Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Things I am tired of saying . . .

  • Just because you want to, doesn't mean you can (or should).
  • No means No; it does not mean ask me again in 2 minutes. (And it also doesn't mean do it anyway!)
  • It's not always about you. 
  • You can't sleep with the lights on; that's what your nightlight is for.
  • I know you want Mommy; she's not here right now. 
  • I can't really tell you [friend/acquaintance/relative stranger] anything about why they're with me. 
  • I don't know how much longer you/they will be here.

      Tuesday, October 18, 2011

      Helicopter Bio Parents

      I need to rant.

      L and O came home from a visit with their mother with his dinner still in its bag. L tells me that O didn't eat his dinner and "Mommy says I should make sure he eats."

      Not Her Job!!! I have been working so hard to help L get the concept that not everything is about her and it is not her job to parent her little brother. And her mother is undermining it every step of the way.

      Same evening, I get an email from the kids' CASA. She's been talking to their dad and he has "some concerns." He's given them clothes, but he's never seen them wear them! Well, let's see. You've seen them three times. In the three months they've been here. And most of those new clothes, you gave them at the last visit! I don't keep track of who gave them which clothes, so I haven't made any attempt to be sure that they wear "his clothes" when he's seen them.

      He's also concerned about how short and infrequent his phone calls with them have become. Well, I'm sorry, I'm not making your daughter talk to you every day when she'd rather be playing. And she's 8, so she'd always rather be playing. I'll make her talk to you a couple times a week, but if she's done after 5 or 10 minutes, she's done. Get over it. And your son? Is three. He still doesn't get that you can't see him through the phone and he's not old enough to have a conversation longer than 3 sentences. Makes for a short phone call.

      If these parents would take half the energy they waste on stupid non-issues and spend it on doing the things they need to do to get their kids back, they'd be done with me by now.

      Wednesday, October 12, 2011


      We spent a long time in foster parent training talking about judgment. The children in foster care are there for a variety of reasons, but all of them have one thing in common; no matter what their parents have (or haven't) done, they are still Mommy and Daddy.

      I'm going to repeat that. A foster child's family is still their family, no matter what has caused them to forfeit the right to parent the child at that moment.

      So we talked in foster training about how important it is for the foster family to keep this in mind. How important it is to resist the temptation to judge the child's mother or father or grandparent or whoever, even within your own mind as much as possible.

      Because the foster parents spend more time with the foster child than anyone else in the system. And kids -- especially kids from dysfunctional family backgrounds -- are quick to pick up on the subtle cues that tell them how you really feel about someone. So no matter how justified I, as a foster parent, feel I am in disapproving the choices of the parents of the children staying with me -- no matter what I KNOW they have done to deserve condemnation -- it is vitally important that I avoid judging them. If I think of the mom as a lazy woman who puts her own wants ahead of her children's needs, if I think of the uncle as an abusive asshole who deserves to be castrated with a rusty spoon, if I think of the dad as a deadbeat who never fulfills his promises, if I think of the grandmother as a batty old woman, if I think of mom's boyfriend as a scarily violent person, if I think of the parents as meth addicts who endagered the lives of their own children by cooking meth in their home(*) . . . my private opinion will color the way I speak and talk of the foster child's family. As soon as the foster child picks up on it, they are bound to feel defensive.

      It's hard enough being taken from everything you've ever known and placed with a strange family that claims to care about you even though you just met. The foster children don't need judgment of their parents from me and if they feel it, they will resist bonding with me. Could you bond with someone who thought so badly of everyone you loved? And yet, if they can't bond with me, there is only so much I can do to help them heal. Their time with me is supposed to be a safe haven -- a time in their lives when they get to see how a functional family works and where they can be assured of a safe place to sleep and plenty of food to eat.

      I thought I could do it. OK, I thought I could mostly do it. I knew it would be hard for me to "not judge" a sexual abuse offender. I knew I would have trouble encouraging a child who still loves a parent that beat them repeatedly. But I remember being tempted to throw a colicky baby over the railing of the stairs. I remember sleepless nights when I realized with horror that I understood how someone with a short fuse could shake a child to death. I know how difficult it is to kick an addiction to drugs or alcohol.

