Not Dead or In Jail: The Role of Outcomes in Family Life

You’re probably thinking I set the bar pretty low.  Yeah.  I guess.  But look, if your kids aren’t dead or in jail, you’ve got something to work with.  Granted this leaves out being maimed, ending up homeless, being pursued by a street gang, and numerous other ills.  All pretty serious outcomes, but none quite as bottom line as dead or in jail.

It’s important to have outcomes.  In my other life, I advise nonprofit organizations on how to establish and measure outcomes.  I encourage them to be realistic, yet ambitious.  I convince them to put numeric targets on their outcomes like this: 85% of first time juvenile offenders will not re-offend within a year – that kind of thing. 

When I started out as a mom by having a baby when I was 24, I never thought twice about outcomes.  I just assumed my little girl would grow up, get educated, be happy, go to college, get married, all that jazz.  And she pretty much did.  But when I became an adoptive mom, somehow my brain got infected with the idea of outcomes and my ‘let it be’ approach to childrearing vanished.  From then on, I was all about results.  Well, more accurately, I was all about worrying about results.  Would they learn enough at school?  Would they be well-adjusted?  Would they go to college?

And then while I was carefully moving my family through some cracked version of a logic model, reality happened.  Special education meetings, suspensions, fights on the bus, fights off the bus, fights through the bus window, middle of the night phone calls, oddly flashing lights in front of our house, doctors, lawyers, helpers, institutions and a lot of Holy Crap.  Of course, they grew out of all this and are decent adults (which is one way of saying that their problems are no longer fun size if you get my drift).

Anyway, in the midst of all this, maybe somebody said to me or maybe I said it to myself in an out of body experience, “But, hey, so things are terrible.  Life sucks. And your beloved adopted children are a mess.  IS ANYBODY DEAD OR IN JAIL?”   And the answer was NO – to both questions.  If nobody’s dead or in jail, man, I can greet the day with a smile.

You think I’m kidding.  But I’m not.

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