Thank you to everyone who gave mie questions to answer. I will answer them soon.
Now that National Foster Care Month is upon us, several blogs and media snippets have struck a chord with mie and I’m left wondering whether our community has two very different personas when dealing with those within and outside of foster/adopt circles. Some of us are pretty transparent when it comes to our blogs and what we share within the community, but I’m starting to believe we are trying to pass off lies to the outside world about what it’s really like to be foster/adopt parents.
Case in point – what is your reaction when someone says “I could never do that” upon finding out you’re a foster/adopt parent?
We have two very different responses to this phrase depending on who our audience is. When we’re talking to each other, we share our frustration about how this makes us feel – how it grates on our nerves because people must assume that while we are cold and heartless, they are too sensitive to risk losing a loved one. I think we feel free to share with each other because we know we have a sympathetic audience and by sharing honestly we’re not going to discourage each other from renewing our license. It’s not like hearing one of my foster/adopt friends tell mie how hard it was to send their recent placement home is going to make mie call up the CW and demand #9 & #10 go home now.
Contrarily, because I *know* a lot of my foster/adopt friends, I doubt we consistently share that frustration with those on the outside (other than what’s shared on our blogs). In other words, when someone says that to my face, I don’t usually respond by yelling expletives and going on a rant about how hard it actually is. Instead, I tend to minimize the painful times and emphasize the positive. When a friend says those words I roll my eyes internally but externally I smile and say something like “I understand, but we’ve found it’s not that hard to let them go but it’s so rewarding that it’s worth it”. We tend to be optimistic, hoping as they leave us they’re going to be in their permanent home, and we begin to look forward to our next placement, so it really hasn’t been that bad. I guess I believe that more people COULD do it if they just tried and I don’t want to discourage them for that reason.
Where I think we fall short is in in talking to prospective foster and/or adoptive parents about everything else about foster parenting/adoption. We are all so passionate about caring for orphans and we fear being misunderstood so I don’t think we share the daily challenges we face. Challenges with the system, challenges with schedules, challenges with behaviors.
Another case in point – How many of you were familiar with RAD before getting your first RADlet? What about ODD? When you were pursuing foster/adopt did anyone (other than the brief mention in PRIDE or MAPP) tell you about what it’s really like dealing with attachment issues and Medicaid and birthparents and everything else?
I’m not blaming anyone here – some things you just have to learn through experience. I also know that we try to defend our kids and their potential by sugarcoating the realities in the system – we don’t want other people to discount what our kids (or those yet to find permanency) are capable of in the future. It's as if we’re fighting against the foster child stereotype – you know the one that says foster children are violent, disrespectful, out of control and generally damaged goods – and in doing so we fail to say that all of our kids display some of these characteristics from time to time because of their history. The truth is foster children struggle to make sense of the world in light of their past – Can they trust? Should they attach? Will they heal? – and as a result we foster parents are not afforded an easy life. We end up parenting differently, using different discipline techniques, carefully choosing activities and therapists and doctors and schools and these differences are not just us being crazy they are essential to giving our children the best chance to heal and live a healthy life in the future.
So no – it isn’t easy. If you plan to foster and/or adopt you cannot expect to have a “normal” parenting experience. Our kids are not all permanently damaged beyond repair, but they do carry scars and those scars hurt. They come to us in various stages of injury (physical and developmental) and in various stages of healing. Some can heal “easily” with the soap and bandage approach provided by a stable, loving family. Others have deeper wounds and less-developed immune systems that later require an entire wound management clinic in the form of residential treatment. Some days are easy and happy and you go to bed smiling. Other days you’re grasping at straws, counting the milliseconds to bed-time, eager for a new day.
And yet we take the next placement – happily, gladly – in anticipation of all the challenge and all the potential the child will bring because at our core we understand the real truth that we need to communicate. How much greater the testimony if we were completely honest. Maybe "outsiders" would see we aren't substantially different than they are and that they too could experience what we have.
It is hard, sometimes uncomfortably, and often WE TOO feel like “we can’t do it” – WE DO IT ANYWAY. Because saying yes is better than the alternative. We know that the little joys we celebrate are worth it – the times when our non-verbal children say their first word or when our RADlet chooses better behavior and ends the rage just a bit more quickly than she usually does. And we know that when we say yes that’s one (or 2 or 3 or 5) more children who have the chance to heal instead of being left on the side of the road of life as damaged goods. We believe that it’s worth it.
It is worth it.
So that is my new truth: WE DO IT ANYWAY.