August 20, 2012

A "Real" Family

“We don’t really consider him to be a part of your family.”  When my daughter heard those words recently, referring to the foster child who has lived with us for 2 ½ years, she wept bitterly.  And why wouldn’t she?  She, herself, had once been a part of the foster care system before she had been, by God’s grace and providence, adopted into our family.1  What message was this respected adult now communicating to her?  “The only reason we consider you a part of a family now is because a judge signed a document and declared you to be.  Before that day, it didn’t really count.  You didn’t really belong.”

My heart aches and I can’t help but cringe when I hear people, even upright, God-fearing people make comments like that.  You know that feeling when someone makes an unexpected remark, and you have the perfect response?  Three days later?  Here’s what I wish I would had the clarity to articulate at the time:  If we aren’t “really” his family, then who is?  The mother who rarely showed up all those months of his infancy that he spent in the hospital, and who hasn’t seen him at all in almost two years?  The grandmother who will only agree to fill that role if she is financially compensated to do so?  It’s not his fault that he was born into a family who were unable to care for him, only to then be stuck in a flawed system that continues to delay making a permanent decision about his future.  He didn’t ask to be raised in these circumstances, with the title of “foster child” perpetually hanging around his neck.  

And if all the things that mothers do for their child – getting up with him when he’s struggling to breathe in the middle of the night; snuggling with a well-loved book after a bubbly bath and a creamy massage; teaching him the proper way to hold a fork and insisting that he eat his peas before getting dessert; training him to pick up his toys at the end of play-time; hearing the little voice declare, “I love you, Mama!” as I’m preparing his favorite snack – if doing those things don’t qualify me to “really” be his mother, then what does?

August 12, 2012

Teenagers: My Reluctant Calling

Taking in teenagers?  No way!  They are unpredictable, impossible to control, and maybe even dangerous!  I am more than willing to care for babies and toddlers, and I would consider fostering school-age kids, but definitely no teenagers!  Such was my perspective when my husband and I first began our foster parenting journey almost 17 years ago.  And actually, who would have blamed me?  Getting used to being a mother is challenging enough, but at least when you have a baby, you get a chance to become secure in your parenting role as the baby grows and matures through the different stages of childhood.  But to jump right into the parenting experience with a teenager?  That would have been incredibly overwhelming for even the bravest adult!

Okay, so this is, like, so lame!  You would think that after spending most of my 16 years in this stupid foster care system, that changing homes and getting to know different families would be no big deal.  But really, it’s not like it’s getting any easier.  I mean, how am I supposed to even know what to expect any more?  Is this placement going to last just a few months like the last one?  It’s such a bummer that I won’t even get to stay at the same school this time!  And I hate my social worker!  She didn’t even let me say goodbye to my boyfriend!

I first met her at a family event that our agency had planned.  She had recently moved in with a foster mother that I knew, a fairly inexperienced single woman who had agreed to take this difficult-to-place teenager.  When we were introduced, I could tell from the girl’s sullen expression, her arms folded tightly across her chest, and her mumbled responses, that this party was the last place on earth she wanted to be. 
My heart gave a brief flutter of compassion when I learned of her sad life in the foster care system, her birthmother always doing just barely enough to prevent her parental rights from being terminated, but never quite enough to prove she could be responsible for raising her daughter.  

It’s so annoying when people ask me personal questions.  Like I really want to talk about the fact that I’ve never had a permanent family.  Sometimes when I’m by myself I try to remember how many different homes I have been in, but I’ve pretty much lost count.  Maybe 10, but it could have been 12.  Anyway, who cares?!  And I really hate answering questions about my mom.  People always think she’s some loser who couldn’t take care of me, but I know she’s really been trying.  The last time I heard from her she said that she has a new job, so maybe soon I’ll be able to live with her again.  Ugh!  How much longer do I have to listen to these people?  I really wish we could just leave so I can go back to my new room and be left alone.

Despite that small stirring of sympathy I felt for her, I mostly remember thinking how brave that woman was, welcoming this aloof, sulky teen into her home.  Wasn’t it uncomfortable always trying to make conversation with someone who obviously didn’t want to talk?  Thank God I’m not in that situation!  I truly love my little foster kids, and I’m even learning to relax about the tantrums and messes.  I’m just really glad that God has called OTHER people to care for the bigger kids!