– Jack’s father is not in the picture; no one has provided details of the father re. providing any support towards Jack.
– Jack’s grandparents cannot take him in.
– They don’t know Jack very well, besides through church interactions.
– Jack’s mother is in hospice and doesn’t have much time.
– They don’t know if there’s a will or power of attorney.
– They don’t know if there’s any other family involved.
My in-laws are loving, kind people who are well-known in their small hometown. They’re a part of a very large out-of-state business, which puts them in a top bracket of earners in a state and town whose populations hover near the poverty line. They have the money to take care of Jack, but they must travel several weeks a month out of state and out of country for business. Everyone in their town knows that they travel consistently and have offered to take Jack in while they’re on the road.
I haven’t brought up my concerns with my husband nor voiced them to my in-laws, but I am more than a little worried that this is suddenly coming out of the blue and worried because:
– They don’t know Jack besides from church, and there’s no close kinship with his family.
– There’s no background on his family and who would have legal guardianship over him.
– Jack is already living with my in-laws.
– There’s been no talk of lawyers or paperwork or, when Jack’s mother dies, what’s going to happen.
– Although this teen is going to be traumatized when his mother does die, there’s been no mention of scheduling therapy for him while, instead, passing him between different families while the in-laws are traveling will probably make his situation even worse.
– Everything just seems off: I know this will reflect badly on me, but my gut is telling me that Jack asked my in-laws to adopt him because he knows they’re fairly wealthy and never home. They’ve already planned out vacations with him and have bought him game stations and other toys to keep him occupied.
I want to be supportive, my husband wants to be supportive, and we’ve already made plans for spring break for everyone including Jack to come visit as we live several states away. But, something is nagging at me. My primary question are: What do my in-laws need to do or look for to take Jack in? What can we do to be supportive? Is there any way to get over my gut feeling, and do I even have the right to assume that something is fishy? Everything is just so sudden. — Feeling Skeptical
I reached out to our resident family attorney, Guy Friday, about your questions, and this is what he had to say:
I want to begin by validating your concerns, because I can tell immediately from reading this letter that you love your in-laws and are torn between being proud of their compassion and willingness to help and scared that their compassion is blinding them to ulterior motives by Jack, and you feel guilty about that. It’s OK to feel concern about the well-being of people you love, especially with how sudden this is. My overarching advice to you, which I’ll elaborate on as we go, is that, absent evidence of his suddenly sliding into their will or draining their accounts, you should withhold negative judgment of any kind at least until everyone visits for spring break (which, to be fair, is only six to eight weeks from now, so it’s not like it’s a long time.)
First, I can tell you that what’s going on here is significantly more prevalent than most people realize, especially in poorer communities. For as much as people somewhat satirize the Andy Griffith/Mayberry small-town environment, there are large swaths of the country in which people take in their neighbors going through hard times without a second thought because that’s just what you’re supposed to do. I don’t mean to make a racial point, but you see this a lot in high school and college sports with young black teens with struggling or absent parents being taken in by coaches or community members, and many times no formal guardianship or adoption process ever really takes place until years later, if at all, because no one thinks to get the courts involved when there aren’t any issues. This concept is even more prevalent in communities connected by a religious centerpiece, particularly churches, because most Judeo-Christian sects that I know of preach something similar to Matthew Chapters 5-7 (i.e., “the Sermon on the Mount”) in which they are taught to do good deeds for the sake of the good you do for others rather than for any recognition. So the offer of a home for him — and others’ offers to watch him while they’re gone — doesn’t seem inherently implausible or even dangerous to him in my opinion. And taking him in immediately instead of waiting for his mother to pass makes a lot of sense as well because to have to sit and wait for the inevitable in hospice (assuming they’d even let him stay with her)…I mean, that’s a horror no kid should have to deal with.
