Sunday, November 12, 2023

A hopeless situation?

I came across a very sad post last night I haven't been able to stop thinking about. It's entitled "AITA [Am I a Total A***] For Telling My Wife We Can Adopt Her Nephews But Not Her Niece?"

Here's the post, slightly edited for clarity:

My wife's sister was recently found guilty of dealing [drugs] to support her habit. She will be sentenced this week and is looking toward a long term [in prison] because this is not her first time caught dealing.

She has three children: two boys (ages 4 and 5) and a girl (age 14). No one on her family's side wants to, or are in a position to, take the children except for me and my wife.

However, I'm demanding two conditions. If we're going to take the children in, I want us to adopt them. I don't want 50 people looking over our shoulders trying to tell us what to do. If we're going to be legally responsible for them, I want to be able to parent them as we see fit.

The second condition is that I'm willing to take the two boys, but not the girl.

The two boys have not had any rules in their lives and are terrors, but they're still young and can be taught right from wrong. The girl has gone past the point of no return. She's been suspended from school several times for things like fighting and smoking illegal substances on school grounds.

She's also stolen from us and other family members. She's dating a gang member who was arrested on a home invasion charge, but was released because it was his first time and his age.

This is a mess and we've been arguing about it for an entire week. I don't want to risk our financial and personal security, but my wife argued that we can't just throw [the girl] away.

At this point we're not even sleeping in the same bed, but I'm hesitant to open our house up to the girl and her lifestyle. My wife argues that if we don't take her, she'll go into foster care; but I pointed out if we don't take any of them,  they'll all go into foster care.

The original poster later added an extensive update:

I left out a lot of info because I was in shock, and still am. We're both in our late 20s, have been married for a little over two years, have no kids, and I just graduated with my advanced degree last year.

Last month we were talking about maybe having kids when we're in our mid-30s. Last week my wife came home, sat me down, and told me we're taking in three kids. I know nothing about adoption laws, CPS, or anything related to raising children, much less troubled children.

I knew what was going on with her sister, and was told my wife's parents were going to take the kids in. Apparently they decided they are too old to take care of three kids.

Of everyone in her family, we are the most financially secure and have a house, so when everyone backed out, she [his wife] volunteered without asking me. That was the crux of our argument until I realized that it [the adoptions] was happening with or without my agreement. That's when I told her we can take care of the boys, but not the girl, which started another round of arguments.

I've never raised any kids, so I know I can't deal with the baggage that the girl will bring into our lives. I can't begin to tell you all how shocking the whole thing is. Sometimes I feel like I'm outside watching my life spin out of control.

My first thought is this man is completely naïve when it comes to the process of adoption, much less adopting troubled kids. The two young boys are not guaranteed to learn "right from wrong." This is a thorny dilemma no matter what.

The comments that followed were interesting. Quite a number told the man he's a jerk for not wanting to take in all three kids. Samples:

Turning [the girl] into the throwaway kid is just plain sad, and sends a message to the boys that they are disposable. That alone makes you the devil.

What makes you think you can even adopt the children? The parents have to willingly give up their rights or the state takes them away. So you're going to manipulate her into it? We won't care for them unless you give up your rights?? What kind of monster are you? I think it's awful you'd split up siblings. Her upbringing and circumstances are not her fault.

•  She is 14 years old, not 21. She is still a kid who needs support and a lot of counseling. Throwing her away because it's not easy is horrible. Those two boys are terrors but can be taught? Are you still the same person you were when you were 14? Most people aren't.

However some experienced social workers and foster parents then stepped in and added their opinions. Here are some of their thoughts:

Signing adoption papers as soon as they come to your home will NOT be an option, unless both parents agree, clear it with a judge, lawyers, psychologists, etc. It just won't happen that way.

Where I disagree with most [other commenters] is about taking in the 14-year-old being inappropriate.

If you do not feel you can care for her, you shouldn't. But that shouldn't stop you from being a resource for the two kids you are capable of protecting. ...

A 14-year-old with a gang affiliation, substance use, major trauma, and behavioral concerns is NOT something most people with good intentions are equipped for. You can't just "love and therapy" all those issues away.

This kid sounds like she needs a higher level of care than you are equipped for. You aren't wrong for recognizing you can't give her what she needs. She needs an experienced parent with trauma-informed skills, and a ton of one-on-one attention.

