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If you think this is about YOU, maybe you should go reconcile with your parent and work to get back your kids instead of continuing to be a jerk. If you think I am you, or similar to you, welcome! :-)

Monday, December 22, 2008

POST I: Do things ever change?

(I am going to write a series of posts, one after the other, along with reposting from my old blog. If there is one after another on the same date, you'll understand why.)

Perhaps you have been a retread parent for some years. You read my blog and think, things are never going to change. My adult child will always be an unfit parent. I will be taking care of children until I die. Will things ever change?

The short answer: Yes.

Now for the longer answer-

You cannot count on your adult child to change. It is better to be prepared for the worst, and then pleasantly surprised when a change occurs. The heart of the matter is that you, your significant other, and your grandchildren cannot sit around for years waiting for the change or changes.

The kids will not be able to stop growing taller, bigger, older. They are human beings, not dolls that can be thrown into the toy box when Mom and Dad don't want to play with them, anymore. They need nurture, and they need it now.

Even with the best cosmetics, hair dyes, and plastic surgery, you are growing older. You still need to pay bills, to eat, to have a life. Waiting for things to get better is a big waste of time. You could be enjoying that time, doing constructive things, making a difference.

Ollie and Irene (not their real names) had two granddaughters. Who was Daddy? Ollie and Irene didn't know. Their daughter, Natasha, had the girls when she was 16 and 19.

Natasha acquired a nasty meth habit, laced with alcohol. When Ollie and Irene got the call from the police station, the girls were 4 and 6. Natasha was caught red-handed breaking into a neighbor's house. Natasha was looking at serious jail time.

Ollie is what they call "old school" a gentleman of great dignity and integrity. He does not believe the people of color in the United States deserve more than they earn. As a person of color, Ollie proudly labels himself as Black. He owns a business that employs 10-12 people, and keeps it running well. Irene taught school, mostly the Fourth Grade.

They applied for, and received guardianship, then adopted the little girls. Ollie and Irene's other children were in college and just starting their lives, so old enough to be helpful to some degree, but not at a point where they could assume guardianship. They also offered Natasha an attorney, not because she wasn't guilty, but because she might not have received prime advice from a public defender. Otherwise, Ollie and Irene did nothing. Natasha stayed in the county lock-up. Ollie and Irene lifted not one other finger to help her.

When a parent hires an attorney for an adult child, the attorney represents the child. The parent is just picking up the tab for the attorney's work. What goes on between the adult child and the attorney is privileged information to which the parents are not privy.

So when Ollie and Irene hired the petite young African-American woman to represent Natasha, they did not know Natasha would not just use her as an attorney, but a sounding board. Some of that sound included verbally denigrating Ollie and Irene, their child-rearing methods, their dedication to hard work, their modest home in a working-class neighborhood, their saving of their income, her brother and two sisters' scholastic achievements.

The young attorney in question said nothing, simply nodded and went on with the work at hand of representing Natasha, bringing Natasha back to the matter at hand. This continued until the day Natasha accused her parents of "stealing" her daughters.

The attorney looked down her (blank lens) glasses at Natasha. It was time for a cold dose of reality. The exchange went something along the lines of:

"I suppose your parents planned for you to break into their neighbor's home?"
Well, no. But they didn't give her spending money, or pay her way.

"And your parents introduced you to meth?"
Well no, but they hadn't moved to a better neighborhood, and they expected Natasha to do chores, and try at school, and get a job.

"Who chose to use, Natasha?"
Well, Natasha.

"So, you should really consider who 'stole' in this instance. I grew up in that neighborhood. I turned out fine. Your siblings all seem to be making a life for themselves. What's your problem, Princess? When are you going to be responsible for you, woman?"

Natasha threatened to fire the attorney.
The attorney shrugged. "That's OK with me. I'll get the paperwork together, and ask to have myself removed from the case. I don't think your father is going to hire another attorney for you, though. I guess you'll have to take your chances with the public defender." The attorney started packing her briefcase, and calling for the guard.
Natasha changed her mind.

"OK then. I am your attorney. But I want you think about what your parents DID for you, not what you think they should have done for you. Start with my fees. I am a very good lawyer, and I don't come cheap. Your father and mother pay my bill when it comes, and every month, on time."

Natasha was sentenced, three years. That gave her time to think. Her parents hadn't done such a bad job of raising her. And she knew they would do the same for her girls. Goodness, she'd let her daughters down so, never asking to be born, and then she'd chosen drugs over them!

Natasha made good use of her time in jail. She knew her mother might let her off the hook, but her daddy would want proof of change. She would never be allowed to teach children as her mother did, but she would find a good job, and learn it while she was in prison. She worked on college courses, and earned her way through good behavior to work in the prison library. She started going to church again, not to get out of work, but because she knew deep down that she needed God in her life. She went to regular Narcotics Anonymous meetings. She wrote her girls regularly. She wrote apology notes to her parents, her girls, her siblings.

Natasha proved herself, to the point when she left prison, she obtained a position in a private library. She rented a small apartment alone, saved her money for a few years, and paid a large down payment on a three bedroom house, in the old neighborhood. She went to meetings when she needed them. Once outside, Natasha earned a Masters of Library Science. She soon found a better job as the manager of a public library branch near her home. She found a good church and attended regularly.

Ollie and Irene allowed Natasha, through a good psychologist, to visit with her daughters, to learn to consider them first. Ollie was impressed with Natasha's thrift and tenacity in earning the money to buy a house. Over a year's time, they eventually allowed Natasha to have visits with the girls alone, overnight. Natasha became interested and attended their school activities. This gave Ollie and Irene an opportunity to travel a bit, to go "down home" and visit the home folks, to go to Jamaica, to take a cruise. The whole family, including Natasha, went to a big family reunion on Irene's side. Natasha paid her own way, and insisted on paying for her girls and Ollie and Irene.

Then Irene found the lump in her breast. The cancer was farther along than everybody thought. Irene had months to live.

It had been 9 years since Natasha had been arrested. The girls were now 13 and 15, high school girls, with all that comes with it.

The girls did not move in with Natasha. They needed the familiar, and the familiar was that house in the old neighborhood, with Big Daddy. But Natasha was there for them and with them when Irene took her last breath. She actively participated in Irene's care until the very end, along with her siblings and daughters. It was a pure team effort, no showmanship on any one person's part. She assisted her daughters in their grief and confusion. She personally made sure the hairdresser and cosmetologist did Irene's hair and make-up just the way Irene would have wanted it for her viewing.

Yes, the attorney came to the visitation, and brought her own children and husband. As always, she didn't say much. But she gave Natasha a hug, heretofore unknown between Natasha and her former representation, and whispered in her ear, "You did very well."
Can your adult child change? Sure. Should you allow the grandchildren's parent back into their lives? Only if he or she earns the right, or you are forced by court order. In this case, Natasha made a real effort to change. Proceed with caution, and like Ollie, look for concrete, substantial proof of change.

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