I’m about nothing, if not education.*
I thought today I’d share a few things that I’d love for people to know. A lot of these come from other sources (such as this article, which is good although maybe a little hard on people… Pretty much all the people I talk to mean very well and want to be supportive. They just haven’t spent eleventy hours thinking about foster care/adoption like I have, and that’s not their fault.)
I don’t want to say this stuff to make everyone feel like they’re on eggshells around us about to say the wrong thing. The truth is, most of the time, I know what you mean, and I know that you aren’t meaning anything negative or hurtful or judgy. Sometimes, and I was talking about this with my mom, sometimes people say things that really are hurtful and I do believe they come from a place of legitimate prejudice that that person doesn’t even know they have.
But not YOU! Never you.**
Regardless, the facts are these. We currently have an 8-mo-old placement, who for the most part cannot understand the implications and undertones of what people say around him. But there are things people say sometimes that I’m like “hmm, I sure hope they don’t say that around older, verbal placements…” so I thought I’d try and shed some light now. Also, most of these probably apply if you know other foster parents.
1. Typically, for at least the first year of a foster placement, the goal is “reunification” with the biological (bio) family and USUALLY nothing is settled before then. Sometimes, there is a “kinship” (family member) placement found before then, but usually that’s earlier on in the process. Most of the time you’re looking at a good year before anything is decided, so you don’t have to ask every week, even though I appreciate your interest. I’d much rather tell you about how he’s crawling or eating new foods than about what new tiny sliver of information we haven’t gotten yet about his case… so maybe ask about that?
2. I can’t tell you stuff about a placement’s story or parents. Or I probably could, but I probably won’t. We want to respect the privacy of our placements and also, on the chance that they are adopted, we don’t really want them growing up and hitting junior high etc. with people who know their whole life’s story before they had the chance to decide who they wanted to share it with. I really hate being all super-secretive and it’s kind of awkward to try to dodge in the moment, and actually I am terrible at it, because I am honest-to-God not used to having things I can’t tell to anybody who asks. I’m usually an open book. So it’d be great if you didn’t ask for details!
3. As I said, with this placement, it hasn’t been as big of a deal, but if we get placements in the future that can understand the English language, please don’t ask in front of them if we’re going to adopt them or not. It’s a really confusing process for kids to have a bio family who is (or isn’t?) working to get them back and a temporary family who may or may not become permanent; they don’t need to be reminded by every stranger that they’re in limbo and different from other kids. And also, we’re trying to give as much stability as humanly possible during the time we have them, and while I don’t plan to ever pretend at any permanency that I can’t promise, I also don’t want to constantly be having to tell people in front of a kid that they might not be sticking around, so to speak.
This is a very important question and I know a lot of people really want to know what’s going on with our family because they love us. By all means, ask foster parents. Just please don’t ask in front of non-baby kids.
4. Yeah, the article I linked mentioned this one, and I GUESS I know what you mean, but if I had verbal kids I think this one would grate on me something fierce: “Are you guys going to have real kids?” The term you’re looking for is “biological” children. There is not a separate plane of existence that foster/adoptive kids exist on that is different from a parent’s biological children. You can touch them. They’re there.
Also, I don’t want to get ranty and I’m not upset about this, but while I have your ear I’ll mention that asking 30-yr-old people if they’re ever going to have biological children is maybe not a great idea, like, ever. There’s a good chance the idea has occurred to them before you asked, and maybe they decided not to, maybe they couldn’t. Maybe their decision to care for and/or adopt children who need a safe place and a loving family was made on its own merit. Especially if they are holding a baby that they treasure more than life itself, and it’s POSSIBLE to detect a little bit of an implication (that you would NEVER really mean, obviously) that the invaluable human soul in their hands is kind of like a placeholder or a plan B.
