When The Deck Is Stacked Against You

When my sons were young, I seriously worried that someone might disagree with our parenting of them and take our sons away from us. On occasion, I even warned them that their behavior put us all at risk. That was before I learned my parents adoption stories and before I joined an all things adoption which includes foster care group. Since then, the horror stories I have read about Child Protective Services makes my concerns of yesteryear seem less paranoid. I remember a Simpsons episode where the children are taken away from Homer and Marge over some coincidental events and given to the Flanders. Since our family was watching the series on dvds at the time, I used that episode to illustrate the dangers to my young sons.

So today, I read this story –

My biological mom is now sober, almost off probation and holding down a full time job, while keeping her house clean. Child Protective Services is telling her that unless she serves every single meal at the dining room table with the whole family, she’s not in compliance and my 6 year old sister is at risk of being taken away from her. Please try to tell me how Child Protective Services is not organized with the intent to steal kids from capable parents. Even when incapable parents turn their lives around and do the work required of them to become what their kids need to thrive, the system itself fights against them with arbitrary demands.

I can relate to this comment because it is much the same in my family (and we have the added challenge that my youngest son doesn’t believe the food that my husband and older son eat with me is actually fit for him to eat and so, I make provisions to include this one in some aspect of what the rest of us are eating (at least what he can accept as food LOL).

We have a maximum of 1 family meal per day as both my hubby and me work. The boys have breakfast together, though the older one often chooses to skip breakfast, lunch is at school and dinner is together, if my husband gets out of the clinic early enough. Sometimes one of the boys is angry and chooses to eat alone in his room to cool off, sometimes we eat in front of the tv. Sometimes my kids even eat outside in the park.

Someone else notes – we are the rare family who eats dinner together nightly but breakfast??? Lunch??? Not everyone is up together or home for lunch.

That pretty much describes my own family. We do have dinner together and I grew up with dinner at the dining room table but my dad was not always there because he worked shifts at an oil refinery. Everyone is on their own for breakfast and lunch in my household of today.

This is NOT the first time I have read they will go to your kid’s school and ask them questions –

They can prove where the kids are eating their meals by asking the kids at school without your knowledge or permission! I told my kids – if someone is at your school who you don’t know and they start asking questions, don’t answer them until I’m with you! No matter what they ask you say – “I’m not answering any questions without my mom here with me, you are a stranger.”

One suggestion is to get this demand in writing and consult with an attorney about it.

Someone else acknowledges how wealth inequality factors into these kinds of cases – they push all kinds of 1950s era respectability on poor moms, while the richer ones can feed theirs charges nuggets at the drive thru daily. And don’t get me started on substance abuse being leveraged against some parents, while the richer ones proudly boast how much wine they need just to be around their kids.

It’s not where you eat that makes you a family, but how you interact, and dinner is absolutely not the only place to interact by even the smallest stretch of the imagination.

One person admitted – They had issues with my kids eating crackers from a little cup on the floor, dropping one and then picking it up off the floor. It was a reason they gave for removal.

The response was – Have they never heard of the 5 second rule? Lol In all seriousness though, kids need to be exposed to a certain level of germs in order to build up their immune systems. Eating a cracker off the floor is not even the tiniest bit concerning. I’m so sorry they did that to you.

And I will add – I am not the germ free spotless kind of mother. And my kids have been healthy as all get out. I believe it is because I allowed them to be exposed to a certain level of germs. I believe that is actually true. They say if there is too much disinfectant and sanitizer involved, the kids are more vulnerable to illness.

Like Many, Learning As I Go

Clearly, I did not for see all of the criticism that I was getting myself into but I did note that it was “a difficult topic to discuss in a politically correct manner”, so I did have an inkling. Five women expressed a problem with yesterday’s blog. There were literally hundreds of comments posted on the question thread. My blog yesterday attempted to acknowledge I am the product of a different time than the one I am living in now. I also posted a link to that blog in my all things adoption group. This caused my blog to have 10 times more views than any I have ever written here but no comments were left on the blog itself that I know of today.

Without apologizing for viewing the culture I was raised in positively, and I do continue to raise my own children within the same kind of family structure, I was shocked by the accusations of homophobia made against me within my all things adoption group simply for believing in the value of that culture as applied to child-rearing, a culture that includes both male and female role models. Please note – this does not exclude same sex couples but those do need to include extended family to provide examples of each gender, for a child growing up within that culture.

