Sunday, July 24, 2011

On Failure

It seems that Last Mom's post about anger and resentment triggered a rash of commentary from other bloggers. I commented on it, as did Baggage, Corey, Story of Our Life, and a few others.  Although I think the idea of "never give up" is a good one, there comes a point when the practical realities of our situations overshadow hope.

Friday morning, Corey wrote:

Just for the record, while it was one specific post that pulled the trigger for me, it was a general current that I was responding to. And I *never* want people to think that I don't want to hear what is working for them or about how their child is responding.. That is not the case at all. It is more the fervent "never, ever, ever quit" mentality that makes moms whose kids are not responding to any therapies feel like failures. It breaks my heart when people write to me and say that "It must be me. S/he would have done better if only s/he had a different family.". I just don't buy that, even though I once felt that way. A child with severe mental illness does not heal just because they have a different family. They just have a severe mental illness somewhere else. (They may FUNCTION better in a different living environment, and YOU may function better, but they are still mentally ill.). As the saying goes, whereever you go, there you are.

Over the past couple of years, I've thought the same thing a thousand times over.  But Corey is also right when she says, "wherever you go, there you are."  We often say a similar phrase, "wherever you go, that's where you are."

But it means the same thing.  Wherever you go, whatever you do, the problems that are inside you will ultimately reappear.  The emotional baggage one carries through life will eventually appear no matter where one is or what one is doing.

And I think the same is true for troubled kids.  You can put a kid in another foster home, adoptive home, group home, residential treatment facility or jail, but whatever baggage that kid is carrying will go along for the ride.  Certainly, in some settings kids will do better (i.e. a kid with severe attachment problems will probably do better in a facility where he perceives no one cares) but the baggage is still there.

Eventually, with the exception of those who exhibit the most severe mental illnesses, violence or criminal behavior, kids will become adults and they'll walk out of whatever placement they are in, and they'll go out into the world.

And they will still be carrying that baggage.  Some, I expect, will learn from the school of hard knocks and change their ways.  Others, like some of the children Cindy describes, will continue into adulthood with their dangerous, defiant and criminal behavior.

We parents will have been unable to redirect these children from their dangerous, impulsive, violent and criminal ways.  We will have failed.

In the end, it is these children, as young adults, who will have to make their own choices about the way they live their lives.  We can lead them, guide them, show them the way, encourage them, coerce them, consequence them, and punish them, but in the end they make the decisions for their behavior.

It's easy for an outsider to say "so-and-so is a bad parent."  It's easy to criticize, to blame, and to insult.  It's easy to pick up the phone and file a child abuse report against a friend, a neighbor or even a total stranger because you don't like or agree with someone's parenting.  It's easy to find fault, to point fingers, and to set the blame, but it's an entirely different thing to live with damaged and difficult child.

I admit that I have failed.  I can't fix my child.  We have gone through seven mental health professionals, and in a few weeks we will be assigned yet another, but I have little hope that this person will be able to accomplish anything more than the other seven.

Even after years of therapy and interventions, our child still hasn't mastered any level of reliable self-control.  At almost 16 years old, her coping skills often consist of destroying her room, making threats, or committing acts of violence against other people.

In five years, a child that used to throw herself to the floor to tantrum and scream when she didn't get her way, now sometimes resorts to threats and violence to solve her problems.

Clearly that's not much of an improvement.

Many of my critical commenters have opined that I am at fault for my child's rages and tantrums.  Although I might once have believed that, now I do not not.  Given a few recent rages that were triggered without any of our involvement, I believe that the problem rests within my child.  Her ability to deal with frustration and circumstances outside of anyone's control is low, and her ways of dealing with those feelings are impulsive, often dangerous, and destructive.

Is the problem that our child can't do better, or simply that she won't do better?

In the end, it won't matter.  As our child reaches adulthood, the world becomes increasingly intolerant of aberrant behavior.  As every parent of a disabled child suffering from cognitive disabilities, FASD or autism knows, once a child reaches the magic age of adulthood, behavior that is adjudicated to be criminal is handled the same way.  It doesn't matter if a child is disabled or not, the legal system views criminal and violent behavior as criminal and violent behavior.

Am I sad for her?  Do I grieve for the future she might have had if her first family had treated her with the love and caring that she deserved?  Absolutely.

The reality is that sometimes love is not enough for our damaged and broken children.  Sometimes, all the love, all the treatment, and all the services in the world aren't enough to overcome mental illness, neglect, and abuse.  We cannot repair the organic brain differences that are caused by prenatal exposure to drugs and alcohol, trauma, cognitive disabilities, and inherited mental illness.

I think every foster or adoptive parent starts this journey with a profound desire to help.  They want to make a difference.  They want to help children be the best that they can be.  The problem is that some children, as much as we'd like to think otherwise, cannot be helped.

Although hope is often a good thing, in that it keeps us going and it motivates us to work for a better day, there comes a point where people have to accept reality.  The accident victim with a spinal cord injury isn't going to walk again.  The young man who lost his eyes in an explosion isn't going to see again.  The child with cognitive or emotional difficulties is never going to be "normal."  There comes a point where we have to accept the realities of our children.  They may never achieve healthy, productive and independent lives by any standard of "normal."

And though hope for the future is always good, we have to come to a point of acceptance.  Otherwise, we spend our time unproductively beating ourselves up for our children's inability to succeed and our perceived failures.

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