This post is written from my experience as a foster parent in the Pennsylvania court system. Though I must speak as I find, and reference situations I have experienced, I have taken great care to avoid representing a particular case, or disclosing any personal details I am bound to conceal. This is not a description of our current case, nor of any previous case in our home.
Dear Foster Parents,
As you take your first steps into this placement, and begin to form your ideas and opinions, there are a few things we’d like to run past you. You scarcely know us yet, but you will –
We are the bio parents. The *other* parents. The abusive-neglectful parents.
This is kind of awkward, isn’t it?
In our defense, we didn’t ask to be here. We didn’t ask you to step in and become a semi-permanent babysitter for our children. We would have preferred to do it ourselves, or to let Grandma do it if we couldn’t. Nobody wants to hand their child over to strangers.
Honestly, we don’t know a thing about you, and here we are at a distinct disadvantage, because you are about to get our whole family history, double-barrelled. We will soon sit in court and hear our dirtiest laundry aired, in front of you and God and just for the record, could you clarify exactly how long you left her alone in her crib, Ms. P? If you have never sat in our chair, you have no idea of the level of shame this involves. We don’t handle it well. I’ll be the first to admit, we don’t look good sitting there. If we don’t cry we look like heartless hussies, and if we do we look maudlin and unglued. There’s no good spin to put on this story, and no covers left to hide under.
If we dare to meet your eyes at this moment, it would help so much if we could see in them that you respect us – not because of what we’ve done or left undone, but because we are fellow humans going through the worst days of our lives. If you think we don’t care, or don’t feel, or don’t know this, you are wrong. We really, really messed up; and we do not expect to find mercy in this place.
Among the many things we fear, we are afraid of you, foster parents: afraid of what you will do with our kids, and afraid of how bad you will make us look, or feel. We expect you to be catty and backstabbing and petty, out for what you can get. Those are the rules we know. Those are the rules this world lives by.
Then you buy them new clothes and do their hair all pretty, and show up in a fancy vehicle that belongs to you, with proper car seats and a full tank of gas – and we think See? Look at you being the good guys, the cool new parents. Forgive us if we don’t appear as appreciative as we ought. It’s hard to be glad for what you’re doing, when it reflects so negatively on us – when it’s what we wish we could do, but we don’t have the resources and we don’t know how.
So don’t expect a lot of bonhomie, at first. Our trust is a gift you will have to earn – or not. Don’t expect us to be falling over ourselves to play nice with you, to be humble and generous and grateful and nice.
Don’t even expect us to be particularly good people, nice parents who model virtue for our children and make healthy choices for our family. We’re SUPPOSED to hand out purple stuffed animals instead of clothes and food, we’re SUPPOSED to pull a no-show at visit time and end up in detox (again), we’re SUPPOSED to be clueless and infuriating and dishonest and difficult. If we knew how to do this adulting thing you wouldn’t be in our story.
It will help us a lot if you can stop hyperventilating over everything we do wrong.
Please don’t expect, just hope. If there are two ways to take what we say and do, please take it in the way that makes us look good. You may think the deck is stacked heavily in our favor; but we feel the same about you. We feel beset at every turn, asked to reinvent ourselves, to stand on our heads, to do what we can’t do. We don’t know how to remake our lives. It’s hard and painful and sometimes impossible. It’s all cool for you to sit there thinking what you would do if this happened to you – but – no offense – Did it? If it didn’t happen to you, you don’t know the bondage of this position, the habitual, biological, chemical, relational, financial, fearful chains that tie us to what we know. We give what we’ve been given. We don’t know anything else.
We need you to give us hope. We need you to be the team player when we can’t. We need you to show us how adults work things out, how grace builds bridges, how suffering love wins. Believe me when I tell you we have never seen this firsthand before.
Are you with us so far? because now we’re going to lose you. Now we’re coming to our biggest sin of all, and probably the hardest one for you to forgive: We want our kids back. We know you are probably the better parent, if someone looked at this objectively. You are giving them a good life, parts of which we are incapable of reproducing. They are clean and loved and thriving in your home. Removing them will be horribly disruptive. But they belong to us. Our blood flows in their veins, our passion gave them life, our faces snuggled against their newborn skin and breathed in the euphoria of parenthood. We’ve wounded these kids we share, and we may wound them again. But by birth and by law they are ours.
For now, I mean. Our countdown clock is ticking, our fears are arriving, our worst loss may become your greatest gain. Or your worst loss our gain. For the latter we strive, and we do not care about your feelings as much as you would hope.
Please give us the dignity of acknowledging our role. Please give us the chance to win them back. Please open your heart to share them with us – as we shared them with you – only more graciously. More like the way a good adult does it.
Show us, please. Show us how Love acts. We’ve not found it anywhere else in this wretched story.
– The Bio Parents
More on this topic next time.