A psychologist informed me that my husband and I are letting ourselves be taken hostage by the kids, their mom, and our fears of court. I explained a number of different life choices we would like to make and how we are terrified to make any of those choices a reality.
The biggest example is fostering. If we choose to foster or adopt, or even start to go down the path, the kids and their mom will use it against us. If we actually did foster or adopt, there would be some issue with it. We only went to an information session, and it caused the kids to tell a number of important, court-influence-level people that we want to replace and forget them. No matter what and how many conversations my husband had with the kids stating that he wishes they were with us much more and they would get a sibling and family out of it, this was still the result.
This is probably the most tenuous topic for a stepfamily with a severely low amount of custody. Adding more kids to the family could mean scaring off the stepkids even further, thereby deeply hurting my husband even more. And we aren't talking about typical little kid concerns or sibling jealousy...Teenagers don't want to add kids to the family, despite how it could be good for them. The oldest kid is so close to just walking out on us for good, because of the very strong message she receives from her mom's family: that she doesn't need her dad- ever.
But keeping our family in the state it is in is painful in itself- empty rooms, unused toys, and knowing that you are not really parents 75% (or so) of the time, despite your efforts to be involved in every way possible outside of that limit. This arrangement feels fake, surreal, and my husband works himself so hard to make up the time, to show two kids that he loves them as much as a full-time father. The reality is he becomes the invisible, background, after-thought father. They've been trained to consider him as such, and to value him as a lesser component of their lives. And the system, the court custody agreement default template, helps kids to see the secondary parent in this way, beyond the bitterness of the ex. Honestly, a kid is going to simply think, "I don't see you, therefore you must not want to be with me," no matter what you say, how you say it, and how much you love them. (This is why even-time shared custody solutions are proving such great results, because it cuts out the artificial confusion children experience from a primary and secondary time arrangement.)
Knowing that we would be capable, good parents and fighting for years to be that to two kids who often go to lengths to show us they just don't need or want it, hurts. We have broken hearts that have felt very empty for large swaths of time. Knowing that there are kids out there who need parents, guidance, love, homes, and everything we can offer sounds like a wonderful way to give in ways we just court-ordered can't. It is true that my stepkids do need us and need our love, but we have no power over the amount or timing of it. And that powerlessness is also what makes this all so unbelievably frustrating.
And what if said teenager did walk out on us "for good?" Well, she could come back. If we use a room for someone else and reorganize the house for a foster child, then she definitely won't come back. Keeping their rooms empty is sadly so important, "just in case." Teenagers, and young adults, change their minds and their life situations change so quickly, that we need to have the space for empty bedrooms AND additional rooms for foster kids. This just isn't possible for us, and I don't believe its possible for most families, either.
I watch the show Extreme Home Makeover. I love seeing how loving families have made homes out of near nothing. It is unfortunate that in many of the chosen cases the kids are sharing rooms (sometimes to a ridiculous point), but they're really happy or loved, prior to the new McMansion they're given. The kids always say something like "Wow! I've never had my own room!" This somewhat amuses me about the show, because the kids at some point will have to share rooms again in a short period of time- college dorms, marriage- or, in many of the cases, you can tell that the parents, if they were foster parents, can see how many MORE kids they can take in given their new massive home. Those parents know that they were blessed because they served, and they want to turn that kindness around into more generosity. They know that their new mega home will be put to good use, and that other kids will come into their home in a matter of time. But their kids know that that is what their parents do; they are loving, have a lot to give, and help others. They accept that life changes and there are others in need, like they were at one point before they were fostered or adopted. They know that the love they were given must be shared and passed on.
People say that kids get over it when another child is brought into the family. I've heard, seen, and read a number of stories about the toddler being jealous about the new baby (my stepkids included), the new sibling, or being confused about an adopted sibling. This is a part of life and family. But I don't think the average family feels such fear like we do about this topic/decision. I don't think most families have to consider their own kids literally leaving them and not coming back if they choose to foster or adopt a child in need. A typical parent or family can trust that their kids will adapt and accept. We cannot assume the same.
The psychologist mentioned at the beginning of this post stated that kids, and teenagers especially, will not like things parents will choose to do, no matter how hard you try to please them. No matter what you say, no matter what you set up for them, they will be kids and teenagers and be unhappy about something. Something could make them so angry, and you could have never seen it coming. Something could cause a teenager to leave, and you may have had no power over it. It's more that we need to accept that we need to live our lives and accept that the kids may be terribly unhappy about it- and that we may lose them even more.