Tuesday, October 31, 2006

A Wrenching Decision

A couple in my support network – a group of parents who have children in programs similar to the one in which my daughter is enrolled – is going through an extremely difficult time. Their daughter, who left her program without completing it at age 18 and is living as a prostitute, just gave birth to a baby boy. The daughter, after agreeing to get off the street, enroll in parenting classes, job training, etc., has now disappeared, apparently back to her pimp, leaving the child in the hands of the state.

Should this couple, who are nearing retirement age, take in their grandson? Do they have the physical and emotional capacity to raise this child? Can they stand, on the one hand, the trauma of having their daughter show up to try to claim the child, or, on the other hand, the uncertainty of giving up this baby to the foster care system and not knowing his fate?

They worry about their age. They worry that their grandson might grow up not knowing he has grandparents who love him. They worry about losing their independence, of taking on a new 18-year commitment that will limit their choices in their retirement years. They try not to worry as much about their daughter, arguing to themselves that she is living a life she has chosen – but of course, they remain wracked with pain and guilt over the choices this girl has made.

As the parent of a teenager, I feel their pain acutely, and could easily see myself in their shoes. How would I react? I can’t imagine that I would not do my damnedest to claim this baby, keep him as part of my family. My emotions would take over. I applaud my friend for trying to step back and look at the reality of taking on a new baby at his age. I can imagine my wife being the realist in a situation such as this, and I can picture myself battling with her over this baby.

I do think that if my daughter turned up pregnant, I would counsel her to seek an abortion. As painful as that decision might be, I think it would be the best choice for her under the circumstances, and quite possibly the best choice for the unborn child. But if she determined to carry the child, and then behaved as my friends’ daughter has done, I doubt that I could turn this baby loose.

One of the most difficult realizations I made in sending my daughter off to her therapy program was that I could not handle the situation by myself. That’s a tough call for any parent, I suspect, and for someone as invested in “self-reliance” as I am, it was extremely humbling and painful. The lesson that there are things I cannot handle by myself is one that I am still trying to absorb and deal with; a second painful lesson on letting go of things you love is one that I have not accepted. I want my daughter to come home. I want my family to be whole again. I want us to live together, and for our family dynamic to “work.”

Going through this program is a lot of hard work – hard internalization of the situation, hard recognition of my own patterns of “dealing” and my assumptions, attitudes and beliefs; hard acceptance of the fact that my family is “broken” and needs mending.

As parents, we face these humbling truths out of deep love. We want our children to work their way back to health, mentally and physically. We want their future to be as bright as we thought it was back when we first held them in our arms.

That’s what we always hope for in future generations. That’s why the decision about whether to give up a grandchild is one of the most wrenching that I can imagine.