think that T was freakishly perfect. It turns out you were just not complaining enough. *grin*

I still admire your positive attitude and ability to handle/cope with adopting a teenage boy.

Eyes Open Wider did a blog post on Teens in Foster care and I thought of you.

Mary in TX

motherissues said...

I'm also glad to hear that T is fully teen and fully human. While our interactions with the teen who was placed with us were very easy and positive (which sounds strange given that he ran away at one point) I'm sure that was partly a feature of the limited duration of our contact. Much as I think he's an awesome kid, he was clearly less deliberate about making his bed during the second visit. It's sort of a relief to hear that T is the same way!

I'm glad you're still blogging through this process. I really enjoy reading what you have to say.

Liz said...

Thanks for this post - I read it on the same day I thought to myself "is it wrong to be looking forward to the day I go back to work and Elfe goes off to pre-school?" That last paragraph applies to toddler adoption too - it's what I wanted instead of a baby, but it's still hard.

maine said...

I'm in the process of adopting from foster care and this blog helps with the reality of it all. I will be a single parent to a 16 yr old girl but I do have experience --I have 3 teenage nieces (12, 16, &20)and have worked in multiple roles in a public middle school for 16 years so I'm used to it both at home and at work. Doesn't mean I like it- cause my nieces definitely make me want to have an adult beverage or two LOL

I will try to follow your blogs and feel free to follow my pre-adoption journey at hernamemeansjoy.blogspot.com

thanks for sharing!

Angela Sabo said...

i know this is much later than most, however thank you so much for your blog. I am the adoptive mother of a 16 yr old that has been with us for 2yrs. we also have 2 bio kids 5 and 3. i was at my ropes end when i came across this tonight. God must have known i need it. thank you again.

Tammy said...

I was searching the internet for information from other moms out there that had adopted teens. And I saw this and then saw the comment above from Angela Sabo. I wish I could find a way to email her but maybe she will see this. I'm currently a stay at home mom with an inhome daycare. We have two bio kids ages 3 and 5 and my husband and I have been looking into adopting but never started the process until we found a photo and profile of a 15 year old boy currently in foster care. We are just waiting for a phone call to get scheduled to take the foster care classes. We are also very close to God. We feel very led to do this and I guess I just wish I knew someone in a similar situation so I could hear how it's working out. How is the age difference affecting life? I'm sure we'll do fine if the adoption goes through. I just want to be sure we are doing a good thing, and trying hard to make sure we don't make a wrong decision for our younger children.

DRenae said...

Tammy - We are in a very similar situation. Looking into adopting a teen, and have our own younger children already, ages 5, 3, and 7 months. I also am curious how this will play out and what it might mean for our younger kids. Anyone else done this? I suppose every situation will be different. We also feel that God is leading us in this direction, and so I'm sure He will provide all that we need.

OK2try said...

I just found your blog and thank you for it. My husband and I are in the adoption process with an almost-15 year old girl who has been in our foster care for 8 months. Because she has a surface "persona" that is exceptionally reasonable and sane, whenever her deeper, fearful, non-adaptive, really not-well behaviors reveal themselves, we have to remind ourselves of what she has had to learn to survive so far. We have already raised 2 daughters to adulthood, and although there are common issues, there are many ways in which this is completely different. We just hope she makes it to an adulthood in which she is able to form & maintain healthy intimate relationships. Our fear is that, being in our 60's, we won't live long enough to see it. Thank you again for your blog; it helps.

Holly said...

Sitting here reading the comments, and the blog post (I think that is what it's called!) and crying (in a hotel breakfast room). The feelings of 2 steps forward and 1 1/2 back for the past 3 months have been overwhelming. Am in the process of adopting a 15 year old, having raised 5 of my own. I now see that my 5 were so easy! The constant testing of boundaries, of my commitment to him, of whether or not I am going to "send" him "back" overwhelm me. Thank you for affirming my struggles and encouraging me. Jer 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Has become my mantra over both him and me!

Anonymous said...

