Here's a question I think about a lot as a foster parent in reflecting on the responsibilities given to birth parents by the court or caseworkers. Is trying enough?
I'm trying to make it on time every week. I'm trying to remember the dates of all these appointments. I'm trying to finish up the paperwork.
Yoda would say no. We all remember his declaration: "Do or do not; there is no try." But is that the truth? Shouldn't effort count? Does it count even if the result is failure?
I'm not perfect. I'm late sometimes. I forget to wash the favorite shirt before Monday. I forget dessert in the lunch box. I forget to call my mom on her birthday (or did before Facebook started reminding me).
When you miss the soccer goal, effort counts. When you study hard and gets a C, effort counts. When you meant to remember the insulin injection but instead your son goes into diabetic shock, no. When you tried to remember that the baby was asleep in the car seat, but shopped for an hour alone, no.
Obviously, there is a line when effort moves from "that's ok, good try" into "somebody's hurt" territory. But there's a lot of middle ground there. Does only physical danger count? What about emotional stress? What about when irresponsibility makes more work for someone else?
Ellen DeGeneres has a wonderful bit about the classic, lame "traffic" excuse people offer. Her bit goes something like: You're sitting at lunch with a group of friends and the final lunch buddy walks up fifteen minutes late (as usual) and says, "Boy, sorry I'm late, but traffic was terrible." Her hilarious response has resonated with me lately: "Really? How do you think the rest of us got here? Helicoptered in?"
In my limited experience thus far as a foster parent, it seems the court system and social workers place an enormous value on trying. Or even just saying that you're trying.
Counterpoint: Maybe there's not a fair difference between trying and saying you're trying... I could walk up to a truck and place my hand against it and grunt and turn my face purple while saying I'm trying to push it, and you could walk up to the same truck and really try to push it and still have the same result of the truck not moving. How could anyone else fairly judge if I'm lying to them -- and maybe to myself -- that this is the best I can do?
So... where's the line? When is trying enough? When does "saying" vs. actually "doing" matter? When can a judge or a caseworker actually say, "These circumstances are not beyond your control. You must act differently."
The system would say the line is safety, but that is nebulous to define. Just staying alive isn't safe. Children die in car accidents where the parent driving them was a wise, defensive driver, and others are resilient despite the worst of home circumstances in which they are constantly unattended or exposed to dangerous hazards.
I don't want to be the one to draw the line.
I'm grateful to not be the decision-maker in these cases. So much is riding on a caseworker's actions or on a judge's decision: a child's future! Honestly, it isn't fair for me to judge the judgment. So, rather than say, here's the line, and point to the arbitrary place where I believe is "enough is enough," I wrestle with the question... Is "trying" enough?