Needless to say, the increase in young people who refuse to embrace a gender identity (non-binary) is a trend for humanity that I don’t expect to end. It is a good response. Making a significant point about how gender is actually a meaningless distinction except in actual procreation. I completely agree with that stance. I have enough life experience to know that sex is sex, regardless of the forms it takes, though rape is something else entirely and about power over another human being. I am also aware that many young people do not intend to parent or have children. Many of my friends, who are in my same age group, lament not expecting to enjoy having grandchildren. Just as with abortion and now the pandemic, these are circumstances that have pushed back concerns about over-population.

Certainly, my family and my dearest friends include people who identify as gay and they are all loved by me just as any other family member or friend is. I see their humanity and accept them as they present themselves to be. For that, I was told to STOP tokenizing my gay family and friends. You sound like the obviously racist people who say “I can’t be racist, I have a black friend.” That was not my intent but I know, life is like this now. Sometimes we can’t undo perceptions, regardless of where our heart actually is. I accept the impossibility of doing so. Social media is a difficult place to even attempt that.

It was also said of this blog that on the whole the writing was disjointed and convoluted making it difficult to discern its intentions.

So I will make clear – my intention regarding the adoption related values most important to me – that were raised by this question that was asked – What are your thoughts about the Buttigieg’s impending adoption?

Adoption causes trauma by separating a baby from its gestational mother. Surrogacy does the same thing.

I support family preservation. This includes financial and emotional support, so that mothers can raise their own children. If a child does need the care of people who they are not born of, for all of the reasons usually given including abuse or neglect, this can be provided without changing their name and parentage from that shown on their original birth certificate. Birth identity matters.

In the case of the Buttigiegs their intention is to remain anonymous. I doubt that is going to succeed in the long run, though actual results will be the proof. The press will turn over every stone they try to set in order to reveal the child’s origins.

In a Washington Post article it was written – “The couple, who have been married for three years, had been trying to adopt for a year, taking part in parenting workshops. They were on lists that would allow them to receive a baby who had been abandoned or surrendered at short notice and also were seeking to be matched with a prospective mother.”

So to be clear, I like the former mayor, now cabinet member, Pete Buttigieg well enough, what little I actually know about him. But the language used in the couple’s announcement included lots of red flags for anyone interested in adoption reform. And the fact that they’re pursuing domestic infant adoption is precisely what I object to the most.

Research indicates that children with same sex parents have strengths and unique challenges. I found this article in an attempt to add some reality to my own thinking – “Same Sex Parents and Their Children“. It notes that between 1 and 9 million children in the United States have at least one parent who is lesbian or gay. There are approximately 594,000 same-sex partner households, according to the 2000 Census, and there are children living in approximately 27 percent of those households.

Adoptees definitely have unique traumas and I do have concerns about this particular couple’s ability create a totally positive outcome, from the trauma they will cause by the adoption of a baby. I would have the same concerns regardless of the sexual orientation of an adoptee’s parents.

I Admit I Am Old School

This not the first time it has come up. I am doing my best to recognize changing norms and find a good level of acceptance within my self. For one thing, among those changing norms is a recognition of the trauma that every adoptee experiences. Another is same sex couples and the frequent desire of these couples to go beyond marriage to parenting. There I do struggle with having grown up with a certain kind of mindset that believes optimal for children growing up is having both a male and female role model. I am also realistic enough to know that isn’t always possible. We have several single mothers in my mom’s group. Some chose to enter into pregnancy without a male partner and some became widows after their children were born. In both cases the children do seem to be thriving and I am a witness to that fact.

Today the question was asked in my all things adoption group – What are your thoughts about the Buttigieg’s impending adoption? I didn’t know about it until I saw that. So I went looking and see that this male same sex couple is at least enlightened enough to have been seeking “a baby who had been abandoned or surrendered at short notice”. Yet, we are talking about an infant it would appear. I once had a discussion with a friend who was good friends with a male same sex couple who was raising a little girl who they had via a surrogate. I expressed my reservations about that situation honestly. I have less concern about a female same sex couple where one contributes the egg and the other carries the pregnancy. There is still the issue of the child being donor conceived and how some sperm donors have fathered a multitude of genetically related children.

