Wednesday, May 11, 2011


Jeff and I live with another couple who are expecting their first child in a few weeks. “Attachment parenting” is the current paradigm, and they’re knee deep in books about how to bond with your baby. Last night they were discussing how to get the proper skin-to-skin contact to encourage the production of prolactin and oxytocin while still allowing them to put the baby down occasionally. Some of these books imply that, as the dad-to-be put it, “If you break eye contact, your baby will explode.”

It’s sweet to see their preparations and their happiness, but at times I feel a little bitter. Jeff and I are planning to adopt children from foster care in a few years, and it’s a very different story. Kids in state custody have been removed from their birth families because of abuse or neglect. I can’t control whether their mothers took meth instead of folic acid. I can’t control whether they were breastfed. The ultra-cozy, ultra-responsive atmosphere that is in vogue right now is probably not what these kids got. And so, if you believe the books, they are probably hopelessly screwed up.

I have my fears, but I don’t really believe it. Every child who’s been removed from its family has trauma that will never fully go away. I work with kids who have been homeless, seen parents deported or jailed, who have gone hungry and underdressed because their parents were incapacitated by their own problems. That leaves a mark on anyone. But I’ve seen these kids grow and thrive once their circumstances change. I hear adoptive parents say, “At age three he was barely speaking, and they told us he was mentally retarded. Now he’s at grade level. He’s so excited about everything.”

It’s tempting to believe that if I could just control all the variables, I could make sure my children were perfectly healthy and happy. But no parent controls all the variables. You can take all the folic acid in the world and still get a child with autism or Down syndrome or anything. For me, part of getting ready to be a parent is letting go of the illusion of control.

(Also, coveting the tiny clothes and blankets that are scattered around the house. That’s another part.)

1 comment:

Vanima Andune said...

Hi Julia,

1) I wanted to say that I love reading your blog. YGrowing up, I was surrounded by people who support thoughtful, conscious living. Somehow, I've lost that in recent years, and your blog helps fill that void. It's reinspired me to think about the choices I make.

2) My dad was in foster care. The family he was placed with helped him get through a very difficult time in his life and they're still very much a part of our family even though he was never officially adopted. I think that it's great that you want to provide a home for a child even though that child will probably come from difficult circumstances. I feel a certain debt to society because of my dad's past, but I'm not sure I would be able to be a foster/adoptive parent.