      It wasn't until we had L and O in our care that I realized I was mostly thinking about judging parents for the reason the child is in care to begin with. I didn't even think about the one area where I am having the most trouble withholding judgment. The ongoing struggle not to judge a parent for not doing everything they can to get their kids back. It is hard not to judge a parent who won't return the caseworker's calls, who moves and doesn't tell anyone where she is now, who tells the children he's doing "everything he can" to get them back and yet doesn't have a court date scheduled. I can view the history of why these kids are with me with a tolerant everybody-has-a-rock-bottom air, but I have a very hard time understanding how the loss of the right to parent your children is NOT someone's rock-bottom.

      (*) Note: none of these examples necessarily tie in to any case with which I may be involved, either currently or in the past.

      Saturday, October 8, 2011

      Relationship Drama

      Susan, Edmund and L all ride the same school bus to the elementary school. Peter rides a different (later) bus to the middle school and O is in part-day preschool, where I drive him and drop him off.

      Some mornings, O is awake and walks to the bus stop with me and the 3 elementary kids. Other mornings, he's still asleep and stays in the house while Peter finishes getting ready for school. This particular morning, O was at the bus stop.

      We could see the bus at the previous stop, picking up that load, so the kids were all lining up to get on, the line heading straight out from the curb, then curving down the sidewalk.. L was 3rd in line, Edmund 4th and Susan about 7th. L asked O for a hug and he hugged her; while hugging, she asked for a kiss, which he gave her, too. Then Edmund asked if he could have a hug, too.

      L can NOT STAND it when it looks like O might like anyone but her, especially if it's Edmund, who is younger than she is and yet in her grade and excelling. As soon as Edmund asked for the hug, she stepped between O and Edmund and asked for another hug, too, talking over Edmund as though it was a competition for O's affection. O hugged her and just looked at Edmund. He asked again for a hug and so did Susan. O walked over and hugged Susan, still looking at Edmund; L began to laugh. "He hugged her and me, but not you!" Edmund looked sad and I leaned over to O to ask him to give Edmund a hug, too, when L demanded another hug which he gave her. The bus arrived and the line started to move. As I whispered to O, "Could Edmund have a hug, too?", L began dancing on the spot, singing, "I got a hug from my brother!" Edmund teared up, and pushed at her backpack. She whipped around and snapped, "Don't hit my backpack!" just as O gave Edmund a hug.

      I told her not to gloat as they climbed on the bus. I don't know how to handle this sort of rivalry. I know she needs that love from O because she's missing it from so many other places. But I can't let her be nasty to Edmund in order to get it. I hate that she's learned somewhere that love is finite and that more love for someone else means less love for me. I hate that O has been trained to withhold affection while watching for a reaction, as though enjoying the power that it gives him.

      Edmund shouldn't have pushed her, but I'm tired of punishing him for reacting to her drama. I will not let her be an emotional bully and I will not let her train O to be one either. This is going to be one of our biggest struggles during the time they are with us -- helping them learn that love and affection are not tools to be used to hurt someone else. I hope we are up to the task.

      Tuesday, October 4, 2011


      L and O came back from a visit with their mom with some "new" clothes.  I put new in quotes because there are never any tags still on the clothes Mom brings them, although they are always introduced as "new clothes." (Dad and Grandma send them clothes too; they always identify them as either "new" or "things I already had for them and they might as well be wearing" and the new ones always have tags and I am always asked if they fit with the offer of the receipt to do an exchange if needed.) To be fair, Mom may get some of their "new" things from thrift stores, which is actually a good move on her part as she has no job and therefor no income.

      L was super excited about one particular dress -- it's got a hood! and "fur" around the skirt! and the sleeves! and I admit it's very cute. The next day was chilly and she eagerly asked to wear it and said her mother had "already made sure it was clean," so I let her. Doing the wash today . . . it's Dry Clean Only.

      Saturday, October 1, 2011

      In the Wee Small Hours . . . again

      As I approached the boys' room this morning to wake up the youngest for school, I heard voices. Specifically, I heard Peter (the oldest) say, "Would you just go get Mom?" So I opened the door.

      Well, I tried to open the door. It was locked. We don't lock doors in our house. So, irritated, I knocked.


      "It's Mom. The door is locked." Surprised voices from the other side, then my oldest child opened the door.

      At 4 am, he woke to see O in his room. O said, "Hi!" and ignored all attempts to get him to go back to his own bed. Tired, Peter went back to sleep. When I arrived at 6am, O was curled up in a fetal position in Peter's bed, fast asleep.

      Someone else is in my room and he won't leave has now been added to the list of "reasons it's OK to wake up Mom or Dad in the middle of the night."