Group home or family?
I've just spent far more time than I meant to looking for a post I was sure I had written, but evidently hadn't. Somehow I really thought I wrote about the Chicago Tribune article on large families and adoption in Illinois, but I think planning for Thanksgiving got the better of me and I never did. Perhaps that's why that article is still gnawing at me. Actually it wasn't the article, but a line from it in reference to the position of IL DCFS that was written. Let me quote it for you: "But child welfare experts often see a fine line between a large family and group home and worry that parents can rely too much on older siblings to serve as housekeepers, cooks and caregivers." Nice.
Hmmm... Yes, that was exactly my motivation for having a large family: creating my own built-in staff so that I could loll around in the lap of luxury and have people wait on me. You just have no idea how many bonbons I go through in a week. I still have yet to get one that acts as a really good butler, though. Maybe you get the butler when you hit 15 children. Obviously, I think that assertion is too ludicrous to even begin to take seriously. (I have touched on this and other common large family myths in my myth-busting post.)
It was the group home comment that really got me and has been fermenting now for several months. It is such a slam that I can't let it go without comment. First let's take a look at what group homes for children are. They are much needed facilities which give shelter and support to children who, for one reason or another, cannot stay with their family of origin and need a safe place to be. These homes try to create a family atmosphere as much as possible. They have on sight supervisory staff or house parents and they are often in homes in real neighborhoods. Ironically, from the brief research I did, it seems that between 6 to 8 children is often the average number of children who are allowed to live there at any time. I am not writing against group homes. They fill a huge need and often fill it well, but even the most family-like group home is still NOT a family.
Group homes by their nature are transient. A child moves into one when crisis occurs and eventually that child is transitioned somewhere else. In order to provide the stability that this population of children needs, strict rules are needed. But, there are consequences if the rules are consistently broken. The child is moved elsewhere. When a child moves to a group home, no one is pretending that this is a permanent move, because it is not.
But a family is very different. A family is the group of people you grow up with and who love and care for you not matter what, regardless of size. A family may be a single child and two parents. Just because there are fewer people in this family does not make it any less of a family than one with many children. The nature of what a family is does not change because it is made up of fewer or greater numbers of members. It is the love and permanency the define the family. How this plays out is different for each family. Every family has their own culture... how they live, how they show affection, what they see as important, their traditions, their beliefs. Sure a large family is going to look different than a family with just two children, but then I know plenty of two children families and each of them is very different from the other as well.
By implying that my large family is little different from a group home, what is in effect being said is, "We question whether you really do or can love all these children. We don't think you are in for the long haul with them. We question your very existence." And that is what I find offensive. Because I do love my children. Every. Single. One. I can't imagine my life without each of them. When one of them is not home, the hole he or she leaves feels greater than one person because of all the interactions which are missing as well. My children will always be welcome in their home. Even if they have made mistakes. Even if they don't follow the rules. Because we are parents and we love our children no matter what. We are not house parents taking care of someone else's children. They are ours. We are the parents they will come home to as they grow to adulthood. We will be the ones at their weddings. We will delight in their children. We will cry with them and laugh with them. And it really doesn't matter in what way these children joined our family. Each and every one of them has a place in our hearts.
Yes, it is possible to love a great many children. I am sorry for those so impoverished that they cannot understand this. We may never be rich by the world's standards but we are wealthy in love. And once you begin to realize what a joyous place this is to be, you begin to wonder why you shouldn't invite one more small person to join you. Because there is always room for one more.
And this is why we are not a group home.