I work in children's social care, and totally agree. I wouldn't take the 14-year-old in. Not because I don't think she deserves a loving family, but because I am not equipped to deal with a gang-affiliated teen, and also because the two younger children have a better shot at life if they don't have any further exposure to that kind of sh**.

I feel like many of the people responding to this thread have never been in the circumstances of adopting children. My aunt adopted two children from similar circumstances: a male infant and a 4-year-old girl. My aunt and her husband are very well off; he's a doctor and she is also in the medical field.

The children had every advantage growing up. They went on luxury vacations all over the world, had tutors, and special schooling to account for the time they missed in prior care. My aunt/uncle were active in their extracurricular activities, including coaching their sports teams

Despite the efforts, therapy, and an engaged family life, the children wre unable to overcome their prior upbringing. They both fell into drugs, the female into prostitution. My relatives paid for numerous stints in rehab, and are still very much still funding their lives well into their 20s/30s. It ruined my aunt and uncle's marriage and put them in many dangerous circumstances.

This is a significant undertaking, and one that is being severely downplayed. The perceived right thing to do is to take all three children, but that will not provide the full-time support that is needed to overcome the potential challenges resulting from the early developmental circumstances.

My cousin and his wife adopted a brother (6 or 7 years old) and his 13-year-old sister. Both kids were pretty damaged, but the girl more so. After countless problems with the girl, they decided to try this center for troubled kids. They spent over $100,000 on this treatment. The girl ran away a month later and hooked up with her birth mom, after which she started threatening the family.

After countless threats and heartache, his wife took her own life. He lost his life savings, and more importantly his wife, just to try and help out. So I'm on the fence. I wouldn't want to see a child suffer, but is it worth losing everything?

This post really stuck with me because of its heartbreaking nature. There is no good solution for any of the parties involved, either for the children or the adults.

I've had a couple friends in somewhat similar conditions (stepchildren in one case; foster-care adoption in another), and it has wreaked absolute havoc in the lives of both these friends. They genuinely went into these situations believing their love and support could make a difference, and came out bitter, prematurely aged, heartbroken, and broke.

But of course, the children are innocent of the circumstances which screwed them up in the first place. How can their lives be turned around, or are they hopeless "throwaway children"? Can they get the help they need? Will therapy and counseling in foster care straighten them out? Can the trajectory of the 14-year-old be altered? These are unanswerable questions.

Yes, tragedy all around. As speculative as this all is, let's not forget these are real people involved. They could use a lot of prayer – especially the 14-year-old girl.


  1. My son was an absolute terror as a teen. I often think that his behavior was one of the causes of my divorce: my ex wanted to throw him out of the house and i utterly refused. He tested every boundary he could, and eventually wound up in jail for 5 weeks on a DUI charge when he was 20. Years and years of consequences happened from this, including multiple stays in rehab (once because he honestly told the counselor that he didn't think he was an alcoholic, just a kid who drank too much on New Year's Eve and drove--which enraged the judge, because if you DUI, you are automatically an alkie, according to the courts). Even my best friend said, "He's a bad kid and will always be a bad kid." Well, I never lost faith in him and I paid for probation and rehab and psychiatrists, and now he's an acolyte at his church, a college graduate cum laude and a rising star on Wall Street. Granted, he is my own child raised in a loving, upper middle class household, but I do believe a 14 year old is way too young to be a throwaway child. Just my perspective.

  2. "The girl has gone past the point of no return. She's been suspended from school several times for things like fighting and smoking illegal substances on school grounds.

    She's also stolen from us and other family members." My son did all of these. OK, did not date a gang member. My heart hurts for that girl.

  3. That couple has no business contemplating adopting any children right now. This situation, in which one of the partners in the marriage sees fit to volunteer BOTH of them for something as huge as adopting 2 troubled children and one seriously screwed up teen, is only going to result in further instability and heartbreak for everyone involved. They'll end up divorced, and the kids will be in the care of an immature, inexperienced, single mother with no support system (the rest of the family can't take the kids, remember), because she's railroading her husband into this.