But let’s turn to Jack for a moment, and let’s assume he isn’t a grifter and that everything you’ve heard about him thus far is 100% true. You are concerned that Jack chose your in-laws primarily because they are wealthy, and I’m inclined to agree with you. Where we differ is the implied end of that sentence; you would end it with “…and so he can live with luxury”, whereas I would end it with “…because he thinks they’re the least likely to have their lives disrupted by the extra expense.” You mention that the community is at poverty-level, and your in-laws are well known as loving, caring, compassionate people. This is a 15-year-old we’re talking about, not an adult, and a 15-year-old whose father is gone, whose mother is dying (and who has probably had to be the caregiver and mature faster than he should have), whose grandparents can’t care for him, and who, quite frankly, probably is just trying to figure out how to survive. I can’t imagine the level of courage he had to work up in a small town where everyone knows everyone else to effectively come to ANYONE hat in hand to ask for this big a favor. So if you were in his shoes, would you feel less guilty about asking the family of four who is struggling to make ends meet or the older charitable couple with no children at home who have a successful and profitable company?
And this brings me to my next point: There’s a perception of fostered/adopted kids that they’re going to be like starving people at an all-you-can-eat-buffet, devouring as much as they can and FAR more than they need. And I don’t mean that as a criticism of you; I absolutely thought the same thing at the start of my career taking these kinds of cases, because how can you be surprised at kids going a little overboard when they go from having nothing to having everything? But in the almost eight years I’ve been doing this, I’ve discovered that while it may START like that for the first week or month while they test boundaries and see if the kindness has some ulterior motives, the reality is that the one thing most of these kids want more than anything else is stability. All they know is having their world turned upside down, and so when they realize that they can make mistakes or fail at things and, you know, still have a home to come home to at the end of the day, they are generally willing to follow the rules of the home to keep that home there for them. You mentioned that your in-laws bought Jack a bunch of game systems and whatnot, but do you know whether they offered to do this or he asked for it? Because based on how you described your in-laws, I wouldn’t be entirely surprised if they offered and he accepted (because what 15-year-old WOULDN’T want a brand new game system?)
I didn’t notice any comments about how they raised your husband, which I assume means you don’t object to their parenting style or moral viewpoints. I don’t know if they’ve discussed with you what ground rules they’ve set for Jack and you didn’t mention it, but one would assume they went into this eyes wide open and plan to treat him as if he were one of their children, with the same rewards and obligations they would have had with your husband. I’d assume he’d be responsible for some chores, doing his homework, and being a good kid in general, and I’d assume Jack is more than happy to accept this in return for that stability and certainty. And I think there’s good evidence that your in-laws aren’t being naive: They’re aware of the probate and guardianship concerns that might need to be addressed, and, if they’re successful business people, one would think they’ve probably already contacted a lawyer to run through some of these scenarios. And while I appreciate your concern about the trauma Jack will face at his mother’s passing, the fact that they haven’t discussed therapy with him doesn’t mean they haven’t considered it; it may mean that they’re waiting to see what method of grieving Jack follows. For some, therapy is a great resource; for others, prayer and faith bring peace; still others just need to be surrounded by loving people who will listen when it’s needed.
Bottom line: Just as it’s a lot for you and your husband to process and have answers for, so too is it likely a lot to process for your in-laws. But if I were in their shoes, I could absolutely see myself taking Jack in to make sure that, short-term, he’s taken care of while they help him work the long-term issues out. If he only stays for a few months and then ends up living with family members, then your parents did a good deed. If he ends up staying longer and is formally adopted, then it means he’s found a new family that hasn’t turned its back on him like his old family might have. But in six to eight weeks, you’re going to be meeting him, and I’d suggest going in without preconceived notions and getting to know him as a person. You seem like the kind of person who WANTS to give this kid the benefit of the doubt; let yourself do that. If you still have concerns about him after the trip, you’ll at least be able to more concretely discuss them with your in-laws. But you may come away from it the same way your in-laws seem to: being drawn to a good kid in a rotten situation who just wants to be part of a family. And if that happens, that’s amazing, because then you’ve gained more people whose friendship you can enjoy, and Lord knows we could all use plenty of those kinds of people these days!
I wish you the best of luck. Feel free to reach out to me further (here, or ask Wendy for my e-mail directly) if you have more questions.
Thank you for the thoughtful, compassionate advice, Guy Friday!!
If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at firstname.lastname@example.org.