I am glad my boys have their father as a male role model. I am glad they have me as a female role model. There are a lot of gender issues in our modern society. There is toxic male culture but my boys are home schooled so they aren’t exposed to very much of that in their daily life. It’s enough that they have witnessed me have to push back on some of that at home. Thankfully, my husband is for the most part respectful, appreciative and considerate of me. With over 30 years of marriage completed, there are bound to be moments that aren’t sterling.

In these days of gender equality, marriage equality and equal employment opportunities, it might seem odd to even contemplate discussing the topic of a male parent versus a female parent. Undoubtedly many well-adjusted children are raised in single gender families making the equality of parenting question seem out-dated and narrow-minded. I do understand this.

However, there are a number of ‘experts’ who agree that the influence of both a female and a male are vital for proper child development. This diversity give the child a broader, richer experience of interactions. I found an article that shares the perspectives of Dr Kyle Pruett of Yale Medical School who notes that females and males parent very differently.

If you are at all interested, you can read about his perspectives in this article – Do Children Need a Male and Female Parent? “Need” is probably too strong a concept given the realities. I would say in a perfect world . . . but this isn’t . . . is it ? So adoptions still continue to happen today. They probably always will but reforms in the practice are still possible and adoptees are leading the charge to make reforms possible – keeping genetic and identity information intact – even after an adoption.

Strong male/female influences can be created through other family members such as an aunt or uncle, grandfather or grandmother. In an imperfect world this is a reasonable alternative method of supplying male or female role models in single sex households.

Review – I Am Sam

I learned about this movie from my all things adoption group and I wrote an initial blog on July 19th titled I Am Sam. I promised to come back with a review and last night I actually watched the movie on dvd from Netflix. Sean Penn and Dakota Fanning are both remarkable in their performances for this movie.

It is easy to understand the attraction of this movie to the all things adoption and foster care group because the core story is the lived experience of many members of that group. Not so much having a mentally challenged (ie as the movie says explicitly more than once – retarded) parent but as in the Division of Family and Child Welfare taking a child or children from the parents. In fact, when my sons were young, I did worry that our parenting might be adversely challenged by so do-gooder. Thankfully, my sons are now almost grown (one is already 20 and the other one is 17) and beyond such concerns in our own family. It is also true to the lived experience of so many that foster parents often do eventually want to adopt a child placed in their care. However, the movie is enlightened to the trends now occurring in adoptionland that family reunification and in the case of this movie, an eventual recognition on the part of the parent that he is lacking something (a mother – the child’s mother abandoned the child to the father shortly after birth) brings into the resolution a kind of co-parenting solution that is satisfying to watch (I don’t think that saying this is a spoiler for this movie as the ending leaves as many questions as it answers).

The movie was very progressive for its time in the portrayal of people with a variety of cognitive disabilities. In fact, I recognized that I do know one woman who has effectively lost her children due to just such a challenge. The take-away message for me was how incredibly hard it is parent a child regardless of the circumstances. This is clearly portrayed in the contrasting and yet similar parenting challenges of the main character and his lawyer. Every parent needs support of some kind at some time or other.

In an LA Times review, the writer shares this story – “I’m smart enough to know when I need help, I ask for it,” a 46-year-old mother with a learning disability told me recently. She receives support from a parents-with-special-needs program. If she needs help with parenting skills of any kind, a parent counselor is just a call away. If she feels frustrated, she attends the program’s parents support group.

Also from that LA Times review, In one critical scene of the movie, Sam is questioned by state agency officials about why he thinks he has the ability to be a father. He responds, “It’s about constancy and it’s about patience. And it’s about listening and it’s about pretending to listen when you can’t listen any more, and it’s about love.” In the case of parents with special needs, we must provide the kind of support services that will offer practical help and an ear to listen. Parents with special needs benefit from help with tutoring, after-school activities, transportation, budgeting money and, like every parent in the universe, a little baby-sitting now and then.

The movie helps everyone who watches it to understand “that persons with disabilities have needs and desires just like everyone else,” as the parent with a disability mentioned above explained. “They need to take care of someone and love someone else.”

