Nate's finalization Nov. 2009

Monday, April 19, 2010

Which ones are yours?

Okay, it is finally time for a post about what NOT to say to a foster parent. Many of these things also crossover for what not to say to an adoptive parent, but for now, we'll focus on fostering. For the most part, I don't get upset when confronted with an ignorant comment. goes back to the intention vs. perception stuff. But seriously, I just want to give the world a lesson somedays. Since this is my only soapbox, here are the things I would teach the world (after teaching them to sing and buying them a Coke, of course).

1. People ask me all the time "which ones are yours?" - meaning which ones are foster children. It is typically asked in front of all my kids. Don't do it. Just don't. It's extremely rude to ALL of my children. Do you realize how that makes them feel? While they are in my home, they are treated like they are my children. If they are in our home as foster children, they already feel like they don't have a place where they belong. We are doing our best to balance their lives between our home and their birth home. They typically (in my experience anyway) want desperately to be a part of a family, and not be set apart from the family they are with. They also remain extremely loyal to their birth family, and don't want to feel pressured to forget them in any way. It is a delicate balancing act, and asking a question like this just reminds them once more that they are different, and not in a quirky, fun sort of way. For my kids that are adopted- it makes them feel like they are not worthy of being called mine because they were adopted. They don't make any distiction between themselves and our foster children, because we as parents don't. My answer to this question is typically "They are all mine, I just didn't give birth to any of them".

genetics are over rated. These are my kids. I am their mom, whether it be forever or for a while.

2. The most common response I hear upon others learning we are foster parents is
"I could never do that, I'd get too attached"
or " " " " I couldn't give them back"
or " " " " it would be too hard" "it would break my heart" etc...

Do you seriously think we have steeled our hearts so we don't get attached? Of COURSE we get attached. I mourn each child that leaves. I cry. I pout. I rant abou the unfairness of the system. and then we turn around and do it again. Why? because it's not about me. A child- an innocent child, needs a home. sometimes for a few days, sometimes for a few months, sometimes for a few years. And MOST of the time, they go back home. You are not given a choice about this. You can't just keep them because you WANT to. You have to give them back. It IS hard. It DOES break my heart. Every. Single. Time. Somebody asked me once if I ever got used to the heartache. Nope. I hope I never do. If we get used to it, it is time to stop. The boy we had the longest before going home was here for 7 months. I'll call him little T. He was actually placed with us as a "tentative" adoptive placement. He'd been in foster care in another placement since his birth, and came to us around 6 months of age. The birth parents were non-compliant with the case plan, and the case worker was going to ask for severance. That was a wake-up call for his birth mom, who started doing what was needed to have little T (and his 4 older siblings) come home. As devastating as it was to pack up all of little T's things, and put him in the caseworker's van, we are so thankful for the time we had with him. And it felt good to be a part of putting his family back together again. I sent him with a billion pictures and a 5 page letter to his mom, describing all his milestones and accomplishments while at my house, and gave her all our contact info. Amazingly, his mom called me after he'd been back home for about 6 months to let us know how he was doing. This is NOT typical, but I am so thrilled to still get occassional updates and pictures of our little man. So my advice to anyone considering fostering... or even adopting, is to NOT make the birth parents the enemy. In a perfect world, you all work together to do what is best for the child. It doesn't always work out that way, but sometimes it does. We choose hope most days. Sending them back home IS what you signed up for as a foster parent. like it or not. Just think of the story of the little red hen. If we don't do it, who will?
And for the record, we don't think everyone could or should be foster parents. It's not easy. It's not for everyone. Only you can decide what's best for your entire family, and hopefully you make it a matter of prayer. I do wish more people would at least put aside their fears of the unknown and at least consider it. Maybe give it a shot. I always tell my 7 year old that it is okay to fail, but it isn't okay to just not try.

3. "Will you get to adopt them?" - The short answer is No. That is not why we foster. It is not a means to an end for us. There are Fost/adopt families. Those are families that take foster children that have already had their parental rights severed. Sometimes the kiddos are "legal risk" placements, meaning their parental right have NOT been severed yet, but they are expected to be. But we are just regular ole foster parents. MOST children in foster care are eventually returned to their birth parents, or end up in a relative placement. IF the children in our care become available for adoption, we are an adoptive family as well, So we jump at the chance to adopt them if we can. But we say all the time "it's not over 'til it's over". Even if they become available for adoption, it is not a given that we would be able to adopt them. Sometimes a long lost relative will step forward, or the judge will decide a different placement is best (not all foster families even want to adopt).

4. "Why are they in care? is it drugs?" Please don't be offended when I tell you that it is none of your business. I'll try to say it in a nicer way than that, really! Our foster children have a right to privacy (the same reason I don't post their names or pictures). That information is on a strictly "need to know" basis, and there are very few people that need to know. However, once I went overboard with my "need to know" rules. I had a friend watch a little guy for me that had been drug exposed and still had occassional tremors. I forgot to mention the tremors, because they weren't anything to worry about. She didn't know that. She thought he was having seizures. So, even though his drug exposure wasn't necessary for her to know, the fact that he was having tremors would have been helpful so she wouldn't have worried so much. Thankfully she was able to reach me before she called an ambulance.

