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When a parent’s not a parent

Posted Aug 08 2009 10:56pm

There may be some doubt as to who are the best people to have charge of children, but there can be no doubt that parents are the worst. ~George Bernard Shaw

This month I’ve got a whole run of cases where a parent’s rights may be involuntarily terminated. The purpose of the termination is to free up the children for adoption, some by stepparents, some by foster parents. It’s given me some thought about the nature of parenting, and the needs of children.

What society pictures as the perfect upbringing, I suppose, is that “Leave-it-to-Beaver” family, one mother, one father, 2.4 kids, and they stay together. I sure didn’t have that, and I imagine most people don’t. I lived with my parents till I was 7, my mother till I was 9, then my father and a ragged series of stepmothers. My girls lived with me all along, but experienced a couple of stepfathers and stepmothers over the years. Of course, that creates a whole passel of stepcousins and stepgrandparents and stepsiblings and…

Are more people in children’s lives a better way to go? In my foster care cases, parents were in some way considered inadequate to raise these children now living in foster homes. (For the most part these are not cases of physical abuse.) The foster parents want to adopt and keep the children. So the real parents will be legally excised and tossed aside. While I understand the children are “entitled to permanency,” as the law says, I’m not convinced that throwing their genetic heritage and families away is necessarily the way.

Same with the cases where a parent has really not stepped up to the plate, and a new spouse fills the bill much better.  I’ve done several of these recently. Most of them the child is old enough to voice an opinion and is firmly bonded to the stepparent. So maybe it works out. But it’s still pretty sad.

On the other hand, maybe Hillary Clinton is right. It does take a village to raise a child. We each have a role to play in making sure every child has the best shot at becoming a successful adult in the next generation. Those who are willing to pick up the load and carry it further should be encouraged. Those who have done all they can should be acknowledged. The collective eye should be on the ultimate goal.

The same is true of parenting our special needs children. Certainly we cannot do everything ourselves. Overreaching leads to debilitation of the parent’s ability to care for the child. We need to learn to let others in, to take respites, to share the load and seek out the help that will improve our children’s abilities to cope and learn. For some, that may mean passing the care of the children on to others who are better equipped to handle it. This shouldn’t be a shameful thing, but an honest acknowledgement, as I said earlier, that the parent has given their all. Surely a child can ask no more of a parent than the selfless choice of their child’s benefit over their own.

These are hard cases. The parent and child bond is one created by the fates, and a court seems a cold place to break that bond. Finding a way to create that village, where everyone could pull together and give what they could to support each child… maybe that would be the better way.

Posted in Asperger's, autism, life, parenthood, Uncategorized Tagged: adoption, family, Hillary Clinton, lawyer, parent, parent and child, parenting, stepparent, termination of parental rights, village
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