I Am Sam

I just read about this movie and have added it to our Netflix list – so I can’t personally review it yet. Netflix tells me that “After fathering a child with a homeless woman, Sam (Sean Penn) — a grown man with the mental capacity of a 7-year-old — raises the baby himself until an incident at a birthday party finds the Child Protective Services deeming him an unfit guardian. With the help of yuppie lawyer Michelle Pfeiffer, Sam attempts to regain custody of his daughter and prove that, despite his handicap, he’s a truly loving father.” Certainly, the homeless issue means something to me. And thanks to a growing awareness about the dangers of the Child Protective Services via my all things adoption group, it certainly seems like a movie I should see.

The film’s title is derived from the opening lines “I am Sam / Sam I am” of the book Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss, which is read in the movie. Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times reviewed it positively as a “most inviting and accessible film that turns upon a mental condition that most people would prefer not to think about.” Maybe that is why overall it was not well liked.

The first comment in my all things adoption group was – “oh my god the foster mom is a piece of shit, typical foster parent that just wants to steal the child, it’s so disgusting and sadly it’s so freaking real.” And this – “with the proper support he will 100% be the best father for her.”

Part of it was that they didn’t take the time to understand neurodivergence. How someone interacts with the world through different fandoms. I got everything Sam was trying to say right away because I’m neurodivergent and I love the Beatles. The abled neurotypicals in I Am Sam didn’t even want to try. They just tried to force their model of the world, which in this case, means deeming the disabled parent inferior by default.

Welcome to ableism 101. Even biological parents will do this with their own kids. Hiding illness, limiting contact, and/or stifling relationships. Ableism states that the disabled parent is always inferior, and a burden to their children. A hindrance to “normalcy.”

Someone else wrote this –

I have seen it. It is actually on our state’s list for alternative training for foster parents, which okay but with alternative training you simply fill out a form writing down what you learned and no one like processes or follows up wjth you to point out that people with disabilities have a right to parent and are often preyed upon by Child Protective Services (CPS).

I am usually shocked to learn that most caseworkers in my state are so unfamiliar with any rights for parents with disabilities including the right to an adult advocate. They absolutely can parent successfully, sometimes needing education or support to meet our cultural or white definition of parenting standards. That movie is controversial for many reasons including that a non-disabled actor was chosen to play someone with a disability. And absolutely, the foster parent says what the societal thoughts are that are being held against Sean Penn’s character – that only abled bodied people in mind and body or mental health are deemed capable to parent – so not true. Even convincing the child they “deserve better” than a loving, devoted father simply because he has a disability.

Another person adds the reality check – it’s actually super unrealistic cuz in real life disabled parents never get good legal representation and almost never get their kids back.

And yet another notes – it happens in real life too. CPS targets parents with disabilities and it’s hard for them to get their kids back.

A Belief That Enables

When you make a decision, you make that decision consciously for only 5% maximum, the rest of your decision (95%) is controlled by your subconscious mind. The decision to adopt a child is conscious but there are subconscious factors below that which are influencing or will influence your experience as an adoptive parent. Some couples adopt for the same reason some couples decide to have a biological child – in order to save a marriage by bonding it with a child. Of course, the couples who adopt generally have other factors – most especially an experience with infertility and failed attempts at using reproductive medical assistance to have a child biologically. In other words, many adoptions actually start out on shaky ground to begin with.

So today, I came across something else that is more than a little bit disturbing. I hasten to add a trigger warning at this point for anyone for whom child abuse discussions might be too emotionally upsetting to continue. Having done my due diligence in this regard – you can proceed reading or leave this blog warned and saved the painful recollections.

It is sometimes asked – Why did they adopt just to abuse them. There is an assumption that adoptive parents wouldn’t abuse their adopted children because they went to so much effort to adopt them. All parents are capable of some degree of abuse – even with a great deal of love and often from ignorance or poor examples growing up. Therefore, it is dangerous to put any adoptive parent on a pedestal because sometimes adoptees are abused. It is a sad fact – and sad anytime any child is severely abused by any adult person for that matter. When the abuse starts… the people around them often say: well, those kids are very troubled and acting out. The adoptive parents are doing the best they can. Who can really blame them for doing what they have to do in order to control that child ?

