Friday, May 11, 2012

Foster Parent Friday - Introducing Your Children to the Public

Q: How do you introduce or refer to your new foster child when you are out in public? Meaning, when people want to know your relationship to the child, what do you say?

A: Due to requirements around privacy and confidentiality, foster parents usually don’t go advertising their foster children’s status to the public.  This is easy to do when the child has the same ethnic heritage or when there are relatively few children in the family.  It becomes much more difficult when there are many children or when children and parents are of different races.  At that time, foster parents have a variety of creative ways to explain the situation to others – many are snarky.

We have always had children who closely resemble us.  All of our children have been Caucasian.  My husband has green eyes and I have blue eyes – all but 2 of our 10 foster kids have had bright blue eyes like mine.  Ironically, our biological son has my husband’s green eyes even though my eyes are extremely pervasive in my family.  Out of about 50 people, less than 10 didn’t get the blue eyes.  Anyway – because my kids have all had light skin, hair, and eyes that seem to match my husband and I, I don’t really get those kinds of looks or questions from the general public.  Furthermore, I frequently do trips to public places without my husband and so even if my kids didn’t look exactly like mie people don’t say much because they don’t know what my husband looks like.  This does become an issue when I’m out with my niece and nephews – I’ll get to that later.

I most frequently get weird looks or questions about my children in public because there are so many of them and they are all young.  I’ve almost always had 2 or more that appear to be twins even though they are unrelated and that typically draws the “are they twins” question.  With this placement and the last it has appeared as if maybe I have two sets of twins and that REALLY gets people excited.  Beyond that though, people are floored that I have 4 little kids.  Many times I’m out with my 4 and any or all of my sister’s 3 who are older (7, 10, 12) or with friend’s children that I’m watching for a few hours.  Having 4-7 kids is just highly unusual for people to see, I guess, and when I take them out by myself I’m really a rarity.  Inevitably I get lots of questions, which I highly prefer to the stares.  When I went to home depot two weeks ago with my 3 youngest and my friend’s 1 and 3 year old people just stared and stared.  One lady even followed mie around – I think she was trying to see if I was going to beat one of them or if I could keep them all safe at the store.  More than anything people are fascinated and curious. 

The most common comments that begs an answer from mie is whether they are twins or telling mie that I “sure have my hands full!”.  Sometimes people will give complements and tell mie how well I’m handling them but most people are basically telling mie how crazy I am.   

Uncommon Answers:
  • Easy – “No, they’re not twins just close in age” to which they’ll say “Wow!  You sure have your hands full” and to that I always say either “Yep!” or “It’s not so bad”.
  • Snarky  - I have several options:
    • “Nope, they’re 3 months apart” – then I walk away
    • “Yep!  I have 4 kids with 4 different dads!” – then I walk away.
    • “They sure are (twins), all three of them!”

Common Answer: Usually when someone engages with mie about my kids I’ll respond by telling them that we’re foster parents.  This will send them into telling us how great we are, etc., and will distract them from asking more about the kids themselves.  I like this approach the best because it helps mie to get the word out about fostering – showing that we are normal people with normal kids doing normal things, and we’re foster parents so maybe they could be foster parents too.  I’ve had countless conversations with people where I’ve been able to share my blog or other resources with random strangers who are in the process of considering adoption or foster care or who are going through the pain of infertility and they needed a friend to come alongside them at that moment, just because I was willing to be vulnerable.  Using this approach I refrain from pointing out which of my kids are foster children or adopted or biological.  On rare occasions when I feel led I might bring up that we were infertile after having our son and so we point out that he is biological or at least that we have one biological son.  I’ll also rarely talk about our kids cases in very general terms, talking about how all of our foster kids have come to us because of neglect and how reunification is usually the goal but we’ve had the opportunity to adopt before.  Thankfully, most of these conversations stay very surface level so as not to expose our kids in the public as “foster kids”. 

People who see us very frequently like friends, family, church, and a handful of very frequently shopped stores’ staff know that we are foster parents because they see our kids change out from time-to-time.  They know our story because over time we’ve shared it with them and we have a long-standing relationship where we trust with some, but not all, details.  For example, we might share that we got new kids and therefore they know they are foster kids.  Many times they’ll ask if the kids will stay permanently or short-term and we’ll explain if there are relatives waiting to be approved or basics of the case like that but we don’t share specific names or other details related to the case.

I promised to talk about going out with my nephews and niece.  I love doing that.  They happen to have dark hair, dark eyes, and olive skin and it is apparent that either my husband is multi-racial or there is something else going on.  This always makes the situation fun.  Sometimes I’ll be nice and say I’m a foster parent and point out that I have my niece and nephews with mie but other times I choose to have fun. Sometimes I’ll ask them to guess which ones are “mine”.  The truth is that aside from my biological son, my nephews and niece are more blood related to mie than my milky-white, blonde, blue-eyed daughter.  That’s fun.  Then there’s the time I was out to eat with my 4 kids, my sister and her 3 kids, and her neighbor’s 2 sons.  In total there were 2 moms and nine kids, ages 18 months, 18 months, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 11.  We were at a restaurant and not one that had a play-place.  They sectioned us off in the back, as you would expect, and finally the waitress asked if we were babysitting.  We explained that we had 2 extra and my sister pointed out hers.  Then my sister told the waiters “yeah, her kids all have different dads” after she made a comment about how she couldn’t figure out who went with whom.  Her reaction was priceless “aww…that’s not nice”.  I said “It’s true!”.  She just sat there trying to recover herself until my sister pointed out that I’m a foster mom.  It was hilarious!  We had been joking around with her during our stay so it was part of the relationship we had with that waitress, not something I’d do all the time, but needless to say we do have fun with our situation from time-to-time.

My sister recently received her foster care license and is waiting for her first placement.  She and I often take our kids to Costco together, both just she and I or with one (but not both) of our husbands.  We joke around that people must think we’re in a “sister wife” kind of relationship and can’t wait to see how people react when she has foster kids too and our group expands.  

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