Monday, February 27, 2012

Parenting Experts

Our first foster child was an eight-year-old who came to us via a church bulletin ad when we had been married only a few months.  That was insane on our part, but what's the alternative?  Well-meaning people who don't have some Grand Theory they want to inflict upon children (to prove that they are right about the world) can do a lot of good, even when they don't know what they are doing. 90% of life is showing up, and though I felt completely inadequate to be Someone's Father at 24, you just go out an play catch, and remind children that napkins go in lapkins, and a lot of other stuff that just comes automatically.  You're going to get those parts right.  Yes, there is the cold fear that you might encourage one to run at just the wrong moment and they get killed by a tractor-trailer, or you are going to force one too many years of trumpet lessons and alienate your kid forever, but that never goes away, and you've got other parenting work to do in the meantime, so you do it.

We didn't get the psychological report from DCYF until he had been with us a few months, and were rather surprised that it recommended he have no contact with animals, seeing that feeding and walking the dogs were his chore, which he loved and did well.  We were also warned he was sociopathic - couldn't believe a word he said - and "preschizophrenic." Also odd, as we were trying to teach him not to be quite so candid and open with everyone, and he was not an especially skillful liar.  He did try, but would sometimes confess before he had finished lying.  And I still have no idea what "preschizophrenic" means.  We had him for six months until he was adopted.  We never heard any more - I think that was discouraged.  I have hoped many times that he is well.

The second foster child was supposed to be the wonderful other side of foster parenting, a blithe, charming girl whose mother dropped her off at the DCYF office unexpectedly one Friday.  That one actually did lie - quite a bit, actually. Cagey.  I do think that if we hadn't been told by the experts what a love she was - if we had the realistic expectation that this was a troubled child from a crazy situation - we would have done better by her.  We saw her a few times in later years.  She seems to have muddled through.

The testing on the two Romanian boys badly underestimated their IQ scores.  We have never told them those numbers.  We also kept them away from the types of special help that were offered through the public schools - ESL and nothing else.  We were more worried about emotional issues and thought we could do the language teaching on our own.  Nay, nay.  The school district didn't offer anything more than ESL until there was a proven need.  So Christian school was the better choice, where they got lots of emotional support from both teachers and students, and we force-fed English.  That worked fine, BTW.

The experts at Kyle's old school never got back to us about what was up with him.  Though he is Tracy's nephew, we barely knew him, and only had the reports of other relatives to go on.  Reports that turned out to be wrong, BTW.  There was a second foster daughter who I might reference at some point, and most of our parenting has of course been with the two boys we have had straight through from birth.  They'll come into the stories a lot.

So that's lesson one: beware experts.  They have their place and deserve to be listened to.  But you may know better - especially if you are humble enough to know you don't know enough.

Lesson two is related: surround yourself with friends who care deeply about parenting, and compare notes.  You don't have to agree.  Our Bible study, which eventually turned into a Christian parenting support group with guilty spasmodic efforts to study Christian topics, probably did eventually agree on much of parenting.  But it didn't always look like it at the time along the way, and our kids turned out quite different from each other - proof of CS Lewis's theory that evil, not goodness, was eventually boring sameness, while goodness was always creative and varied, contrary to popular belief.


bs king said...

This could be a textbook for children's assessors "watch out for your biases". Boys are rated more aggressively than girls, non native speakers score lower on IQ tests, etc.

Dubbahdee said...

I chalk this up under the "the map is not the terrain" category.

One can review the map, but there is not substitute for boots on the ground and eyes on the actual landscape. Much that appears easy on a map may be virtually un-navigable once you can see the actual landform. On the other hand, many intimidating looking trails are not really that hard when you finally put your foot to them.

View the map but trust your eyes.

james said...

My observations of experts dealing with Asperger's over the years led me to similar conclusions.

Gringo said...

So much for deferring to the experts.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

The map is not the terrain. Good analogy.

Sam L. said...

Map not terrain is an old statement in science fiction. I think I ran into it some 50 years ago.

Christen Nine said...

I appreciated the wisdom in this, and I especially liked the last paragraph with the Lewis reference: Evil is boring sameness, and goodness is creative and varied. So true.

Brenda Nelson said...

Hats off to you for fostering children. I know so many who only want babies. Indeed parenting is a difficult job at best but parenting somebody else's children is even more difficult than parenting your own. I have seen so many who do it for the wrong reasons, cash money, and the children get bounced around so much it just makes me so sad. I hope that in time the foster care system as a whole will work out its bugs, these children deserve so much better. Thanks for being a part of their lives.