Sunday, September 28, 2008

Compassion...Mama's Ongoing Project

One of Mama's many life lessons she wanted to instill in me was compassion:

A profound and positive human emotion prompted by the pain of others. More vigorous than empathy, the feeling commonly gives rise to an active desire to alleviate another's suffering...

During a 2 day training course with the county, Matt and I did a mock trial of a mom losing her child to the system to get a glimpse of what all goes on. It was based on a true case and was a real eye opener, to say the least. Each table was assigned a task. Table 1 was "Tonya" and her lawyers.

Ours, Table 2, was the treatment team that gave the court recommendations of what we thought needed to happen before we would allow her to gain custody of her daughter (with the help of a real social worker because hey, we had no idea what we were doing).

Table 3 was the foster home and Table 4 other was the judge.

One of the goals of the exercise was to see the birth mom's side. "Tonya" begged and pleaded for her child back and had every excuse in the book for why she was unable to complete her requirements (no ride to get her urine tested, 18 interviews but no job offer, everyone was against her, etc). They were flimsy excuses at best and you know judges and social workers hear the same ones all day every day. She started out doing okay but as time went on, she slowly fell apart. Every 90 days when her review came up you could see her starting the slow spiral out of control. In the end, she cried as she relinquished her parental rights and both Matt and I were in tears (as were most of the group). A true story and that plays out every day in courts across the nation.. just heartbreaking.

Surprisingly, Matt and I found it easy to have compassion for the addicted birth parent. Prior to meeting each other , both of us were in relationships with people who had had substance abuse problems. Have you heard someone say, ".. but they're totally great when they're clean and sober" and you roll your eyes? We actually lived it and, by golly, it's true.

Our exes both had children from a previous marriage, and were very devoted to them. Neither had custody (for obvious reasons) and lived for the time they got to spend with their children. Unfortunately, their drug of choice was so much more powerful than they were. Almost every time their kids visited, they would go off on a binge. It's just astounding what complete control the drug has and how it's a wrecking ball through everyone's lives. It's constant drama, to put it lightly.

Although kind of an odd thing to have in common (having an ex as an addict), it is one of the many things that brought Matt and me together. We both tried to "save someone" and found out the hard way it's impossible to do. We both relish the calmness of being regular Joe Shmoe Homebodies, as we've seen the wild side and have no interest in revisiting that side of the tracks. We did learn, however, that under the horrible and downright mean things an addict does, lies a person who would do anything to quit. The person is not the monster but is totally controlled by one.

I remember in the midst of the crazy that was once my life crying out to God, "WHY?!?" and feeling utter hopelessness. Sitting at that table in training with tears in my eyes as "Tonya" begged for her kids back was an, "Ah Ha! Moment," when another of my life's little puzzle pieces fell into place. Compassion had kicked in and both of us got it. Had I known back then what I know now it would have made perfect sense. The 6 years of what seemed like endless drama was leading me to that table in the basement of a church for those 2 days of intense training. The Good Lord (and Mama) didn't want me looking down my nose from my high horse at the addicted parent who couldn't provide basic needs but to take pity and have compassion. That was "Why".

We may deal with a real "Tonya" sometime soon and I had better keep that shoe and other foot handy.

Melissa will soon occupy two positions in the adoption triad. She found out as an adult that she had been adopted. And now, she is pursuing Foster/Adoption in Colorado. She blogs at Full Circle and the entry below comes from this post on her blog. In her training to become a foster parent, she attempts to see through the eyes of the third member of the adoption triad.


luna said...

thanks for sharing your story on bridges. empathy and compassion are so critical. best of luck with your foster care/adoption.

Ariella said...

What a great post about empathy. I often hear people talk about first/birth parents as people who have done "awful" things, and it makes me so sick. I am sure your empathy will go a long way in understanding this third member of the adoption triad and I wish you the best of luck in your adoption.

Anonymous said...

It hurts me to read this. It hurts no end.
Its so wrong to pull babies / children from their mothers.
For her to *relinquish her parental rights* is just wrong.

I dont know what the answer is, I KNOW that someone who REALLY WANTED To have their children would walk on hot coals to ensure it. So I SEE that side of it, that the addict needs to help themselves, but also addiction to alcohol and or drugs is a disease, is it not ? I know there should be no excuses but THERE JUST IS. Sometimes life is so hard and sometimes people do not have the right *makeup* to fight through it...

Taking away a child is the absolute last resort and only where the child is in absolute danger of abuse (OF ANY SORT) I believe there needs to be a change. There needs to be more help available. Sometimes people just can not do things on there own.

I dont know what the answer is, I just know that taking a child from their mother is not it.