Two years ago, we became parents of an eighteen year-old young man who, while not in foster care at the time, could have easily classified for state services. Since becoming a part of our family, most of what I have shared on the blog have been celebrations of his achievements. This past weekend, we watched TD walk across the stage and accept his high school diploma, a dream he had hoped to attain since walking into our house the very first day.
I've chosen to highlight his achievements and accomplishments publicly because we have never wanted him to doubt how proud we are of how hard he has worked and persevered throughout his life.
There have been few posts disclosing the difficulties and trials of raising him because it just wasn't appropriate in a public forum. Writing a blog that includes my family means that I walk a fine line on disclosure. Yet, I never want to give the appearance that things are perfect and that we have it all together. I want to be as honest and authentic with our reality as I can be while protecting my sons' individual stories.
TD's story will never be mine to share, (unless he asks me to write it one day), but I can speak to our role in the relationship. The experiences of big smiles and celebrations shared in our pictures did occur, but there were many more days in our house where everyone was frustrated and annoyed. We were constantly navigating this new territory with one another where boundaries were being laid, torn up, and reworked.
Anyone who tells you that parenting a teen who has been through trauma or loss is easy are big, fat liars. This stuff is hard and downright messy and ridiculously humbling.
It should be.
Parenting a teen from hard places WILL NOT look like parenting a child from birth. That was the biggest lesson we learned along the way.
To expect a child who has not experienced stability for most of their life to respond to expectations and boundaries with obedience and joy is just unrealistic.
To expect a teen who has parented themselves (and potentially younger siblings) for most of their childhood to understand and accept how to be parented is setting everyone up for failure.
To expect a child to make choices and decisions based on your morals and values immediately is unfair to them. Integrity and character are built over years. They are formed in experience and fostered through trusting and loving relationships. They don't happen over night.
Parenting a teen from trauma and loss takes time and commitment and a boatload of patience. It is understanding that the concept of "family" may be hard for them to grasp and to accept. It is about extending grace and redefining your preconceived storybook expectations.
Many, many days we failed miserably.
To say that I often felt ill-equipped to speak into the life of a young man who had lived almost two decades in a context and culture foreign to me would be a colossal understatement.
As parents, we were unqualified for the job.
I write all of this because I want you to know the honest truth about parenting older teens. And I also want you to hear this.
We would do it ALL. OVER. AGAIN.
Here's why . . .
Because 23,439 teens were emancipated from foster care last year with no family, no home, and no resources.
These are teens, who albeit, come from hard places, yet still long for a family and a support network.
I've written previously about the statistics for teens who "age out" of foster care. They are grim.
This graphic illustrates the numbers from just this past year:
Every child deserves a family, a network, and a hope for their future. It doesn't matter if they are eighteen or twenty-one, everyone needs to know there is someone in their corner.
We have seen firsthand what stability, commitment, and love can do for teens from hard places. It won't be a fairy-tale ending or a perfect story, but it will be an anchor for a child who has never had anyone fighting for them.
Our son is now on his own, living two states away, looking for a job. He knows that he has to choose to work hard in order to achieve his dreams. BUT, he also knows we are a phone call away if he needs to talk, or vent, or glean advice.
Teens aging out of foster care need what so many of us take for granted; someone to answer the phone when they call, a friend in their corner, a support system to help find housing and a job.
The month of May is Foster Care Awareness month. As we close out the month, I beg you to research more about how you can play a role in the life of teen aging out of foster care.
For those in Western North Carolina, please contact:
Your local Department of Social Services
Please take a few minutes and watch this video to hear the stories, the pain, and the dreams of these young men and women who were emancipated from foster care. Poignant, beautiful, and full of hope.
23,439 teens left the foster care system in the last year. Their stories matter. THEY matter.
Choosing to invest in one of those lives WILL make a difference.