Every once in a while, I’m suddenly struck anew by the fact that I have a teenage son. It’s particularly bizarre because of my young age and because of the fact that until a little over a year ago I didn’t have any kids. Similarly, when I hear those AdoptUSKids “What to Expect When You’re Expecting a Teenager” commercials on the radio, I think about how great it would be to adopt a teen. And then I remember that I’ve already done it.
Perhaps you think I’m overstating my case here. That’s okay if you do, but this is my point: adopting a teenager is an important but very difficult task, and I’m surprised that I took the time to consider it, gathered the strength to contact an agency, leaped in faith to say yes to bringing a teenage boy into my home, and had the intestinal fortitude to commit to him forever.
I say that I’m surprised because I know the kind of man I am. I may write for and run a blog for foster/adoptive dads, but I’m nowhere close to qualified. In the same way, if not more so, I’m not qualified to be the dad of a teenager. I’m moody and clumsy and arrogant and sarcastic and fickle and emotionally inept and critical and selfish and forgetful and tone deaf and standoffish and cynical and socially awkward. This isn’t false humility; these are real flaws of mine.
The reason I bring up my personal shortcomings as a man is to dispel the very erroneous impression that I’m a saint for adopting a teenager. I’ve been called a saint numerous times when people find out how my son came to join my family. If you’re a foster/adoptive dad, odds are you’ve probably heard the same thing, or at least something akin to it. I understand why people say this and I know they mean well, but I can’t stand it.
For one thing, it’s just not true. You should hear some of the things that come out of my mouth when my son provokes me to conniption. I won’t type them out here, but they’re definitely not saintly. I’m a prodigiously fallible man with an impressive capacity for blundering. I’ll grant that adopting a teenager from foster care is a good deed, but one good deed doesn’t make a saint. Trust me, or ask Dave. I’m kind of an asshole. (See? Saints don’t use that kind of uncouth language!)
For another thing, when people call me a saint it feels like they are inadvertently distancing themselves from me and the choice I made to adopt. After all, if fostering or adopting a child is something only a saint does, then someone who is clearly not a saint must be off the hook. But I’m not a saint.
AdoptUSKids’ ad campaigns claim that “you don’t have to be perfect to be a perfect parent,” and thank God that’s true because otherwise I would have never been approved to adopt. Also, if perfection were a requisite character trait for taking care of vulnerable children, then those kids would have little to no hope of finding permanency in a loving family. Since there is no such thing as a perfect parent, imperfect parents are the only option foster care and adoption agencies have.
There are plenty of things that would disqualify someone from becoming a foster/adoptive parent, but the failure to be a saint is not one of them. My bumbling jaunt through life is solid proof of that. A goal for my life is to advocate for foster care and adoption by example: if I can do it, you can do it. I wouldn’t be an adoptive dad today if it wasn’t for the example of my parents and my fellow The Foster Dads cohort Dave.
If you’re already a foster or adoptive dad, thank you. I know you’re not a saint, but my request is that you commit to getting better every day, as a man, as a husband (if that’s applicable to you), and as a father. And I also ask that you continue to advocate for foster care and adoption by your example.
I know we have readers who care about foster care and adoption but who aren’t able to become foster/adoptive parents themselves, for one reason or another. If that’s you, there’s still plenty you can do to help foster/adoptive families, a few examples of which you can find by clicking on this very sentence. Thank you for your support. Without the consistent love, encouragement, and assistance of our friends and family, there’s no way we’d be able to do this.
Now it’s time to level my aim at you readers who have ever considered or who have ever considered considering fostering or adopting, including those of you who haven’t yet realized that you’d be fantastic foster/adoptive parents. I can’t tell you that you’re called or particularly equipped to foster or adopt, but I can strongly urge you to ponder whether you are or not. Seriously think about it, keeping in mind these words from AdoptUSKids:
Today there are 112,000 children and teens in foster care [who] are in need of families. Each year approximately 20,000 of them will age out of this system without someone to support them and share in important life events throughout their lives.
You can make a difference in a young person’s life. Adopting a teen doesn’t require perfection. It requires the very traits that you already possess: maturity, commitment, flexibility, compassion, and of course, a sense of humor.
You don’t have to be perfect or know it all to be a perfect parent to a teenager. You just need to be there.*
I’m not a saint and I’m kind of an asshole, but I do think I’m a pretty damn good dad. I believe the same could be said of you if you were willing to give it a shot. You can’t change the world by yourself, but you can change the world for a child or teen in foster care. It may sound cheesy to say, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true.
You may not be a saint, but the kids in the foster care system don’t need a saint. They need you.