5. Bio parents are not the enemy. At ALL. I’d refer you to #1 here as well, where I probably can’t tell you much about their situation and if I do, I probably feel guilty about it later because I wasn’t supposed to but I’m not good at keeping my yap shut. But anyway, most bio parents are people who are doing the best they possibly know how with a really, really difficult hand. And regardless of this, no matter how well- or poorly-intentioned, well- or poorly-equipped a bio parent is, I can pretty much guarantee you that it is not good for a kiddo to hear people disparaging their biological parents whom they will always identify with on a very essential level.
So what instead? What I do is pray for the bio parents… They need and deserve grace exactly as much as you and I do. Also, adopt. I’ve said this before, but as my friend Rachel says, most bio parents of foster kids are just grown up foster kids themselves. Get involved with homelessness, at-risk teens, etc. Be a part of the solution before they ever get to this incredibly difficult situation.
6. One of my favorite (aka least favorite) questions is: “Is he yours?” I never quite know what to do with this one. I know people are just interested and trying to make conversation. It only ever comes from people I don’t know at all. This is one that if you are reading this, you won’t ask me, but maybe I’m just saying this for any other foster/adoptive parents out there. For one thing, it’s kind of nonsensical (do you mean is he in my care or am I babysitting for a friend? Or do you mean is he biologically mine? Or do you mean is he permanently mine as in adopted, versus temporarily mine in foster care? [Which the foster care option is probably the only one NOT on people’s minds when they ask this]). The thing is, it’s not a big deal, it’s just really hard for me to not kinda turn it around and make it really awkward for the ask-er. “What do you mean?” [Big smile.]
So what instead? I would say, what would you ask any other mom in the grocery store? “How old is he?” “Is he crawling yet?” “He has such a beautiful smile!” I love those. Those are great. If you know me a little better, asking about how he joined our family is totally fine, it’s just the “yours” question is kind of a puzzler to me.
7. “I could never do that.” I appreciate the sentiment behind this. Sometimes I feel like people mean “I love kids too much to ever be able to give one up once I had them,” which kind of makes me wonder if you think we’re Cylons who can not get too attached to kids and we don’t really love them as much.
I think most people mean that they think it’d be way too hard and they think we’re extra-special for being able to do it for the Greater Good or whatever. Thing is, you could do that. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think everyone is called to foster care or anything, but it’s not a super power. It’s grown-ups doing hard things because those things are right. I guarantee, if you are a grown-up and possibly if you are not, you already do hard things because they are right. The secret to doing it is: doing it. You choose to, and then you figure out what it’s going to take to make it possible, just like anything else.
Of course it is encouraging when people take the time to communicate that they know fostering is hard and they commend us for doing it. I always appreciate that encouragement. That’s different from “I could never do that,” at least to me.
8. Also, if/when we get an older placement, or with other foster/internationally adoptive families you know, it would be SO AWESOME if you prep your kids for being friends with kids that might have a different background from theirs. That’d be awesome. Not in a “Johnny is SUPER DIFFERENT from you so you HAVE to be nice to him” kind of way, but more like “Not everybody’s family is exactly like ours, and it’s good to play with and include and get to know kids even if you don’t always understand them.”
9. YES I WANT YOUR STUFF. Not to be, you know. Desperate. But if you offer something to me, and I forget, or I can’t remember who offered it to me and I don’t follow up, or if you happened to be the third person this time to offer me a carseat so I said no thank you, please don’t stop. I’m not really keen on re-buying every single item for every single age that we end up encountering, and even if I forget to say it, I am SUPER grateful for everyone’s generous offers.
I don’t really believe in being offended. I am not offended by these things. Most of the time you mean well and really care about us and our kiddo, and I just want to help you understand better because understanding is healing, and I want you to understand how certain things might be hurtful to kids since I know you’d never want to be.
If you don’t mean well, or even if you do but you have prejudices about these children, you are wrong, and your wrong-ness hurts you, not me. Still not offended. But if I can help people think about things in a way that keeps kids from having to fight more of those battles than they already have to, great.
I think the whole dialogue about adoption and foster care etc. is constantly growing, and I just want to help advocate for kiddos and help people understand how to treat foster and adopted kids with honor and respect, just like any other kids. We’re all learning!
*That’s not entirely true.