Friday, March 4, 2011

Attention Friends and Family: We've signed you up for heartbreak!!

One of the issues I've been dealing with during this time of transition is trying to care for the emotions of our family members and close friends. I am seeing how our decision to become foster parents is effecting the people who love us. A strong support system is vital to staying healthy as foster parents. Being in that support system comes with it's own joy and grief

I remember when we started to tell our family that we were becoming foster parents. We had already filled out the application and had a date for the first interview in our home with a caseworker. I told my best friend first because I knew she'd give me an honest response without being hurtful. I honestly don't remember what she said, but I remember that she made me feel like I had an ally no matter what path I chose in life. She's been a God-send to me through these past 2yrs as an open ear and the best Auntie.

Grandma and Baby 2 sitting at the same table where I told her about our plans the year before
The next task was my Mom. I took her out to paint pottery and started talking about my new job and our interest in foster care. I told her about the info meeting and said that in less than a year, we planned on becoming certified for foster care. Neither of us really knew what we were going into together. My Mom was talking about how it was so great to help children, and how she supported our decision to volunteer. I did know at that point that foster care was more than a volunteer position serving hot meals in a homeless shelter, bur neither of us knew foster care would change the family forever and become the legacy that I invest my life into. My Mom has been fully invested in every one of our kids- even the respites. They all call her Grandma and she loves them- probably more than she loves me. My Mom insisted on coming with me when Baby 1 went home for good. She held up alright in front of Dad, but she sobbed the whole way home- rambling about the system and some government conspiracies. She's welcomed all 3 of my sons home, and she has grieved all of them leaving. She told my Dad that she didn't know how much more loss I can handle. I can't help but wonder if that's code for how much more loss can she handle? She had no choice to become a foster family, but every time we transition she has to come along.

Brandon's sister and brother in law including Baby 3 in their wedding pictures
Brandon's family has been a bit more hands off than my over-involved parents. They are cordial with our sons, but treat them like cute kids we babysit. I can't blame any of them since we never asked their permission to change the family's dynamics in a non-traditional way. The exceptions to this are his sister and niece. They have opened their hearts and we greatly appreciate that. Brandon's sister even included baby 3 in her wedding photos. Now that he's home, she is left with a reminder of love lost every time she looks at her wedding album.
Baby 2 with Papa opening an early Christmas present because my Dad couldn't wait til the 25th
The process is different for friends and family than it is for foster parents. Foster parents have caseworkers to answer questions and provide support. Foster parents also have access to all the details of the child's case and history. We share what we can with our loved ones, but most info is confidential. So while we have some insight about why a child is staying or leaving, our family doesn't get it. Foster parents also build relationships with biofamilies. We know where our children are going when they leave, and we can build our opinion about the move around what we know of the situation. Our family only has only blind faith that the kids will be OK.

Uncle Bill never had grandchildren, but loves our boys
Even though I carry that guilt about causing our families grief when saying goodbye, I know that they experience the anticipation and excitement when we welcome a new child into our home. They also get credit for our children's security and and happiness as they settle into the family. It is an INCREDIBLE blessing to have your life touched by these kids, and I am proud that I provide that opportunity to the people we love.

I guess if I could do it all over, I would spend some more time talking through the actual process of foster care with our family before we got certified. I would apologize in advanced for bringing them on this rollercoaster experience. Now that the decision has already been made and they have already had loss, I just make sure I acknowledge their feelings and check in with them frequently. I realize I can't expect them to pick me up off the floor every time a child leaves because they have to care for their own hurt, but hurting together after helping a child is still better than hurting alone.

I have gone far and wide looking for resources to educate and support friends and family of foster parents. There are none. The closest helpful book I've found is In On It - by: Elizabeth O'Toole. The subtitle is "What adoptive parents would like you to know about adoption".  Highly reccomended.

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