Wednesday, March 13, 2013

When idealism crashes with reality and cynicism.

Today I read an article posted online about a terrible day of a professional I hired in 2007 to be a family teacher in a group home for troubled teens and the lessons she learned through enduring the abuse I hired her to endure.

I feel so sad that all she posted about living in the group home for a year was one of the worst experiences of dozens of really tough incidents in comparison to the hundreds or even thousands of joyous times we had all endured while serving a group home for ten years. 

When I discovered live-in family-style group homes just after graduating from college, I knew this was for me and was my mission to change teens lives and be able to raise my son at the same time. I was a hopeless romantic, and was always watching out for my mission to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ. Through opening up this home, I thought I'd be able to change the world, financially support our family, and be home with my two children. I was excited to be a part of something bigger; helping at-risk children live a better life. I knew the challenges would be tough, and I knew they would be scary and uneasy at times, but I believed in the power of change, and the great need we have for skilled adults to care for at-risk children.
I opened up this home at the age of twenty four; just eleven months after my husband was admitted to Duke University Medical School.  As a young mom and recent college graduate in humanities, I ached for an opportunity to stay home with my son and help raise at-risk kids.  The day this group home opened,  my husband was at school all day, and my 3 year old son was home with me, while I was 8 months pregnant with my second child.

My idealism crashed with reality the very first day we opened this group home with two youth admitted into the home that day.  One was sixteen, and the other was ten.  My husband had worked all day in medical school, and came home to this new second job of supporting me in this huge venture.  After a very long day, eight months pregnant, and taking care of my three year old son, at bedtime, I told my husband that our home was not a home for children with developmental disabilities, and that the ten year old child was mistakenly placed in our home.  I cried to my husband that night saying that perhaps I'd made a big mistake, and that this job would be too challenging.  My husband wisely told me to give it more time, and we'd have this conversation in a few weeks.  That conversation happened many more times on this mission, but we continued, because of the positive times and the wonderful changes we did witness.  If I had focused only on the traumatic events, I might have missed the opportunity to serve what has now been dozens of children.

Ten years went by and we had two group homes, a therapeutic foster care program, and three children of our own.  After five years living in a group home with my husband and two children, we hired couples to take our place, but these couples struggled and often left feeling like we'd abused them by hiring them and letting them get exposed to troubled teens.  The struggles I had endured while living in the home were somehow underestimated in their trauma, as I truly believed it was my mission to endure the struggles, and somehow grow from them.  Our cynical society would have called that enduring abuse, but with at-risk children, they really struggle with how to treat their caretakers with respect and love, and without idealists to teach them alternatives, who will teach these children?

I'm more of a realist and cynic today, but comments like these haven't completely killed the optimist and idealist in me.  When people I've hired write articles like the one above, I'm thankful for the lessons she learned in therapy, but it hurts that this is all she felt to write about her life in the group home.  I hate the idea that I hurt someone by hiring them to care for at-risk kids.  It's comments like these that further may further destroy the optimist and idealist in my spirit.  I think I'll write a book about this season of our life and I think it would make a wonderful movie.  But, that would be the optimist in me.  I'm concede to be an optimist at rest I guess.

"'What is a hero?' Some would say that a hero is someone who commits a courageous action without considering the consequences--a soldier who crawls out of a foxhole to drag an injured buddy to safety. And I also meant individuals who are slightly larger than life: Houdini and Lindbergh, John Wayne, JFK, and Joe DiMaggio.

My definition is of a hero is completely different. I think a hero is an ordinary individual who finds strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles. Sometimes the hero is in the person who willingly chooses to sacrifice for love.  If it wasn't for something better, it would just be torture, but what makes it sacrifice is when it's willingly given in love a cost to himself.  That said, moderation in all things, and following my heart has led me to knowing when to sacrifice, and when to let it go.