Son came to us when he was eight years old. We adopted him from foster care. A feral youth, he knew nothing of personal hygiene, was illiterate, spoke inarticulately, had rotten teeth and suffered from severe ADHD. He’d been horribly neglected. The school he’d been attending wrote him off and considered him unteachable.
Despite this, Son was a sweet, good-natured kid who let the worst of things bounce off of him like water off a duck’s back. Though it was difficult at first to get him to adapt to a structured life, eventually, he managed, then succeeded. Through physical and speech therapy, counseling, tutoring and an infinite amount of patience and love, he grew into an articulate, healthy young man. Now he’s serving his country in the Navy and is as proud as can be.
It takes a lot to adopt a kid that’s older. This kid already has a lifetime of experiences that shaped him. He had a family and memories with them. Good and bad. Sadly, no one from his extended family would take in him when he was separated from his biological parents. This includes grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins from both sides. There are lots of reasons why they didn’t, but mostly it comes down to reluctance and avoidance. While no one wanted to see Son leave their extended families, no one stopped it from happening. Just like the abuse he faced as a young lad, no one stepped in to stop that, either.
Hence the life of foster care and termination of parental rights.
So now Son’s 21. A man. Grown up, earning his own keep. Here’s where things get a bit complicated.
Start with divorce. Son, who was separated from his biological family, now had to choose which parent he wanted to live with. At the time, he was 17. Son chose his father, but I’d have him on the weekends. On one hand, I could see why that made sense. He’s nearly an adult and fatherly advice on all sorts of issues would be better given by his father. On the other, it hurt. I was the one who took him to therapy, tutoring, his track meets, helped him with homework, fed and cared for him. I wasn’t about to start a fight over who got Son, so I let it go. It hurt worse when Ex, on my son’s high school graduation night, took credit for everything and ignored me as Son hugged his friends while Ex talked to their parents, his back to me. I introduced myself and was given funny looks. Somehow, I’d lost my luster as a parent. What kind of mother walks away from her son and forces the father to raise him? That’s the vibe I’d been given when I said hello.
I missed my son’s Navy boot camp graduation ceremony because I couldn’t afford to go. Didn’t have the money for air fare and a hotel. Ex went, and it seemed as if he was the only parent that mattered. I cried because I missed such an important date in his life, even though Son called me later and told me he understood.
Now Ex lives with his girlfriend in a tony neighborhood of a major city. It’s an expensive high-rise on a top floor with an expansive view. Son adores his father’s girlfriend. He’ll tell you about those delicious cookies she made just for him. And other things I don’t care to hear. It’s a reality I faced long ago. Since my Ex left me for a younger woman (she’s gone; this one’s different), I accepted someone else will take my place and Son will have her in his life. It’s what is.
Adding to that, Son reconnected with his biological family. He has an older brother and they were always in touch. He, too, was in foster care, but aged out by the time Son came to us. We encouraged visits and talks. That helped ground Son when he moved in with us and became part of our family. He also has two grandmothers, several uncles, a grandfather and, of course, his biological parents.
Son isn’t interested in Bio Mom. To him, the very thought of her brings back horrific memories he’d rather forget (and with good reason, but I won’t get into that here). Bio Dad was an enabler who ran off for days when things went south. The grandmothers did nothing to help, nor did anyone else. But somewhere along the line, all of them realized what they let go – a wonderful person they should’ve worked harder to keep.
The Navy granted Son leave for two weeks. Son spent part of that with me, but he wanted to spend Christmas with his brother. He and his girlfriend had a baby last summer. Son wants to meet his new nephew. And who could blame him? The kid’s adorable. Brother learned hard from his youth that his child will never experience what he and Son went through. Nephew’s life will be stable and loving.
Son also connected with the rest of his family. He’s visiting with them too. Well, maybe not Bio Dad, and certainly not Bio Mom. The town Son’s visiting is small, real small, and Son is worried he’ll run into him. In fact, he’s certain he will. His brother wants nothing to do with Bio Dad and swears he’ll do anything to protect Son from him. Yet, Son will tell you he already has two parents – the ones who raised him, love him even though their marriage ended – and those are the ones who matter. Bio Dad is merely a person who gave him life but nothing to help him thrive.
Still, I think about all this and try not to feel diminished. It’s one thing for a marriage to end and a stepmom to come along. It gets even more complicated when Son’s biological family comes into play. I want Son to know how much he’s loved and treasured by me. That I’m his mother. I gave a lot of myself so he could have a future. But who am I to dictate who he’s to love?
It’s important that Son has those missing parts of his life near him again. Maybe he can reconcile with his other family just why they let him go. Maybe they won’t let him slip away again. Maybe he’ll see them for what they are and what me and Ex have been for him.
I’ve been trying to reconcile all of this too. It’s not been easy. But my son’s a man now, fully in charge of his life and future. Only he can determine what’s best for him, not me. I just want him to know that I love him no matter what. I’ve told him so.
But boy, is this situation complicated.