Friday, November 29, 2013

Real Rap

In the last three weeks, Grace has been AWOL twice to where we had to call and file a police report in the middle of the night, skipped school three times and come home high a few other times. We have few disciplinary tools at our disposal. We don’t have a long term sway over her as she has decided not to ask to stay with us. We aren’t going to lock her in her room (immoral and illegal) and we’re not going to beat her for leaving the house. She’s already stopped doing chores or anything around the house to earn allowance, so that’s not something we can hold over her.

What’s really interesting to me from a psychological perspective is what’s encouraging her to act this way. Why does she think it’s o.k. to do these things? Because she’s been told by everyone that she’s worthless, and now this place that was supposed to be a rock for her has also slipped out from under her. I get it.

I found this on a Georgia foster agency website. Either they are particularly useless at expressing themselves, or there really aren’t any benefits besides warm fuzzies to do what we’ve been doing since April:

Why foster a Teen or Sibling group?

5 reasons to foster a teenager
  1. Teens help you stay up to date on the latest fashions, trends and technology.
  2. Teens benefit by learning from your experiences
  3. Teens are fun and interactive which keeps you young at heart!
  4. Teens benefit from living in nurturing and stable family environments where they can focus on school, building meaningful relationships and all things teen!
5.     Teens can decipher instant messaging codes and teach you even more ways

A lot of the talk in foster parenting land is to hang on and believe in these kids no matter what. When I mentioned about some of the troubles that we were having at home because of the issues the girls were having, I was told by one person that their reactions were “totally understandable” and then lectured about all the myriad factors and societal influences that are making them behave like this. More than one person has said “Well, what did you expect?”

I felt totally patronized by that reaction. That reaction, and the implied reaction behind the disappointed looks I’ve gotten from people that I’ve told about our situation, is that we need to keep hanging on as if we can save these girls.

We can’t. There are limits to tolerance and limits to what we can deal with. My job is on the line because I’ve spent too many sleepless nights worrying about them and too little time trying to keep my sanity. Our relationship is strained. Home has become a source of stress for both of us. If I lose my job, we can’t take care of our own family and will be disqualified to be foster parents anyway.

It took 15 years of bad parenting to get her to this point. We’re not going to change her life in 7 months.

We have just had to file another report on her tonight. She’s a kid who is lost and upset and totally abandoned by the world. The problem is that foster parenting, because of its inherently transient nature, isn’t the place to help someone form a healthier perspective. The stated goal of foster parenting is to reunite families, or to adopt if a family is too unstable. The problem is that with older kids it just isn’t that cut and dry. When you get a kid who has been habitually mistreated, it’s going to be nearly impossible to find a perfect fit. We were maybe about as perfect as it can get. We certainly were going to give her our everything.

It’s just that our everything wasn’t enough.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

No Easy Answers

Now at:

After the last post, things have plummeted downwards. Jill proclaimed loudly and absolutely that she was not going to return to us. As she's about to turn 18 and the home she's in is good, we decided to go ahead and comply with that. She's officially not our responsibility anymore.

I have mixed feelings about this. From a personal perspective, I'm glad to have more space and time and less stress. From a maternal instinct perspective, I'm worried sick about her.

The home she's in is really great, though. The foster mom has been at this for a long time and is no nonsense and kind at the same time. We talked with her a little bit about what's been going on, and she is very understanding. What was even better was that she reassured us that we have not somehow fucked up really badly. According to her, we've been very patient with the girls.

About a week and a half ago, we had a family therapy session with just Grace. It went fairly well. Then later that night, things got really bad. When I asked her (in a very restrained and quiet voice) to go upstairs, she really let me have it. She then called Jill, and sat next to me with Jill on speakerphone and mocked me. Some pretty unforgivable things were said then.

The cussing and the attitude continued right up until tonight. There have been a few periods that were marginally better, but tonight was Old Grace. She calmly asked us why her phone had been turned off and listened while I explained about the way the billing worked. She talked about working on her homework, and what her plan was to get back on track with her grades. She was joking around and hugging on us. We were able to talk about what happened that night and talk a little bit about why she's been awful to us for almost 3 weeks now.

We kind of think being the only kid in the house is not a good setting for her. She's very sociable and friendly, and has 10 siblings. She's never been in a room by herself. The transition was always going to be hard on her.