5. "You are so special/ a saint/ wonderful for doing this." Okay, stop. seriously, just stop. It makes us uncomfortable. We are not wonderful/ fantastic/ special for doing this. We do it for so many reasons, but none of those reasons are the kudos we get from our peers. We don't feel superior to you in any way. You don't have to feel guilty for not doing what we do. We recognize this is not an easy path, and not for everyone. That doesn't make us better that you, just different than you. And different is good. it is neccessary. However, we love what we do, so we will talk about it. We will express how much we wish there were more good families that would step up to foster kids (there are still WAY too many group homes/ crisis centers, not enough foster families). That is not some underhanded comment on how we think YOU should do it. That is between you, your family, and God. Mostly, we do it because we love kids. We even love the chaos that follows any new placement in our home. We know that even though the foster care system is maddeningly frustrating and far from perfect, it is FAR SUPERIOR to the alternatives.
a few of the alternatives:
-staying in an abusive/ neglectful/ unsafe environment
-going to a group home/ shelter/ crisis center
-going back to the "old days" of children's homes/ institutions where they are warehoused. Most of the rest of the world still uses this option. Trust me. the foster care system is better.
I've had people cite the broken foster care system as their reason for not getting involved. If something is broken, it won't get fixed by your refusal to help fix it. Be a part of the solution.

6. "did you hear about..." some sordid story on the news about something horrible a foster family did to one of their foster children. Blah, blah, blah. All that is EVER shown on TV, whether it be the local news, or the latest episode of Law & Order, is the negative. I am so weary of all the bad press foster parents get, portraying us all as money grubbing, child abusing, psychopathic pedophiles who foster for all the wrong reasons. The vast majority of foster parents are good, honest, hard working families trying to make a difference in the life of a child. Every foster parent I've ever met is doing their best to PARENT a child they didn't give birth to, trying to figure out how to help a child whose brain has been compromised by drugs/ alcohol consumed in utero, trying to help them overcome the effects of various abuses and neglect, helping them work past feelings of abandonment, advocating for them in school, trying to teach a 2 year old that MOMMY pours the cereal and milk in the bowl, because they should be too young to do it, but learned how to out of necessity, and trying to teach a 6 year old that it's okay to be a kid first. So give us a break.

7. "Is it worth it?" yes. yes. yes. yes. YES!!! "Have you thought of the effect this will have on your kids?" yes. of course. But do you know what I see happening to my kids? Yes, they get heartbroken when kids leave too (My Luke still asks about little T on a weekly basis, and T hasn't lived here for about a year and a half). But they are so kind to other children. They worry about feelings. They are empathetic to the suffering of others. They can't stand to think that there are children in this world without a safe place, or without a family. Luke constantly requests that we go find "summore" kids without a family and bring them to our house. And don't you dare tell my kids that the kids we foster aren't "real" siblings. They love unconditionally. So much so, that I frequently get requests to adopt their best friends. The fact that their friends already live in a stable, loving environment with their own parents does not deter my kids in anyway from thinking they belong in our family. THIS is the effect it is having on our kids. They know that sometimes kids don't come to stay. sometimes, we just can't adopt them. We usually blame it on "the judge". Mostly, in order to explain it in a way that even our 4 year old can understand, we tell them the kids are here while their parents work on some "things" and when the parents "get better", the kids can go back home. Our kids are still at an age where we can be wonderfully vague. We emphasize that we'll always love them and miss them, but they need to go back home so their birth family can be together again. We keep pictures up of all they munchkins we have ever fostered, and the kids like that they can look at the pictures and remember the "brother that used to be". Our current 8 year old foster daughter (we typically just call her daughter, but for the sake of explanation we sometimes have to add the 'foster') is fascinated by the pictures. right now, because they (the 8 year old and her 18 month old little sister) live in our house, their big 8x10 picture is up right next to the rest of the kids' pictures. Then we have a frame with several 4x6 openings where we keep pictures of those that have come and gone. She asks me if we'll put her picture there when she is gone. I assure her we will, and she feels comforted knowing that we will never, ever forget her. Her time here counted. She was somebody here. She was not a cipher. She was not a lowly foster child. She was a beloved daughter. When she goes home, we'll write her a long letter too. We'll send lots of photos and all our contact info. And then we'll pray that somewhere along the way, we'll hear about how she is doing, and if us teaching her about family, about God, about love made a difference in her life. And if we never hear, we just hope.

Before we became foster parents, Scott and I made it a matter of much prayer and fasting. We didn't have any children at the time, and it was a little scary to think about parenting a child with "issues". But we felt an overhwhelming "YES" when we questioned the Lord if we should do this crazy thing. And then almost immediately into my head popped my own little version of The Cat in the Hat Comes Back.
Somebody, somebody has to you see,
then HE picked out two somebodies,
Scotty and me.

Of the 9 children we have fostered, we have 2 of them still currently with us (for 15 months now), 5 have gone back to their family, and we were blessed enough to adopt 2. And our decision to be foster parents has opened up SO many other doors to adoption. It has been an amazing journey.
The first 2 boys we fostered are the 2 we were able to adopt
our next son was adopted (due to a miracle- or a series of miracles)from the same agency, but was not a foster placement, strictly adoption.
One adopted from an agency in Illinois
one private adoption (from disruption)
and one adoption from another state's (Texas) foster care.

We love it. We look forward to years and years of being foster parents. I hope I don't get jaded. I hope I don't ever refuse to get attached. I hope I have the strength (mental, spiritual) to do this for a long time. All I know for sure is that right now, it is the right thing for us.
Have I told you anything useful?

Luke the Belly Popper

Spread the Word to End the Word