  4. What a situation, perhaps a lot too common these days.... and this couple is already at odds with each other and this situation at best needs solidly grounded unified learned individuals to deal with all the issues that will absolutely without any doubt arise to seriously test, strain their marriage and unity of purpose goes a long way in overcoming these situation..if these children already are involved in serious undesirable behaviours they will use this disunity to wedge them further apart..lots of prayers required..

  5. This couple needs to PAUSE. They aren't on the same page which is a big red flag. They are young, have no parenting experience, and aren't trained or equipped to handle the trauma involved with this situation.

    A couple I know who couldn't have children adopted 2 babies. One turned out great. The other has kept the family on the brink of bankruptcy for Years with legal fees, all kinds of help, and God only knows what, and is still a work in progress. Age of child doesn't determine outcome.

    There's an organization in Alabama that used to be called King's Ranch. I think it's King's Home now, and it has a bunch of different group homes for boys, girls, and women, structured to heal their traumas and put them on a stable path. Surely these types of organizations exist in other states. I think this sort of thing is a much better option than the foster system.

    I think this couple needs to go to a large Christian church with licensed Christian counselors seeking other options and help to give the children a Path to entering their home, and get all the children help. The girl has probably been sexually abused by her mother's bf's, and has probably as oldest child, had to do much of the caregiving for the younger kids . She's hard because she can't trust adults, or anyone. She needs a chance at life too. Ranch type homes with animals to be cared for, chores, and loving structure and counseling built in work for good reasons. It's easy to decompress and draw close to God, and heal.

  6. When growing up I was taught age 7 was the "age of reason". At that point the individual becomes responsible for their own actions.

    1. “Give me a child until he is 7 and I will show you the man.” - Aristotle

  7. I read the AITA all the time. This guy thinks he can raise them as he pleases if he adopts the children so people cannot look over his shoulders. Well, CPS will look over his shoulders because of the history of the children's behavior and that is their job to stay in touch!
    He and his wife are sadly misinformed. However, I would be afraid of the girl and her friends. Yes, she needs someone who is trained to deal with the things she is going through.
    I think these kids will spell the end to their marriage. Late 20s is not mature enough or experienced enought to handle these problems.
    It is so sad what these children have before them.
    Practical Parsimony

  8. All four of our children were adopted..

    With the coming of Facebook, it was impossible for them to avoid being found by their biological families. That can inject a lot of bad energy into your family.

    Even infant adoptions have issues with "separation" trauma. "Why did my birth-mom throw me away?" kinds of issues.

    Another dimension pops up if any of the children are of mixed-race. The other culture is extremely powerful and does not mix well with White culture (thinking about rap-music, here). The worst parts of the culture can be attractive and suck your kids in.

    One assumption that is not talked about is whether the older girl and the two younger boys get along. If they fight ("Did she ever threaten to kill you?"), then that is enough reason to separate them.

    1. Listen, don't be racist. This 58 year old white mom likes rap. There's a reason it's so popular. Much of it is very clever.

    2. And much of it is *very* misongynistic, glorifies murderers and drug dealers, and is racist as well. Here, rap battles are literal battles.

    3. Yes, but so do the Rolling Stones. Misogyny is misogyny, whether by old white British acts or young black rappers.

  9. My son and his wife were in a somewhat similar situation in that their grandson was born testing positive for drugs. Both the parents are meth addicts, and as grandparents, they were determined to take custody. On a lawyer's advice, they filed to become the baby's legal guardian, and the courts granted that status. This means they are legally entitled to make all decisions for and regarding the baby until he is 18 with no one looking over their shoulders. This also makes it possible for access to more resources for the child that would not be available if he were adopted. It is a sad situation, especially for the girl, but it may be well above the capabilities of the potential adopter to deal with her issues.

  10. This will probably be somewhat disliked, but here is my $0.02. Then husband is completely correct. It is his job to protect his family. Starting with his immediate family. The two boys given a few years will probably barely remember what their previous home life was like. So no real problems there. The niece on the other hand. He is right to cut off. One of the most difficult choices a man has to make, and unfortunately its becoming more and more common, is where to draw the line. At what point is a family member too infected to allow to associate with the rest of your family, whom its your job to protect. I feel for her, really I do, but I would cut her off. Heck I feel horrible even writing this, but it doesn't make it any less true. If the couple in question were in their 40s/50s and had already successfully raised their own children. Then I would say take her in, but send her brothers to another branch of the family to raise. However they are in their 20s, have not had kids yet. And as can be seen by the wife's actions against her husband their bond almost certainly wont be able to take the strain bringing the niece in as well will cause. I'd say the best thing for them is to take in the boys, and see if the church has a couple who have already successfully raised kids who would be willing to take her on. Do what you can to save what family you can, but there are priorities for a man, and the protection of his immediate family comes first. That is what his wife doesn't seem to understand. - William

  11. My heart breaks for this young man. He's exactly right in so many ways. It's his job to protect his family and his home. He MUST put up boundaries.