My husband and I are in the process of adopting a 15 y.o. boy with a hearing impairment. He's a great kid whom I have known for six months as his teacher. When he needed to leave his former pre-adoptive family (not his fault) I knew he needed to become a part of our family. I'm excited happy and scared. The boy doesn't even know about it yet. We have two biological daughters aged 10 and 13 and I know this is a good thing, but I worry about changing their lives so much. We have done everything we can think of to prepare them and ourselves but still I worry. If there is anyone out there who has had success with this type of adoption situation, I appreciate your thoughts.

Cara @ Whimsy Smitten said...

Thank you so much for your authenticity here. Just stumbled across your site looking for resources for teen adoption, both because my husband and I are in the process of adopting a 15-year-old boy out of foster care and because I blog for a local foster-to-adoption blog and was preparing to post on the topic.

It is SO important for us all to realize that being annoyed, irritated, angry, or overwhelmed does not mean we aren't still doing something major and wonderful for these kids. In most cases, they are TOUGH kids and it's just plain hard work. For sure you have touched a lot of hearts with your honesty here, not to mention with what you have done for your boy.

Thanks again!

Jacqueline said...

"Yesterday he gave all the money we gave him for the bus to a homeless man, then called us to come pick him up."

I know that this is an old post (I came across it during a Google search for "adopting a teenager), but I just wanted to stop and respond to this specific bit.

Whatever faults he may have, giving his money away to a homeless man shows that he is deeply empathetic. Congratulations, you have a wonderful son!

Anonymous said...

my sister is half christin half jewish sophie my sister now about foster care she didn't like it at all anymore because i wanted her to move out without me that way i wanted to be alone all the time tell everybody my sister move out me without i wanted to be alone im loney child now that way wanted to be right now with me im crying right now away harder and harder all my life is ruined it

Tiffany Kern said...

I think it is a bit sad you are mad at him for giving all his money to a homeless man and then calling you to come pick him up. If my child did this I would be proud!

Anonymous said...

I think we all get tired of our lids at one point in time, but laughing at his social skills and using it as a quick joke is low. Whether he knows you're doing it or not, you shouldn't laugh at things he can't help.

As far as the homeless guy thing, it seems like he's got a good heart. I would be proud if my kid sacrificed their bus money to help someone less fortunate.

kirafiki said...

Wow, you have gotten omments for years of this post. Let me just add to the comments. We have haa 19 yr old kid in out house for the past 3 weeks. Because he's 19, he isnt in the system and this isn't an official adoption, but he wants a family and we want him to be a part of ours so while not a legal contract, it is an emotional one. Your blog, and esp this entry, has really helped. YOur entry describes what I"ve been feeling this week- so thanks from someone else for posting. I havebeen siting here for the past hour reading your blog and hope that I find some advise or experience that will help. Thanks again.

kristine said...

I love that he gave his money to a homeless man, hopefully next time, he saves enough to get himself home. Love your writing!
I did a google search...adopting a teen too

Anonymous said...

The joys and challenges of parenting an adopted teen are endless. I have the challenge of working at the high school that my son attends. I hear all the good news, all the bad news and everything in between. We made it a priority to include his birth family in our family so that our son did not lose his identity. He is learning what to take and leave from his past. He is gaining feelings of trust and comfort in our home. We have adopted not only our son, but his culture, his family and friends. Our home provides structure, opportunity and stability but his world outside of our home is still filled with the factors of his life that made him who he is. We are all blessed and grateful.

Anonymous said...

Been reading your posts from scratch, with keen interest (I'm a solo adoptive mum raising a 17 y.o. with lots of hard and heart-wrenching times. I couldn't quite believe T. was so perfect (who is ? let alone after a life-time of trauma). I feel this post marks a turning point : after months of perfect perfection, there's a crack in the Mmirror. Not sure, though, that I feel really comfortable with the sudden notions of "disgust" "rude" and so on. Determined to read to the last post. I've already sneaked forward and saw it stops abruptly in August 2013. Does anyone know what happenned next ?

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Anonymous said...

I'm so glad to have found this blog. On some days I want to adopt an older child, maybe a 10 year old to role model for my younger (adopted) kids, but then I realize that it would be waaay too much work for me. Too old for a baby, too busy for a teen, maybe we will get some fish.
Bravo to all you adoptive parents!

 
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