Sunday, January 6, 2019

Plan B

Years ago, my mother came up with the oh-so-brilliant idea that I should adopt my cousin's son. My cousin had found herself facing having custody revoked for a second time, following the state determining that she was not meeting basic standards her son needed. Fueled by panic when my ex-uncle's brother stepped up, being willing to take the child, my mom decided that Grey and I would be even better candidates to fulfill this purpose, given we were childless, struggling with infertility and preparing for IVF.

I thought about all of this last night, following reading this post on Cup of Jo that Loribeth pointed out and the recommendation to explore the comments section (side-note: it was incredibly refreshing to see so many support comments). It was one comment in particular by someone named Rita that brought all of it back. Rita starts by talking about how she and her husband turned down her BIL/SIL when asked to be their baby's in-case-of-emergency guardian and how difficult this decision was. But it was this sentence stuck with me:
"They said they thought of us “since” (??) we aren’t planning to have children, which I found most perplexing a statement because why leave a child with a couple who doesn’t want their own kids?"
Cue all the many feelings and emotions.

Assigning guardianship for minors is something I use to assume was easy. Growing up, the assumption was that you simply listed next-of-kin, be it grandparents or siblings. But that was before I began thinking about how children were raised, taking into account values and life-goals in the best of circumstances. Nevermind ending abuse cycles. The added element is seeing first-hand the generational effects when these decisions are poorly made as Grey's grandfather was orphaned at a young age, being raised by an aunt who, though she adored her own children, was far from stellar as an assigned guardian.

With all of this in mind, Grey and I have struggled for the past 5 years to assign emergency guardianship for Maddy and Teddy. Family members have been a hot topic, given that we either see them as unreliable/potentially dangerous or being completely maxed out with their own lives and families. With friends, it's been even more tricky, given that we know how life-altering this decision could be. Ideally, we want a home environment where Maddy and Teddy would be well cared for and loved without stressing out their guardians beyond repair. Hence finding a couple with one or even no children would seem initially ideal and part of Rita's comment touches on this mindset:
"They also said that they value our values, our outlook on life, our responsibility with money, level-headedness, etc. I was so anguished over this decision… my confidants tried to get me to see that this was a compliment to us."
All of this seems like a great option until one considers something equally important: those who are not parenting often suffer the misguided assumption that their lives are somehow incomplete and that introducing a child/children into their lives will magically make it whole. That and the fact that their lot in life is to be solely to be emergency guardians or some secondary role.

Even though it was years ago, I remember the acute pain I felt as my mom begged Grey and me to adopt my cousin's son so that my aunt could remain his grandmother. Nevermind all the reasons this was an insanely bad idea, the fact my mom saw me solely as a placeholder made clear what I meant to her.

Something my mom is now desperately trying to deny given how my infertility journey ended.

This morning, I told Grey it was time we finalized emergency guardians for Maddy and Teddy. Though I have my ideal couples in mind, the reality is for many this brings about some sort of assumption that they would even want this burden. And even with these initial discussions comes the understanding that if that ideally there won't simply be one set of guardians guiding these kids, just as I have that same hope now. 

Because the reality is Maddy's and Teddy's role isn't to fill some void; no more than people who are not parenting should be waiting in the wings to take on child-raising responsibilities. And those that make these assumptions need a reality check.


  1. Assigning guardianship and taking into account all those factors you list is really tricky. I'm so sorry you had to go through that experience with your cousin's child with your own family.

    It's admirable that you're thinking so carefully through these factors and assumptions. I hope that you and Grey find the right people.


  2. It's funny, I had to assign emergency guardianship to someone when I was finalizing the adoption of my little ones, simply because I am a single parent. I agonized over the process and eventually asked my sister and brother-in-law. I didn't want to ask them because they don't plan on having children. I didn't want to thrust my life choice on them, but they were the best option should something tragic happen to me. I know they would take care of my children, get them the help they need, but I also know it would turn their lives upside down and I felt bad even asking, knowing it wasn't something they wanted for themselves. I wish I had other options, but I also really hope I'm around to see my children all grown up. I wish you well on your endeavor to find the most appropriate couple; I know it isn't an easy thing and definitely a big ask....

    1. I think each situation is a unique one. We actually initially asked dear friends who are also not parenting if they would agree to be Teddy and Maddy's guardians. We never heard back from them, hence the assumption that the answer is no. And frankly, I have no problems with that as this is a big ask. For some couples, they would be willing to do this, but I think there's a lot of push back on couples who aren't, given the assumption that they "should." I think that was Rita's point, and frankly it's a fair one.

      Here's leaning on the hope that even with plans laid, neither of us have to use them.

  3. It's certainly a big request, and I can't blame anyone for not wanting to take it on, for whatever reasons. We agreed we would look after our (now grown-up) nephews if something ever happened to their parents; thank goodness that day never came. But I agree with Rita that people shouldn't be considered for the role simply because they don't have kids!

    It occurred to me, reading your post, that your search for guardians for Maddy & Teddy is something you're doing as a precautionary/maybe someday, maybe never kind of thing. It's more than likely whoever you ask will never actually have to fulfill the role. Whereas your cousin's child DID need parents. It's one thing to say "yes," knowing you are willing and able to do the job but most likely won't be called upon to do it, and quite another to say "yes" to a here-and-now parenting situation.

    1. It's a good point. The added rub with my cousin's situation is that my aunt was treating it as a temporary situation, assuming that any adoption would simply be reversed if I went forward when my cousin got herself back on her feet whereas with her ex-ILs the threat was the adoption would be permanent... shows all sorts of misunderstandings about adoption, doesn't it? But that aside, I do agree that the mentality tends to be different when people make these commitments. I guess I'm so use to bad stuff happening that I tend to look at it more through the lens of "when" not "if."

  4. Your mom saw it so simplistically. A needs B and C needs D, so let's put A and C together. She didn't see that people aren't interchangeable. And she completely missed the complexities of adoption.

    I had the same dawning you did about assigning guardianship. I thought it would be no big deal, but it IS. SO many things to think about from SO many angles. Best wishes to you as you put your plans in place.

  5. We've been asked to be guardians twice. The first time was for a niece I was close to (and then for her brother). Her mother, who would have undoubtedly preferred one of her sisters to be named as guardian, asked my niece who she'd like to live with if something happened to her parents. (Yes, they waited till she was 8 or 10 or thereabouts.) She named me and my husband, and we agreed. We agreed because we loved our niece, were honoured that she chose us, and knew we could do it. We didn't agree simply because we would be filling a void - this was before we had started trying to conceive, and there was no void.

    In later years, post-infertility, it was very clear to us that our niece and nephew were not the children we had lost, but were two separate individuals who would deserve the best of care. That was always the reason we continued to agree to this situation. They're both adults now, and today (coincidentally) my niece laughed that her parents had only just changed their Wills to remove the guardianship provisions - she's now 27!

    We are now named as guardians for my littlest niece (my sister's daughter). We've agreed because we're also close to her, although I feel too old to become her parent now! There isn't an issue of a void at all in our decision to say yes. She would always be my sister's child, but it would be an honour, if necessary, to look after her if something terrible happened. Her ongoing health issues wouldn't be a burden either - it would mean she would need us even more.

    These things are always so complicated. I don't think any thoughtful childless couple (as you demonstrated) would blindly say "yes" to suggestions of adoption or guardianship to fill a void. If they did, then maybe they're the wrong ones to name. And as the others said, your mother didn't really think about the child or you when making that suggestion.

    Ultimately, we decline if it's not right. Or we say yes out of love, knowing the burdens. I hope you find the people who can do that too.


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