Yesterday I went to Court and was awarded Guardianship of my son. This is something I’ve been at war with myself about since my wife passed, and even now I feel unsettled about having gone through with it.
I’m clear in my heart and mind about doing what’s best for him, but I’m less clear on my “right” to make this decision – just because I’m his parent. If we were to be completely honest, I think most – if not all – parents of teenagers would admit they have no clue what their son(s) or daughter(s) are doing when they (the parents) aren’t around. Sure, they trust them to do what’s right; but they can’t stop them from making poor decisions – it’s part of the process of becoming an adult.
As much as I wish otherwise, my son wouldn’t learn from similar poor decisions – his cognitive ability (as tested by 3rd parties) isn’t up to the task. So I need to put safeguards in place to protect him. As an added “bonus”, these safeguards will make it easier to keep him on my health insurance, survivor benefit plan and VA benefits. All great things – I agree.
So what is my issue with Guardianship? It seemed almost too easy. Yes, I hired an attorney who knew what he was doing, and I really appreciate the way he debated my points about Guardianship rather than trying to force it down my throat. And yes, my son was appointed an attorney, by the courts, who came out and made her own assessment. So I don’t mean easy like checking a box and it was done.
But where were the discussions about what it means to become a Ward of the State (if I hadn’t brought them up)? I’m my son’s Court appointed Guardian, but he is ultimately now a Ward of the State – when I’m gone the Court’s have the right, and responsibility, to appoint a new Guardian. Unless my son can prove he is no longer incapacitated.
Guardians can allow their charges to vote, and have every other civil liberty we are all entitled to – but they don’t have to. And this is the crux of the issue, at least for me. In my son’s case, supported decision making wasn’t an option; at least not right now. But it could be for so many others, and I’m concerned it’s not getting enough publicity. And I’m also concerned parents, who don’t know any better, are being pressured to apply for Guardianship because it’s the tool that everyone knows.
My hope is more people will share what supported decision making is, and be willing to partake as a team member. Think of the people you rely on when faced with challenges, doesn’t make you any less of a person. In fact, it could be argued you are who you are because of those around you – so why shouldn’t individuals who happen to have disabilities have the same opportunities? Guardianship shouldn’t go away, in some cases (like mine) it really is the best answer. But it’s not the only answer.