The opioid crisis, and it's companion meth and heroin crises, have wreaked havoc on our communities, our families, and most specifically our children. In the school where I teach, I can think of at least three children who have lost a parent to overdose and many, many more who have one or both parents in jail. These children are being raised by grandparents, aunts and uncles, or complete strangers in the foster care system.
These are the children that are lucky. Many more are being brought up in homes where drug and alcohol abuse are the norm, where domestic abuse is common, and where parents frequently change partners, leading to very confusing family connections for the children. The children in these situations often have no real sense of who their families actually are.
One child I observed repeatedly called another girl "Sissy," because she thought of her as her sister. The second girl adamently denied being the first girl's sister. I asked the first girl if she and the second girl had the same mother and/or father. No. Did her mom or dad marry the other girl's mom or dad? No. Why does she think they are sisters? It turns out two of their parents hooked up for a time. The girl refused to believe that this did not make them sisters.
The worst part of this, for me, is realizing how much the first child needed a connection. She desperately wanted to have family, something that seems to have been lost to her. She needed some kind of stability and was willing to latch on to a child who refused her. I can't imagine this desperation.
I wonder what the long-term effects will be for these children. Will they grow up thinking these relationships are the norm? When they are parents, will the behave in the same manner? Who will be the responsible adults in their children's lives, since their grandparents were dysfunctional parents. How can the foster system support more children? What is going to happen to these babies
When Hillary Clinton said it takes a village to raise a child, I doubt she saw the long-term implications of these words. Will those people not dependent on drugs and alcohol be asked to intervene? I have thought of fostering, but the fear of heartbreak paralyzes me. How could I let a child return to a home that may not provide the same level of care? I don't think I could.
I don't know how long people like me (who came from a dysfunctional home, but had excellent secondary family members that provided nurture) will have a choice. Children need love, attention and guidance, as well as food, shelter and clothing. They need someone to be invested in them. With a large part of this generation of parents being lost to their children, I shudder to think what the next generation will be.
We need to be ready.