    As a foster parent for many, many years, I would flat out tell him, and his wife, they are NOT ready for ANY of these children. It's not a failure for them to allow all three to go into the foster care system and that's what I would advise if I were sitting with them over coffee.

    Additionally, the wife needs to apologize for agreeing to adopt three children without even discussing it with him!!! What an unbelievable amount of disrespect and naivete this young woman must have!

    Another commenter is exactly right, these children will not be rescued with all the good intentions in the world.

    It's a serious situation - one that has the potential (guarantee?) of destroying this young couple's lives.

  12. As someone that has worked with troubled school children, I don't think either of these folks are equipped to care for the physical and emotional needs of those children. I can't give details BUT there are some things that can't be fixed. Love isn't enough.

    I have seen experienced foster parents that had lots of success stories that were destroyed by sexual abuse allegations because the tween wanted to do something and the parents said "no".

    I had some acquaintances that adopted two young boys from a horrible home life where drugs and abuse were rife. They had no children and no parenting experience. They wanted to help. They provided new clothes, new toys, new room, new furniture, the first the boys had ever had. They destroyed everything and set the room on fire.

    IMO, the AITA guy needs to leave for his own protection. If they are in still in the early stages of marriage and she is making life-changing decisions without consulting him or caring about his opinion, that marriage is doomed to failure regardless.

  13. I would add that the girl is NOT past the point of no return. For getting suspended in school? Gimme a break. My son got suspended in middle school once because he threw an acorn at a girl. The girl was first throwing acorns at my son, and they hurt. He went to the security guard, who laughed at him. So he threw an acorn back and got suspended. I said to him, "Hm, who are they going to suspend, the crying girl or the six foot kid with a blue mohawk?" He was suspended for a whole year from school for starting a food fight in the lunchroom on the last day of middle school. In high school, he was suspended for selling loose cigarettes. He was also the only kid who get perfect SAT scores, too. Today we look back and laugh about it. Some teens are just very rebellious and need to work it out, which is much harder these days in times of zero tolerance.

    1. Krab, no one here is saying the girl is past the point of no return. The issue is lies in what can be done while keeping his own family safe and intact. As a man one of his primary duties is the protection of his immediate family. The boys are young enough to not have that many issues. The girl on the other hand.

      "She's been suspended from school several times for things like fighting and smoking illegal substances on school grounds. She's also stolen from us and other family members. She's dating a gang member who was arrested on a home invasion charge."

      Reread that for a moment. I can ignore the suspensions for fighting. Heck, my first impulse when met with situations that aren't right is to go in swinging. I don't, but I can understand someone doing so. The rest however is the real issue. She has no respect for authority, she is a known thief, not just from others which is bad, but has stolen from family including this couple. She is dating a gang member. This is trouble not just from the boyfriend, but from all the other members of his gang, and all of the members of his gang's enemies. She is also 14, and while the West considers that a child, I firmly believe that you should treat teenagers as adults, ones who are still learning yes, but as adults. You know like the world did before the insanity of the last century.

      What the husband didn't say, but is highly likely is that she is on drugs, is sexually active, and was probably abused by the sister in law's boyfriends. Again he didn't say, but that seems to be a common story about girls in situations like hers. Again I do feel for her, but for a young and somewhat shaky family like his, bringing her in would most likely end up destroying the marriage. They would probably be fine adopting the boys, but the girl needs to be placed in a family who is stable, and who have experience raising kids from start to finish. It's not a pleasant choice, but the husband has to put his immediate family's safety and stability first, and his niece would almost certainly be enough to destroy it. - W

    2. Yikes! This explains so much...

    3. I agree, the boyfriend is bad news. Of course, he will be banned, and I would hope that the young couple is geographically far away from where the children have been living. It is possible she's been abused, but then again SA is rife in foster homes, too. Hard decisions. I would take them all in, but o course I know that is a risky problem.

