13 September 2020

"Please help me..."

Occasionally, I hear pleas from over-wrought parents - cries for help in overcoming family shortfalls that go far beyond food or paying some overdue bills. I know families with members that have near-tragic circumstances that no amount of money or personal intervention can relieve. They want to be successful; they want to be the picture-perfect family from TV shows and magazines; proud parents want their children to wins awards and acclaim, but they don't have "those" children or parents think a better job or house or marriage might make the "magic" happen.  For some reason, sometimes even of their own make, a family situation is merely broken and the only remedy is a temporary dissolution.

In some such situations, foster care can be better care than a "birth" family can provide. It sounds absolutely terrible, but the reality of smaller and more fractured families with little capacity to face larger challenges, public resources that you may have thought only dealt with criminal abuse or negligence can be a last solution for diminished and broken families.

Looking back only fifty years ago, families were larger, lead by hierarchies of unified couples, and could provide help and comfort from an extended group of people and resources bound to each other by blood and relation. If you had a difficult child, either by demeanor or handicap, there was someone in the family that could intervene, even so far as to take that child in and to provide what was needed.  If there was something your immediate family couldn't handle, the extended family very likely could.

Sadly, our society has been on a multi-decade, multi-pronged mission to destroy such families.  Many children live in households run by single, and increasingly never-married, people. Many young people purposefully reject and isolate themselves from parents and relatives in favor of transitory relationships with friends and co-workers. Too many people conceive children with no thought toward the work required to parent them well, intentions that demand a strong, stable, and resourceful (monied/brained) married couple devoted to each other and then their children.  Far too many people copulate with mounds of their own maturity/drug problems, mindless of the probable outcome. Most of the situations that made families successful in the past have been discouraged in recent times and what the past knew as family dysfunction (like never-married parenthood) is foolishly praised and even selfishly lionized.

I was a public health nutritionist twenty-five years ago.  It was painful to see 12-year-old pregnant girls brought to my office to collect food vouchers by their 26-year-old mothers (proud grandmas). There was not a husband (or stable relationship) in sight. I should have told them to give those babies up for adoption, but I was too young and frightened of the consequences to my income. More than ever, society demands the provision of public housing, food stamps, welfare checks, childcare, and a crowd of helpers for every child. Getting pregnant is often now a ticket to an enticing web of resources and services meant to replace the benefits of family in the most indiscriminate and political way possible. A girl and her coming children may technically survive day-to-day, but there will be little available with which to accomplish more (much less overcome) without massive help, especially from a large extended family (which has been mostly eliminated).  I assure you from experience that the help available from a well-funded program, filled with kindhearted and powerful social workers, do not begin to take the place of a decent extended family.  However, if you lack such an extended family, a government agency is a far better alternative than going it alone to beg help of your Facebook "friends".

Moving forward a decade or two, we see what I call "multi-generational dysfunction".  Resourceful, coupled and traditional and helpful grandparents and great-grandparents are dead; incompetent parents who rejected "the old ways" but enjoyed the crumbling remains of ancestral resources; and now grown children who had no decent examples of functioning family, no knowledge of extended family members, and nowhere to turn in difficult times except to the charity of strangers or soulless government agencies.  Increasingly, capable families cease to exist entirely and family members that are known are more of a disability than a help. No wonder society scoffs at family - in so many places, remaining families have become breeding-grounds of abuse, neglect, and dysfunction.

So, what is the product of a multi-generationally dysfunctional family to do when, for instance, a child is seriously handicapped?  If there are needs too far beyond ability, to whom should one turn?  Depressingly, a parent should face reality and take the painfully humbling step of turning to government agencies to take over the parenting of that child. If the proper care of a child is beyond parents stripped of other options, it may be time to put them out for fostering, no matter how painful or dispiriting such a move might be.  It is not just a question of money and gifts - many children and families have needs and intrinsic dysfunction that mere money can never resolve.  Sometimes, the needs of such a child are better handled by more resourceful and functional groups, often bearing governmental titles.

We should reward this - a debilitated parent's willingness to give their child over to others (even a government agency) for fostering toward a better childhood and future. I can think of no act more humbling and heart-rending to admit and to act upon voluntarily. Parents may have to make a greater sacrifice to put their children in circumstances where habitual dysfunction or serious disability might be better addressed, usually through your local government child welfare office.  Again, it sounds terrible, but isn't a child worth the personal sacrifice of giving up parental rights?  You can turn a corner for your family and set your children on a better path, even if it hurts your heart to do it.

For those of you not yet facing the decline of the  family you came from, don't let it happen on your watch!  Marry well and with devotion, have children, do what it takes to provide and nurture them well, and teach your children to follow your example!  There are so many broken families, but yours need not be one of those. Choose today not to abdicate your responsibilities to continue your family.