One reason that it doesn’t shock or confuse me that some adoptive parents might harm their adoptees is that I have become aware of how common a trait of narcissism is among adoptive parents. Wanting a child doesn’t mean you’re going to treat them well. Adoption is inherently a selfish act – regardless of what you believe is motivating you. An adoptive parent may expect their adopted child to be compliant with any of their expectations or demands. That parent may lash out at their adoptee when they don’t meet those. Adoptive parents are not exempt from having anger issues and abusive tendencies.

Sometimes this abuse doesn’t begin immediately but when that cute baby becomes a rebellious teen. One adoptee shared her example – my adoptive mother actually said to me when I was 7 yrs old – “We wanted a baby, and you’re not a baby anymore.” That is how she explained they were going to adopt a baby boy.

Abuse is about possession and control. And in a weird, twisted kind of logic many abusers don’t actually think are they abusive. An abusive narcissistic parent may think they are a really good one. Being abusive goes against the savior narrative that so many adoptive parents have accepted as their reason for adopting. Adoption seems to be a process that attracts people who need to feel good about themselves. And once they’ve completed the adoption, they feel effectively immune from criticism because, after all, it was such a “selfless” act to rescue a child in need.

People adopt simply because they want kids. However, they may not actually have any idea of how to raise those children, once they have achieved that primary goal. These kinds of adoptive parents may have difficulty accepting that the child they adopted is an individually separate person with ideas of their own, desires, wants, and needs that do not necessary mirror the adoptive parent. In fact, often don’t While nurturing plays a role in the kind of person we each become – adoptee reunions with their birth parents after they reach maturity often prove – there is more to the genetic influences than many in the adoption industry want society to believe.

Another example comes from an adoptee with an emotionally immature mother – “She wasn’t able to have children and I think she thought a child would fix her. I was adopted at birth. I believe she thought I’d be a mini version of her but when I had my own emotions and interests, she couldn’t handle it. In came the weird emotional games.” It is way too common for adoptive parents to adopt a baby as a way to fix their own issues. It never works that way.

The abuse somehow feeds into these adoptive parents’ need to feel like they are doing something good. They are a “strong” parent and showing these troubled kids “tough love.” And then, there’s always the go-to excuse so many adoptees have hard – They should be grateful. They could have it so much worse. Never say to an adoptee sharing their experience something like – Just because you were abused by your adoptive parents, that’s why you hate adoption. Or sorry you had a bad experience. An experience sounds like a short term event. Adoption is lifelong.

Dismissing any adoptees’ discontent and trauma is victim blaming, also called gaslighting. It is an attempt to control the adoptees’ story in order not to break their happy, little “adoption is rainbows and butterflies” illusion.

How These Things Come To Be

These are NOT the actual children mentioned in today’s story, just a representative photo from google images.

5 1/2 years ago, my now ex husband and I became the permanent legal guardians of now 12 year old twins. My son was a second grader in my class and he and his twin sister lost their single birth mom to cancer. No one else came forward and I couldn’t watch them enter the foster system. I’m battling major guilt for bringing them into a situation that resulted in divorce. My ex put a dead stop to adoption when he (mistakenly) “found out” that the social security money that the twins receive due to the passing of their birth mom would end upon adoption. I was beside myself at the time but there was not much I could do. I am now engaged to a wonderful, doting, natural born father figure and my ex is toxic. What are your thoughts on trying to pursue adoption with my fiancé?

I generally do believe that adoption should be a last resort, as it erases family ties legally. Guardianship is still your best bet. Also try to find their biological family. Genetic mirrors are vital. When we experience a profound transformational loss (as in the death of these twins’ mother from cancer), it’s not only about us. This woman has also experienced a profound transformational loss in the abandonment by and divorce from her former husband.

This is one of the responses – I wouldn’t do it. They are more than halfway to adulthood. This relationship could fail too (hopefully not). You can always do an adult adoption if the kids want that. Kids that age don’t really understand adoption either if you were to ask now. We’re a support system for my son’s younger brother and should he ever need alternative care from his parents I would just stay a guardian and not adopt (as long as the Department of Human Services stays out of the picture). If they get involved, sometimes there’s no choice. But I do second trying to get in contact with biological family. Even if they didn’t come forward it doesn’t mean the love and connection isn’t there. We’re open adoption with my son’s parents and extended family and I’m so thankful he has them. They weren’t approved for him, but they love him.

