Worst-case scenario

A few days ago, when I made a plea for what to write about, a reader asked a very good question. How can you both prepare for the worst-case scenario in an adoption, while at the same time, not fear for the future? It does seem like a tricky line to walk.

For those of you who have never had to go through pre-adoption training, let me explain. In order to make the decision whether or not to adopt a specific child, prospective adoptive parents are told to prepare for the worst case scenario. If you cannot see yourself being able to manage that, then perhaps you should rethink adopting this particular child. This is because there are no guarantees. There are no guarantees that a child's file will be correct. There are no guarantees that the child will cope with yet another round of trauma on their plate. There are no guarantees that you will even like the child.

The first time through this can be pretty intimidating. Everything is new and different and yet-to-be-experienced. 'Worst-case scenario' can sound pretty terrifying. Most of us spend considerable time and effort to be sure that we don't become a worst-case scenario, yet here is one instance where we are asked to embrace the possibility. It kind of goes against the grain.

I can tell you what is a lot of people's worst-case scenario. Having a child who uses a wheelchair or some other mobility device. Having a child with a significant developmental delay. Having a child with a significant intellectual delay. Having a child who will never be able to live independently. Having a child with a life-threatening illness requiring significant medical intervention. Or, having a child who has some combination of the above. These are kind of big things. We deal with several of them on a daily basis. But you know what, the actual dealing with them is less hard than the idea of them.

We kind of grow up with a certain plan for how our lives will work. We will grow up, find a career, get married, buy a house, have some children, raise them, and then they will grow up and be on their own, and we will enjoy our retirement. Yes, I know it's a bit idealized, but there is some truth to it. Few people start out planning to have a child who needs more care, who doesn't fit the norm, who doesn't follow the plan. This might not be your particular plan, but everyone has one. The scary thing is when you think you want one thing, but life comes along and you end up with something else.

Fear sneaks in when our hoped for reality and our expectations are not met, or seem to be not met. It's hard to imagine liking a future that is vastly different from what we hoped for. It seems as though it will feel disappointing, that life won't be as good. Living an existence that is not what we wanted or hoped for or even like can feel terrifying.

I think the best way to approach the 'worst-case scenario' issue is to consider your willingness to change your expectations. If a child happens to have more needs than a file says, or is more delayed, or is any number of things that are different from what you were expecting, are you willing to become the parents that child needs? How flexible are you? Accepting a child who may need life long care means that your future is going to look very different from what you initially envisioned for yourself. Can you look at that very different future and decide you can live with those changed plans? Can you see a glimpse of how life could still be good even if it looks different?

I know our life looks very, very different from what I envisioned it looking like when we were first married (27 years ago, yesterday). We had planned on four children; four healthy children. If that were the case, our youngest would have graduated from high school this spring. We would be empty nesters, which sounds crazy to me. If you had told me way back then that we would have two girls who would probably live with us permanently, I'm not sure I would have believed you. I certainly wouldn't have believed that life would be very good. And I would have been wrong. Even dealing with some of those scary things I listed up above, our life is still pretty darn good. I might even venture to say it's far better than what I had initially envisioned.

I think possible the better question to consider is this child worth changing your future for? Are you willing to make accommodations to how you believed your life would look for this child? Are you willing to be the family that always sticks out for this child? Are you willing to look for the best in a child that society would deem the worst?


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