But the conversation we need to have is what is fair to us. How long do we have to wait for her to have another episode like this, where she's going AWOL and we have to file a missing person's report on her? When will she flip out and say the next inexcusable thing to us? At what point do we stop being able to help her, and are just enabling an abusive cycle of behavior?
From some things she mentioned during the course of the conversation, I got the sense that her mom told her that we were going to give her up because of the way she's been acting. I wonder if that was resonating with her. Somewhere deep down inside she knows we'd be within our rights to. 

This is all exacerbated by her worker being on vacation. The girls are lucky to have such a competent worker on their case, but I'm really missing her right now.

Most of the seasoned professionals we've talked to have told us that we've given them far too many chances, and that it's amazing we haven't kicked them out sooner. While it's entirely understandable that a kid from their situation would behave angrily, violently and inappropriately, it's not fair to think we'll just sit by and let it roll all over us.

This is where being a true foster parent becomes difficult. From some of the things Grace said tonight, I suspect that their mom was telling her today that we're going to give her up. This isn't a conversation we're ready to have with her at this time, but she asked me if we were going to "give her up" about 5 times tonight. I asked her how she'd feel if we did, and she said she'd be mad. So despite treating us like toe rags for the last 3 weeks, she wants to stay with us.

My biggest fear in this process is hurting her any more that is necessary or reasonable. We love this kid, and I think she truly loves us back. It makes decision making very difficult. Though I will say that in the last 2 weeks, since Leonard and I detached some, I think we've been better parents. Maybe that's the key- detachment. These kids are, after all, not ours. Finding a balance where you can love a kid, be open with a kid, but maintain a sense of distance with that kid is very, very hard.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Enough is Enough

Now at:

This weekend we ended up putting Jill in respite at another foster home. She has really been behaving badly, mostly against herself. Last week she missed 2 days of school, and she has thrown away all of her medication. Our big concern is for her health- she is risking stomach surgery if she can’t/won’t take medication. She has also missed follow up doctor appointments, which are every two weeks now that she’s not taking her meds.

The tension from her end has been getting worse and worse. For the first week or two, it was just her and Grace was fine. Then last week, Grace started acting oddly as well. She would be fine for a while, and then suddenly turn belligerent, demanding and aggressive. It culminated in a fight on Saturday morning, where I finally confronted Jill about all the things she’d been muttering under her breath in my presence, or things she would say about us while on the phone with other people. She’s been telling everyone who will sit still long enough that she hates us and doesn’t want to stay with us, so after the confrontation on Saturday, I called the agency to request respite. Well, more like demanded respite. It was abundantly clear that I was making her angrier, and that she had really gotten under my skin.
This is why I’d make a bad therapist. I don’t know how to detach properly, and there’s a point with foster care that you need to detach. It’s virtually impossible to remember that when it’s in your home.

They left the house, but Grace came back by herself and wanted to talk about the fight. She tried to say that it had gone down a certain way, but when I challenged her perceptions on that she smiled awkwardly and admitted that she had been trying to stir the pot with us. She was very worried about why I had called the agency. She’s been in juvie facilities before, and is constantly concerned that she’s heading in that direction.

Though we were kind of looking forward to a week by ourselves, we decided to give Grace a choice. When we talked about it, Leonard and I, we determined that the main issue here is with Jill. Her total inability and unwillingness to talk to us makes it difficult to have anything more than a perfunctory relationship with her. That is not helpful to anyone, and a break would do us good.

Jill did not think it was a good idea. Despite complaining vociferously about our home, our food, our choice in radio programs and TV shows, when the worker arrived to take her to respite it took nearly an hour of cursing and thumping to get her ready to go. The worker who came to pick her up was lovely and patiently endured her verbal abuse. They left, but only after Jill very obviously and pointedly threw her medication in the trash.

We're going to all have to sit down next weekend and discuss our options. Is it healthy for Jill to come back to our house? Is her behavior going to change, or will she just do the same spiral and end up in the same place? Ultimately, as we keep telling her, she gets to make a choice. At some point we have to let that choice happen.

In the mean time, we're dealing with an odd form of empty nest. After having 3, then 2 and now 1 foster kid, when Leonard and I finally took an hour today to just sit down together and hang out, we thought for sure we were forgetting to do something. After the 6 months we've had, one teen foster kids hardly seems like we're doing much at all!