Thursday, November 13, 2014

Foster Mom Life: "Are You Going to Adopt Him?" and Other Frequently Asked Questions

I am a foster mom.  Some of you may have read the first post about my journey.  Again, I am not an expert.  I am not a seasoned foster mom.  This is just me, a 32 year old Arizona native who has a husband, two rescued cats, three fish that won't die, two sets of fraternal girl twins and a foster son who we have been privileged to raise for the last four months.  I'm writing through the lens of having a long term foster placement who is still an infant.  I write my random thoughts from time to time to bring a little more clarity into my life.

Placing a few sweet kisses on my foster son's kissable face.

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Just existing means you are bound to get a weird comment every now and then.  When my twins were little, four girls ages three and under, I got comments like, "You know how that happens right?!"  Like I literally did not know how babies were made.  Usually I just chalked it up to the fact that the (sorry to single out, but usually men) were sadly just too stupid to understand that their idiotness was coming out of their mouth.

Now that I am a foster mom, I get a lot of comments too.  Most people are merely trying to make small talk, which I for one am not perfect at either, but I find a lot of comments and questions are rooted in the fact that many people do not understand the foster care system.
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"Are you going to adopt him?" is one question I get asked a lot.

I know you ask because you just want what you perceive as a happily ever after, but it isn't so clear cut with foster care.

Fact- not all children in foster care can be adopted.  Each child in state custody has a case plan.  Many have the case plan of reunification.  That means that the goal is to rehabilitate biological parents so that they can have custody of their children again.  Usually case plans do not move to severance (parental rights are severed between child and biological parents) until after a lengthy process in which biological parents have continued to not meet the requirements necessary to care for their child.  After severance, the child is then available for adoption.  This process can take years, dragging biological parents, children, and foster parents through a very painful process. 

Would I love to keep this little man forever?  With all my heart, YES!  However, his case plan is reunification and I will and have done all that I can to help with his plan.  That is my job as a foster parent.  Supporting biological parents means that at times I am praying for their happily ever after, not necessarily mine.  It is one of the most selfless things I have done. 

And it is HARD.  And I'm still not perfect at this selfless bit.  Realistically I have selfish moments where I have to catch my breath when I hear biological mom and dad are doing well because I know it puts a time clock on moments I have to raise my maybe baby, their son. 

Fact - not all foster parents want to adopt.  Does this mean they love the child any less?  No!  Some foster parents are older, may have health issues or other family circumstances in which they do not feel comfortable adopting a child in their care.  They have love to share so they choose to become foster parents.

Fact - many foster parents have wanted to adopt a child, thought they would be able to adopt that child, and had that child placed back with the biological family, never to see or hear from that child again.

Plans change all the time.

Having had past experience with infertility and now being a foster mom, asking the adoption question over and over to a foster mom is kind of like asking a woman who deals with infertility and just went in for yet another round of hormone shots after yet another failed pregnancy test, "So, when are you planning on having children?"

If I knew, I would tell you. 
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"So, what is the deal with his parents?"

I am totally a people watcher.  I love information.  I love being "in the know."  But, try to refrain from asking about the biological family.  Yes, I get it.  You want to know all the details, just like I do. 

Fact:  Even foster parents don't have all the details, and, even if they did, they should not share them with you unless you have a legal right to that information.
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"Well, at least you will get another one."

Did you really just say that?  The love I give may increase as future foster children come into our care, but it won't replace the love I have for this little guy.  
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"How do you not get attached? I would get attached.  I would get so attached I could never give him back."

Have you ever taken your child to get a shot from the doctor?  Did you start asking/telling them, "Are you scared?  I would be scared.  I would be so scared that I could never walk through that door on my own two feet and get that shot."  If you did do that, do you think your child would get nervous about the shot, even if that shot would help him and others?  (No, I'm not getting into an immunization debate.)

This is kind of what it feels like when people tell me they could never give a child back.  Usually I can shrug it off, but sometimes when I hear it too much, I really question my ability to handle this system and I get anxious.  I know being part of this system does bring so many blessings into my life and the lives of the families I deal with,  but do you think I don't already question if I can handle the loss?

Second, maybe it is different/easier for me with an infant who has only known my home as his, but I have formed a mother/son bond with my foster son.

Most foster parents do form a strong bond.  Most get attached and give their heart away.  My maybe baby deserved to come to a home filled with people who would get attached.

Attachment in childhood is vital in order for a child to thrive.  When my foster son is reunified with his parents it will bring me comfort to know we gave him the best we could for the time we had him.  We are literally changing the outcome of his future by giving him time to feel bonded to a family during this crucial stage of brain and body development.

I shutter to think what his life would be like if he went to someone who didn't get attached, or merely became of foster parent because they knew they wouldn't get too attached.  

When my little man goes home I will miss the way he puts his pudgy little hand on my neck to calm himself, or the way he turns to find me when he hears my voice... The smile on his face when I pick him up out of his crib... The way my daughters make a beeline to his side after returning home from school.  I'll miss his giggles, his hair, his smell....even his cries at 4:45 in the morning.

If I was not willing to deal with the loss that comes with reunification, I would not be in foster care and therefore I would not have my foster son in my life.  To me, never having him to make these wonderful memories with him included is worse than a future goodbye.  Before I even met him I loved this little man enough to bring this level of emotion into our lives.

An excerpt from the poem "In Memoriam A.H.H" by Alfred, Lord Tennyson says it all

Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.

Some days I feel that I'm handling the roller coaster, learning to lean with the twists and turns to lessen the queasy feeling.  I find,

Fearing my tomorrow wastes my today.

Foster care has taught me to do better at enjoying each day I am given.  And there are a lot of really good days.

I really do feel an extra blessing of God given peace in my heart and mind that all will be okay.  Whatever comes, I feel I will be given strength to handle it.  But, there are those times that I get pretty fearful of the future.  Some days I end up in a blubbering crying mess on the phone with a sister who I merely called to ask about her day.  

So please don't ask me how I don't get attached.  And don't keep reminding me of the fears I'm trying to keep at  bay.
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Again, I am not perfect.  I know that there are millions of parents out there, trying every day to do their best and provide a good life for the children in their care no matter how uncertain that may be.  Foster parents or not, every parent deals with hard things.

We do get a lot of support and kind words to help us out.  My point of writing this is not to make you fearful of what you can and cannot say to a foster parent.  I'm sure most of us say ignorant things we regret from time to time.  (Please tell me I'm not the only one who says stupid things?!)  But, I do hope to shed some more light on this foster care system so that you can be more informed and a better support to these foster children and their foster families.  As a community, we need our most vulnerable children to feel supported.  Whether you realize it or not, we all have a vested interest in their future.

Love,

Kathryn
Photograph by Brittany Gurr


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