I agree with this perspective as well – I see no rush to make changes regarding the twins. They have had numerous changes. Focus on the change coming as you add another person to your home…..listening to them as they process it….age 12 is the beginning of many changes for them emotionally, physically, socially. Lots of layers to their lives….I would not add to the layers with adoption stuff.

An interesting perspective emerges from another woman – I read your other posts and comments and see you posted about a lady who adopted embryos and passed away. Is that these children? If so, these kids already have an extra layer of trauma. Hopefully they at least know about their history so far. Why not keep guardianship and find creative ways to save $$$ for them for when they become adults? I feel like the world has already dealt them a crappy hand they had no say in, why not find a way for them to be able to have a good start when they enter life as adults? Put that Supplemental Security Income money aside in a trust fund. This could provide a great start for them to purchase a home or put themselves through schooling. I can’t see a reason to adopt. Why cut off money the twins deserve that could help them build their futures?

The biggest question is if the kids want to be adopted or if they are content as things are. Plus some important questions – What would happen to the kids, if something happened to you? Is there a legally enforceable back up plan for them? Can you achieve one within the permanent guardianship?

Birth Parent National Network

I came across a mention of this organization today – Birth Parent National Network (BPNN). I don’t really know a lot about it but I do know that birth mothers who surrender a child to adoption are often the least supported of the adoption triad. Once the baby is out of their possession, they are often discarded. Sadly.

So, I only share here today, what they say about their own organization.

We are a national network of hundreds of birth parents and organizations working together to strengthen families, communities and systems by engaging the voices of parents. The organization seeks to inform policies and practices that affect children and families. 

Members are said to have a high interest in engaging in policy work and draw upon their life experiences to inform and educate policymakers and other stakeholders. These are people who have experienced parenting challenges or have been at risk of child welfare becoming involved in their affairs or they have been previously involved with the child welfare system.

BPNN Members meet four times a year by webinar for policy updates and information sharing. The BPNN holds an annual virtual convention in December.

BPNN is an outreach of the Children’s Trust Fund Alliance. They are an organization working to help every child and youth in the United States grow up in strong, stable, nurturing families within thriving and prosperous communities. The Children’s Trust Fund Alliance is committed to racial justice and to becoming always more accurately an anti-racist organization. Children’s Trust Fund Alliance, was formerly known as the National Alliance of Children’s Trust and Prevention Funds, is the national membership organization for state children’s trust funds.

So in my state of Missouri there is The Children’s Trust Fund (CTF) which is a foundation for child abuse prevention. CTF was created by the Missouri General Assembly in 1983 as a 501c(3) non-profit organization whose purpose is to prevent and/or alleviate child abuse and neglect. They would be a member of the national alliance.

Whatever Happened To The Village ?

Modern life can be very isolating.  In adoption circles, it is recognized that the reason many parents, and especially single mothers, lose custody of their child is a lack of support – financial, familial and mental health.

It is more difficult for some parents to tap into support than others. Parents who may be new to a particular community; parents who are raising a child with some sort of mental health or behavioral challenge or health concern; parents who are barely scrapping by from pay check to pay check and who may not have the financial resources to sign their kids up for extra-curricular activities that might otherwise bring them into the orbit of other families; parents who are working unpredictable schedules that make it hard to make plans. All those factors can make it extra challenging to find – let alone connect with – your “village.”

If you’re a parent who is finding it hard to find support in your community, start out by looking for that support online.  Online social networking has been a godsend for me because we live a rural wilderness isolated existence.  Therefore, my mom’s group (formed 17 years ago) keeps me in contact with other mothers sharing some unique and similar impacts of daily living.  Our children are all turning 16 this year and our group started as email exchange threads and eventually migrated to Facebook.  Another useful group for me as I discover the effects that rampant adoption has had on my family is a group that is made up of mothers who lost custody, adoptees, former foster care youth and adoptive parents.  This group is especially helpful for unwed mothers considering the surrender of their baby to adoption after birth.

