May 1, 2012

Where are the Lifeboats?

The sun shone brightly overhead, lending warmth to the chilly spring day.  The excitement in the air was palpable, as passengers leaned over the deck railings and waved farewell to friends and loved ones on shore.  The lively music from the band on board, the streamers zigzagging through the air, and the prim and proper crew members liberally offering champagne were all evidence of the celebration that this moment deserved: after four years of designing, building, fitting, and trial runs, the ship was finally embarking on her maiden voyage.

Some of the passengers had waited their entire lives for this amazing opportunity, saving their hard-earned wages, reading up on tour books and collecting travel brochures, and dreaming of the adventure that lay ahead.  Perhaps a few were seasoned travelers, having made several similar voyages in the past, and although there was no denying the joyous occasion, their enthusiasm was balanced with a dose of reality.   There may have even been some who felt anxiety and trepidation about the impending passage, unsure of how susceptible they are to seasickness, or how the unfamiliar food will taste, or what unknown dangers lay in the middle of the ocean when no land is in sight.   But whoever they were and whatever their personal thoughts and emotions at that particular moment, once the ocean-liner left the dock, they knew that there would be no turning back.

The birth of a newborn baby into a family is generally a joyous occasion, often celebrated, not only by the mother and father themselves, but together with friends, families, and loved ones.  It marks the beginning of an adventurous journey!  Some parents have eagerly awaited this moment with careful planning and preparation by reading parenting books or taking classes, and decorating the new baby’s room.  Other parents may be hesitant and anxious about their new role, not quite sure what to expect in the months and years ahead.  There may even be some who have stumbled upon this moment unintentionally, but instead of choosing other options like abortion or adoption, they resolve to embark on this excursion with courage and optimism.  But regardless of their individual situations and attitudes, one thing is certain: the addition of a child into one’s family is an irrevocable, life-changing moment.

Everything was smooth sailing for the first several days into the voyage, the passengers enjoying themselves and beginning to feel comfortably at home.  Even those who were initially reluctant to embark on this journey were mostly likely asking themselves, “What was I ever afraid of?”  Anyone who was outside that night would have noticed the beautiful moon reflecting off of the dark water.  Inside, amidst the sparkling chandeliers and ornate decorations, the impeccably dressed passengers never suspected the danger that loomed just under the surface.  

Most people enter a relationship full of optimism, and babies are proof that the man and woman loved each other, even if only for a brief time.  It’s a wonderful feeling to fall madly in love with someone.  Personality differences are overlooked, parents’ and friends’ warnings go unheeded, and the only thing that matters is spending every waking minute with the person you love.  It’s almost impossible to imagine that anything could ever go wrong.  

An unwise decision here, a miscalculation there.  A foolish disregard for the telegraphed warnings.  Suddenly, wholly unexpectedly, the unthinkable happened.  The vessel had hit an iceberg.  Water poured in and was rapidly rising, and it became apparent that nothing could be done to remedy the disastrous situation.  It was obvious that the ship was going to sink.

Once a baby enters the family, the tranquil waters suddenly become a little less calm.  Sleepless nights tend to make even cheerful people quite irritable; endless crying tries patience to the limit; financial worries are escalated with the added expense of diapers, formula and clothing; and any weaknesses and imperfections in the relationship become magnified.  Many, many couples are able to weather the storm, and ultimately arrive on the other side, weary, slightly bruised perhaps, but intact.

Sadly, however, some families are not so fortunate.  The small leaks and structural defects in their relationship are simply not capable of withstanding the battering winds and maritime hazards.  Jobs and financial security are lost.  Frustration at minor annoyances becomes violent, uncontrollable rage.  Occasional partying becomes a strangling addiction.  The children onboard are no longer safe.  The family that began with such hope and promise isn’t able to stay the course.  They are going to sink.

What made the shipwreck so heartbreaking?   Due to carelessness and improper planning, there weren’t enough lifeboats for everyone.  The lifeboats that were available were carefully lowered into the water and safely rowed away.  Unbelievably, they were less than half-full.  Of the more than 2,227 passengers and crew members on board that night, only 705 survived.1  What a senseless tragedy!

From the advantage of hindsight, we may say judgmentally, “I never would have left people behind.  I would have fit as many people as possible into my lifeboat.”  And yet, every day people say things like, “I’ve thought of becoming a foster parent, but maybe after I’ve had kids of my own first.”  Or, “Maybe some day when my own kids are older, or when my schedule isn’t so busy, or when . . .”  Unfortunately, it becomes natural, as time goes by, for those sentiments to become, “I’ve worked hard raising my own kids; now it’s time to enjoy life for myself.”  Every time we think and say things like that, we demonstrate that we are no different than the upper class passengers who refused to make room in their lifeboat, to be temporarily uncomfortable and inconvenienced.

As families today are sinking beneath the weight of their problems, the innocent children whose parents can no longer provide stability for them are in desperate need of “lifeboats”, of foster families who are willing to rescue them.  Just as lifeboats are meant to provide temporary safety in an emergency situation, so the foster system was created to offer short-term care for children in need.
Of course, there are other emergency responders whose roles are every bit as critical in lives of parents and children whose families are facing a crisis:  social workers, medical and mental health professionals, and clergy.  They are quick to arrive on the scene, tirelessly and compassionately offering their skilled assistance.  Sometimes all the birth families really need is some help reinforcing their structure and repairing some leaks, before being able to be reunified and continue on their voyage.  

Other times, when the original ship is irreparably damaged and beyond repair, adoptive parents eagerly, unselfishly welcome the innocent children on board their own vessels, tenderly healing wounds, calming fears and offering reassurance, protection and safety.
But who will temporarily save these children from the perilous waters while the damaged craft of the birth family is being restored or while awaiting the arrival of the adoptive parents?  It’s the lifeboats – the foster parents – that are so essential in providing the urgently needed refuge.

Just like the actual lifeboats that are carefully crafted and outfitted, inspected according to safety standards and approved by the appropriate authorities, so foster parents are trained and prepared, licensed and settled into place for when they are needed.  It’s not necessarily an easy process, and it’s certainly not glamorous.  Does anyone truly love applications, paperwork, and home studies?  But it is an important procedure that ensures that the “lifeboat” is properly equipped in the event of a critical situation. 

Indeed, opening up your home to someone else’s child may be inconvenient or uncomfortable, and it most likely will require quite a bit of personal sacrifice.  However, when a family in crisis sends out an S.O.S.; when the children on board need a secure shelter from the storm; when the cry is heard, “Where are the lifeboats?” what will be the response?  May we be able and willing to call out, “Here I am!”  May we be prepared and eager to scoot over a few inches, make a little room, reach out our hand and say, “Welcome aboard!”


No comments:

Post a Comment