The Frustration of My Foster Sons
“I’m breaking your plate and bending your spoon…”
…one of many commonly regurgitated platitudes express by my father, this one in regards to his imminent actions on my 18th birthday. Does everyone’s father repeat the same pithy sayings ad nausem? Curiously, I’ve been accused of this very thing my own children (traitors).
In essence, he was going to force me to “man up” by rendering our home inhospitable to my continued presence by the apparently ritualistic breaking of my plate and bending of my spoon.
The feeling was at least mutual.
The idea of living at home after High School was pure anathema to me. No one did this, at least that I knew. Not to mention that my parents, though I had love and respect for them, would certainly infringe upon my freedom of maneuver at some point. A break-up was as necessary as it was inevitable.
And so we did…we had a mutual break-up, parted on good terms.
I literally left home on my 18th birthday, forever…well, not forever, but you understand the point I’m making.
The Issue Realized
My oldest son arrived from the streets of Memphis at the age of 16. As he rapidly approached adulthood, two things became very obvious to us.
- He desired independence.
- He was completely unprepared for independence.
Straddling legal adulthood, he began to want to go wherever he wanted, and do what he wanted, when he wanted. He desired the freedom to do as he pleased. And he desired no accompanying responsibility.
Having spent most of his life in the foster system, he was completely unprepared for life, for any level of freedom really. Simple things that most of us take for granted like how to work, fill out a job application, or drive a car had never been taught, not to mention larger issues concerning decision-making and morality as the things he began to desire did not jive with the biblical ethic of our home.
I patiently(sometimes) explained to him that as an adult, he could do whatever he like, he just couldn’t do it here.
You want to smoke marijuana? That’s your prerogative, you just can’t be a resident of my home and do that.
You want to stay out all night? That is fine, you just can’t do that here.
You want to participate in premarital relations? Also fine, just not in my home.
The tension, the frustration was generated because elsewhere was just not an option. He desired things that were contrary to the established ethics of our home, but because of ill-preparedness, through no fault of his own, he could not do the one thing that would free him to do what he liked, be independently responsible.
The apex of the conflict is the magical age of 18.
A date passes on the wall and suddenly, your an adult! You can vote. You can buy tobacco. You can sue and be sued, get a tattoo, join the military, play the lottery. You can be arrested and tried as an adult.
This seems to work out for most kids. They seem to mature into adulthood around the time that the law decides they are an adult. In fact, you could make the argument that it should be younger, that our society allows young men in particular to languish in the fictional condition of adolescence for far too long.
But what about the system kid?
Depending upon the source, each move while in the system sets the kid back developmentally from months to years. Every single move hinders their emotional and psychological growth. Thus, my 18-year-old son who spent five years in the system with multiple moves is truly a 15-year-old in terms of development.
But he desires the things of an 18-year-old and doesn’t understand why that is impinged upon.
Therein lies the rub.
A young man ought to get busy with life.
I claim to not understand how a young man could be content living at home for any length of time, an increasing phenomenon amongst today’s generation.
One of my son’s friends hit me up in the gym the other day. He was deciding between remaining at home and joining the Air Guard or going active duty Air Force, and wanted some input.
I assured him that either option was a good option but that as a young man, while he’s able, he should quit being a sissy and just join the Air Force—contradictory advice, I get it—and get out of the house and see the world. Why hang around home? There was an entire world out there waiting on him to explore. Get busy living; you only have one shot.
I’m not sure which he chose.
At some point, a young man ought to desire freedom. A young man ought to desire independence. A young man ought to desire autonomy.
We ought to foment a young man’s innate desire to set out, to conquer, to go forth.
But what to do when acting upon that desire will assuredly lead to destruction?
Though I left home on my birthday, my parents had been preparing me for this moment for most of my life.
They had poured into me and I had internalized their cherished qualities of personal responsibility, accountability, and hard work. I had adopted their notions concerning ethics and morality. This was a culminating event.
Except that it wasn’t.
I actually left the purview of one caretaker for another, the United States Military Academy where, if anything, I was more coddled than at home. Yes, it was challenging, but I was fed, clothed, and housed, even had my laundry done for me. It was only after another four painful years of preparation on top of my parents previous preparation that I truly set out on my own, around my 22nd birthday.
And still I failed!
When I graduated flight school a little over a year later, I had three credit cards maxed out with absolutely nothing to show for it. My paycheck failed to cover the minimum monthly payments. I was broke with a pregnant girlfriend.
Way to go Smith!
Even with 22 years of preparation, I fell apart. What could we expect of those with scant preparation and countless developmental setbacks.
Even More Frustration
If anyone has any ideas, I’m all ears. Seriously.
How do we honor a young man’s manhood while protecting him from himself?
Is there a spectrum between justice and mercy?
On the far end is Option 1: My rules, my house. Either follow them or get gone. Seek life elsewhere. Neat and tidy. Nice and easy. This option errs on the side of justice or maybe unreasonability.
On the other end of the spectrum is liberal Option 2: Turn the cheek. Set some minimum standards and as long as they at least attempt to comply, turn a blind eye to anything else. This option errs on the side of mercy or maybe ignorance.
Option 1 is the easiest option, requires the least amount of deliberation, and is also the most likely to end up with the kid on the street, spiraling into destruction. Option 2 is the most likely to conclude with the kid abusing the afforded grace to the point of eventually forcing you toward Option 1.
Remember, this is not your average kid we’re dealing with. This is an emotionally traumatized kid with intense amounts of psychological baggage. I’m sure there’s a middle-ground we’ve yet to find.
Thus I find myself fluctuating between Tyrant and Accomplice, between Dictator and Enabler. Frustration ensues, giving birth to resentment then anger. The clash happens like clockwork. We’ve been through it three times now with a fourth underway.
All I know is I’m tired.
I’m tired of seeing the world betray these young men. I’m tired of managing situations that seem to have no resolution. I’m tired of feeling like a failure.
My prayer is for the Lord Jesus to move in the hearts of my sons. I pray that He would allow me to see them as He does, to love them as He does, to be what they would need me to be.
He is able.
I pray that my sons would no longer be frustrated by the promises of a world that will one day betray them, just as it already has.
My frustration matches theirs.
Author - Founder
Soldier, Pastor, Author – Bradford stays busy, with his wife Ami, raising their 9 children, serving the nation, pastoring, preaching, and writing books (#3 is due out October ’17).
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