When are our children really ready to fly?
Everyday I wake up thinking about all the children waiting in Foster Care for someone, anyone to commit to being their lives unconditionally.That underneath the hopelessness , everyone deserves one person to be in their lives long term…forever. In the United States that’s over 100,000 children. I literally feel the weight of their hope and despair on my chest, their toughness as they say to others “ It doesn’t matter , I will be 18 soon.” But what does 18 or even 21 actually mean for these Youth? Professionals will say “ Who will walk these children down the aisle? Attend their college graduation? And on and on”. In reality, it’s much more than just that.
After many years as a Child Welfare Professional, it wasn’t until I became an Adoptive mom of two teens this reality hit even harder. Eighteen is just a number, and many children from the System of Care are emotionally younger than their chronological number, whether that is 18 or 21. It’s more than balancing a checkbook, maintaining a job or fulfilling everyday responsibilities. Its being able to not have a brain that is in fight or flight as they wait for someone to “jump” them at the bus stop. It’s their ability to have a healthy emotional relationship with someone who models the same back and when and if they can finally control their impulsivity and understand cause and effect.
Many who do not understand trauma will say… “ At 18 I had a job, went to college and handled all my own stuff”. Maybe that’s true for children raised without neglect, abuse and continual trauma. Our children’s brains are wired differently and for many their brains and hearts are in different stages of healing. Now add those who were unfortunately exposed in utero to substances that altered their brain chemistry forever.Its is more than just pulling yourself up by your bootstraps!
I have the honor to be the Mom of two amazing young men. Knowing them as a professional while they struggled to survive most of their lives in Foster Care, over medicated and angry to the men they are currently becoming. It is the most incredible journey I have ever experienced and also the hardest. It gives me the ability to witness what I have always believed, that every child waiting deserves (and we must help them find) at least one person who commits to them unconditionally. This is a HUMAN right. My son who is 17 is very strong and self made. I was told when I adopted him at 12 he was unable to ever attach to anyone. I refused to believe this and today as I watch him graduate and plan to head to college I know he is attached to me. He can talk about not connecting to others by choice, refusing to get hurt. He feels in control and will always have a safe place to lay his head at night. In moments of vulnerability he will share that he still has nightmares and his self centeredness is a protection against the world. I know he has lessons in life to learn and some will be harder than others but he is bursting to fly away. I often wonder what his life would be like without our family.I like to believe our relationship has helped him create the man and life he wants to have. My other son, is quite different . I adopted him at 17. To the world he looked like a simple and easy kid coming from a group home. He is so much deeper than that, with multiple layers of trauma bundled up around his soul. Through his toughness he is still a young child, watching cartoons, cocooning himself in a virtual world and sleeping with a samurai sword nearby. It was hard for me at first to accept he wasn’t going to graduate from High school right away or be able to handle driving a car responsibly.Here we are at age 20 and he finally graduating on his own terms, working two jobs and showing more maturity each day.In moments of genuine honesty and un-machoness, he admits if he hadn’t been Adopted by me, he might be selling drugs or homeless. It’s a parental lesson in patience for me but what a joy to see him grow.In between our family challenges , my Mom button is so proud of them and for them.
I have many children I have met over the years whom I hold close in my heart. They didn’t get Adopted from the system or they were Adopted and abandoned as they became adults. My heart falls into pieces when I get a message on Facebook from one of them, because I know I am one of the few people they believe they have for support. It is so wrong. I have always felt and cared deeply, but in reality I was just an administrator who over saw their cases.Their lives break my heart, like Tiff who aged out and is now 24 with two babies in Foster Care as she attempts to complete her Case plan. The odds are stacked against her. There is Micheal who is serving time for Manslaughter and other felonies along with Shay who is serving time on drug charges. Nikki who is struggling to stay in a foster home while in extended care and desperately wants to move out and be free of the system.I am anxious about Joshua who is homeless and was last seen in our downtown park three weeks ago and Nicole who posted she is pregnant and has no items or support. I believe our legacy to them is to not give up on the other children who are still waiting for a connection.
I am not saying there are not kids who have aged out whose lives are successful … I know plenty. They are the resilient survivors whose determination and mental attitude has allowed them to push through their adversity. I rejoice for them and place them on pedestals as my unsung heroes, but know they are not the majority. I revel in their accomplishments despite the odds they have faced.
Still I worry everyday about the others who wait and believe they are not lovable , not worthy and not good enough. I want and live to change the world for them and want others to feel and do the same. For those who understand all of this, we need to continue to bring awareness to those people who don’t understand and let them know they can step up and make a difference for these children and in doing so they will change their own lives for the better.We must continue to work passionately to educate and build better supports for those who choose to step up. I support creating connections to these youth but most of all I carry in my heart everyday the faces and stories if those who continue wait. We all must agree as Advocates to NEVER give up believing they exist, they deserve connections and love and will not be forgotten. Our society depends on it.
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