Once you’ve tapped into online support, you may also find groups focused in your own town, city, county or state that bring with them opportunities to create in person relationships in your community. Maybe you can find an online group for parents and kids in your local vicinity – this offers the best of both worlds.  There you may find instantly accessible online support when you’re looking for that.  And advice in the midst of a really bad day (or even longer night!) which every parent faces at times.  You may find in person events, get-togethers that provide opportunities to meet online acquaintances face-to-face.

For many people, that village of yesteryear simply no longer exists.  Happily for many of us, we have discovered that modern technology is allowing us to find a new way.  Even in dire financial emergencies, there are now online methods of fund raising.  In smaller communities, such as the one I live in there are often jars set up near the cash registers of sympathetic businesses to help some local cause.  In community Facebook pages, one can even inquire about jobs or temporary needs for furniture, appliances, clothing etc after an unfortunate event in a family’s life.

All this to say – it is still out there – support for families in need.  It just looks different now.

No Support

I was reading an article this morning about a social networking site known as Urban Baby.

Urban Baby was part of the first wave of confessional Internet women’s writing about parenting, one that occurred in tandem with our society’s withdrawal of support for parents and children, and the simultaneous ratcheting up of expectations of what makes for good mothering. Blogs like Dooce — that’s Heather Armstrong, also known as the “queen of the mommy bloggers” — wrote openly about struggles with postnatal depression, while others took on the challenges of raising a special-needs child.

This new world of parenting was challenging and liberating, but, most importantly, optimistic. There was the almost-always unspoken assumption that the Internet was going to change the world of mothering for the better.

But that did not happen. For all the delights of the mom blogosphere, its members fell into a trap all too common to our time: We might kvetch about our problems jointly, but we struggle, for the most part, alone.

Despite, say, all the online chatter about the struggle to get a child into a “TT” — that’s Urban Baby lingo for top-tier — private or public school, very few connected their struggles to the greater society and economy causing their woes. Rare was the moment on Urban Baby when someone asked why there were so few TT schools — it was simply yet another problem to surmount. That remained true as the mothering blogosphere and forums lost ground to social media, to Instagram posts by neighbors and celebrity influencers alike about the wonderfulness of their parenting lives.

For my part, I belong to a mom’s group that started out connecting only by email and eventually ended up on Facebook.  All of our children are turning 16 years old this year.  We all conceived within that brave new world of reproductive technology.  We have been together since before we knew we were successful.  We met once when the children were two years old at Elmo’s World.  I’m so glad we did.  One of our more outspoken moms died from breast cancer some time ago and it was heart-wrenching.  She was our second loss to cancer.  More than one of our mom’s lost their spouse in one way or another during our time together.  Only the current politics has divided us and that is bittersweet indeed but all of us are trying – to hold onto what unites us and not pick at the wounds of the country that affect us as well.

Yet that ambitious appetite for change was desperately needed, as our current covid-19 world is making all too clear. We are — even in a life-altering pandemic — the only developed country not to offer paid family leave or sick days to all. Nearly a fifth of families with children under the age of 12 are reporting they do not have enough food.

Children have been out of school since March, and for many, there doesn’t appear to be an end in sight, except for more in the way of subpar online classes that need parental supervision. And forget complaining about the high cost of child care: Our decision to leave it almost fully to the free market may well result, according to the Center for American Progress, in the loss of millions of child-care slots. This combination might well turn out to be cataclysmic — not just for children, but for their mothers, who, minus the child care offered by school, might well find themselves permanently exiting the workplace.

On Urban Baby this week there were final goodbyes, one last show of virtual hands for Zip codes, and final reasons they were here before everyone scattered. As one poster pointed out, “UB has been a release valve for all of the pent-up frustration and all of the challenges of modern motherhood.” No doubt. But, ultimately, emotional release is a thin gruel.

Mothers, fathers and their children need more — more help, more support, more resources. This was true before the current crisis, and it’s even more true now. When it comes to the online world of parenting, the biggest failure is not one of organization. It’s that for all their complaints, all too many of the people doing the talking on sites like Urban Baby still believe that they can individually surmount the ever-increasing challenges of American life rather than changing the system that underlies them. Until that mind-set changes, nothing else will.

My thanks to Helaine Olen’s op-ed in The Washington Post (for all of this except my personal comments).