The tragedy of throwaway children

I came across a very sad post this week I haven’t been able to stop thinking about. It’s entitled “AITA [Am I a Total A***] For Telling My Wife We Can Adopt Her Nephews But Not Her Niece?

Here’s the post, slightly edited for clarity:

My wife’s sister was recently found guilty of dealing [drugs] to support her habit. She will be sentenced this week and is looking toward a long term [in prison] because this is not her first time caught dealing.

She has three children: two boys (ages 4 and 5) and a girl (age 14). No one on her family’s side wants to, or are in a position to, take the children except for me and my wife. However, I’m demanding two conditions. If we’re going to take the children in, I want us to adopt them. I don’t want 50 people looking over our shoulders trying to tell us what to do. If we’re going to be legally responsible for them, I want to be able to parent them as we see fit.

The second condition is that I’m willing to take the two boys, but not the girl. The two boys have not had any rules in their lives and are terrors, but they’re still young and can be taught right from wrong.

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The girl has gone past the point of no return. She’s been suspended from school several times for things like fighting and smoking illegal substances on school grounds. She’s also stolen from us and other family members. She’s dating a gang member who was arrested on a home invasion charge, but was released because it was his first time and his age.

This is a mess and we’ve been arguing about it for an entire week. I don’t want to risk our financial and personal security, but my wife argued that we can’t just throw [the girl] away.

At this point we’re not even sleeping in the same bed, but I’m hesitant to open our house up to the girl and her lifestyle. My wife argues that if we don’t take her, she’ll go into foster care; but I pointed out if we don’t take any of them, they’ll all go into foster care.

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The original poster later added an extensive update:

I left out a lot of info because I was in shock, and still am. We’re both in our late 20s, have been married for a little over two years, have no kids, and I just graduated with my advanced degree last year.

Last month we were talking about maybe having kids when we’re in our mid-30s. Last week my wife came home, sat me down, and told me we’re taking in three kids. I know nothing about adoption laws, CPS, or anything related to raising children, much less troubled children.

I knew what was going on with her sister, and was told my wife’s parents were going to take the kids in. Apparently they decided they are too old to take care of three kids.

Of everyone in her family, we are the most financially secure and have a house, so when everyone backed out, she [his wife] volunteered without asking me. That was the crux of our argument until I realized that it [the adoptions] was happening with or without my agreement. That’s when I told her we can take care of the boys, but not the girl, which started another round of arguments.

I’ve never raised any kids, so I know I can’t deal with the baggage that the girl will bring into our lives. I can’t begin to tell you all how shocking the whole thing is. Sometimes I feel like I’m outside watching my life spin out of control.

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My first thought is this man is completely naïve when it comes to the process of adoption, much less adopting troubled kids. Nor are the two young boys guaranteed to learn “right from wrong.” Nonetheless, this is a thorny dilemma no matter what.

The comments that followed were interesting. Quite a number told the man he’s a jerk for not wanting to take in all three kids. However some experienced social workers and foster parents then stepped in and added their opinions. Here are some of their thoughts:

    • I feel like many of the people responding to this thread have never been in the circumstances of adopting children. My aunt adopted two children from similar circumstances: a male infant and a 4-year-old girl. My aunt and her husband are very well off; he’s a doctor and she is also in the medical field.
    The children had every advantage growing up. They went on luxury vacations all over the world, had tutors, and special schooling to account for the time they missed in prior care. My aunt/uncle were active in their extracurricular activities, including coaching their sports teams.
    Despite the efforts, therapy, and an engaged family life, the children wre unable to overcome their prior upbringing. They both fell into drugs, the female into prostitution. My relatives paid for numerous stints in rehab, and are still very much still funding their lives well into their 20s/30s. It ruined my aunt and uncle’s marriage and put them in many dangerous circumstances.
    This is a significant undertaking, and one that is being severely downplayed. The perceived right thing to do is to take all three children, but that will not provide the full-time support that is needed to overcome the potential challenges resulting from the early developmental circumstances.
    • My cousin and his wife adopted a brother (6 or 7 years old) and his 13-year-old sister. Both kids were pretty damaged, but the girl more so. After countless problems with the girl, they decided to try this center for troubled kids. They spent over $100,000 on this treatment. The girl ran away a month later and hooked up with her birth mom, after which she started threatening the family.
    After countless threats and heartache, his wife took her own life. He lost his life savings, and more importantly his wife, just to try and help out. So I’m on the fence. I wouldn’t want to see a child suffer, but is it worth losing everything?

This post really stuck with me because of its heartbreaking nature. There is no good solution for any of the parties involved, either for the children or the adults.

I’ve had a couple friends in somewhat similar conditions (stepchildren in one case; foster-care adoption in another), and it has wreaked absolute havoc in the lives of both these friends. They genuinely went into these situations believing their love and support could make a difference, and came out bitter, prematurely aged, heartbroken, and broke.

But of course, the children are innocent of the circumstances that screwed them up in the first place. How can their lives be turned around, or are they hopeless “throwaway children”? Can they get the help they need? Will therapy and counseling in foster care straighten them out? Can the trajectory of the 14-year-old be altered? These are unanswerable questions.

Yes, tragedy all around. As speculative as this all is, let’s not forget these are real people involved. They could use a lot of prayer – especially the 14-year-old girl.

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