  14. One aspect of this not mentioned is how far away does the husband and wife live from the kids? A change in location can often do wonders for a teen. Getting them away from their existing social clique, especially if it's to a rural, gang free environment, will allow the teen to experience life in a different way.

    Of course, this also often fails, as my experience as a police officer showed bad kids often attract and find bad kids. But without moving this girl out of her environment, it's probably - and sadly - too late for her...

  15. Don't take any of the children; I know of several families personally who took children who were young; none of them have had good outcomes. None of them started with babies; all young children. The imprinting is already done and believe me, it will ruin your lives. You are NOT responsible for these kids. Your wife saying you both will take these children without discussion is impulsive and way out out of order. No, a thousand times no. Have your own family and avoid a messed up life.

  16. The man has said he doesn't know how to raise children and he is right. BUT IMHO he was incredibly smart to say he doesn't want to take care of or adopt the girl. He is 100% right about her. AND if they do take the three of the kids it is likely that the girl will contribute to the boys failing to make it. IF his wife insists on taking them all he should file for divorce. It will save him years of grief, expense and failure and of course eventual divorce anyway.

    The fact that his wife made her decision without his input tell me all I need to know about their marriage. Run! Go see a lawyer, remove your property from the home, Separate your accounts and get a divorce. With no children the long term costs will be minimal and you can go on with your life. Once the children are part of this equation it will be far messier and far more costly.

    1. Another hot topic going on here.
      Two topics going on now. The sad situation for the children. And now, interjected, repeated advice for the young couple with some degree of security, to divorce. By now the children have already been placed in a safe environment by a state agency. And surely those professionals have picked up on problems with placing them with any family member, so maybe we should just chill a little bit.
      Most people who get married do so without marriage counseling, which schools them beforehand by giving them personality tests, and a variety of different ways to predict conflicting situations and how to practice conflict resolution with their future spouse.
      These young adults are caught up in an intense, emotional, family problem. The wife is young, as is the husband. I'd be willing to bet this was presented to her first by her family...people she's known her whole life. Her sister's the bad girl so she's probably the good girl and it's all a nasty ball of wax.
      What family doesn't have problems? I think we all do. Any two people are going to disagree and need to learn ways to communicate and find good outcomes.
      With any luck these young adults can find their way to a family counselor because of this event, and adoption or not, find their way to a stronger relationship. I don't wish divorce on anyone. May cool heads prevail.

    2. I find the idea that someone should file for divorce over this laughable. Isn't it just as likely the wife thought, "My husband is a good man, so of course he'd be in favor" when she agreed to take them? Sheesh, you conservatives claim we liberals don't prioritize marriage.

    3. Never a reason to file for divorce? That is a strange opinion!!

      Yeah I could agree that a divorce wouldn't be necessary if this woman admitted she made a terrible mistake and showed real signs that she actually meant it. But she was abusive and railroaded this young man into a situation that threatened their marriage and their future and she is unrepentive. She is hard headed and mentally abusive and this is just the beginning of their marriage. What does the future hold???

      But the real point is "there is a divorce coming!!!" If this man waits he will be responsible to support these three children and his ex-wife while he works two jobs and lives in his parents basement. Pay attention! Your wife told you what she intends to do. Get out now! Run! The system will never treat a man fairly so if you wait she will destroy your life.

    4. I have to agree. The wife is being foolish and stubborn and not putting her husband and marriage first. If this is the hill she chooses to make her last stand what will be next if he rolls over for this. She prefers confrontation over communication. I suspect she is a little spoiled and accustomed to always getting what she wants. People like that never change they just use different methods to get what they want from friends and family. If pouting doesn't work then it will be a tantrum and then an ultimatum. This is just the beginning.

  17. I wonder if the grandparents would consider taking just the girl. They could be good for each other, if she's not too far gone.

  18. The sister's mistakes are not their responsibility. Since they are young and have no experience, they are not in a position to take on these kids. Now you can all look at this and say I am cruel, but this young couple's life should come first. They need to build a strong marriage before they can insert this much trouble. If they both do not agree, then it should not happen. I agree that if the wife insists, the husband should get a divorce.