Ok, there are more than two types. We’re humans, and it’s a pretty diverse group of people that choose to be foster parents. We all have the common bond that motivates us; the desire to help children; to give them a good, safe place where they can thrive and be who they are. We all want the best for the kids, no doubt about it. But how we go doing that is different for us all.
So, when I say that there are two different types of foster parents, I’m really talking more about the two different types I see within our own home.
We’ve been fostering now for almost a year and a half. You all know the story of the first three boys that came to live with us. You all know the story of the children we found living in our alley. And, to a lesser extent (as I have not written as much about it), you know the story of the three boys currently in our care; the first sibling group we’ve taken in since becoming “official” foster parents. In that time, I’ve noticed that while Jessica and I have exactly the same motivations, we handle the parenting a little bit differently. And while the actions might look similar, the emotion behind those actions differs a little.
It was not until a few days ago that I really noticed it. We’ve talked about it a bit in the past but I never really *saw* it. I’m sure that Jessica will tell you that she’s always known it. That’s because while I pride myself at being more observant than the average person, she’s more observant x10; especially when it comes to these sorts of things. And the difference, I am starting to see, might make ALL the difference to a child.
It’s simple really. When *I* think of fostering, I think of it being a temporary thing. I may forever be a foster parent, but the situation for those kids is temporary. They will not be fosters forever. They will either be reunified with their parents, they will ultimately be adopted and become someone’s child (maybe ours and maybe not), or worst of all, they may age out of the system. But generally, their situation is going to change. So, while I am careful to not use phrases like “this is our foster child” or do anything else to set them apart from our biological children, in the back of my mind, I am always aware of the fact that their situation with us is not one of permanence. It’s the way the system is set up and as foster parents we are all acutely aware of this fact.
I make sure that the kids are taken care of. I interact with and joke with them as if they are my own in many ways. But I DO remain guarded to a point. I DO reserve a bit of emotional detachment so that when their situation changes I am protected. It’s not that I do not grow to love them. I certainly do. I have always been sad to see the kids go. But at the same time, in the back of my mind, I’ve always been preparing for it so to say that I go through a grieving process would not be a very accurate statement.
Jessica, on the other hand, goes all in. While she, too, knows that their situation is temporary, she manages to put all of her emotion into having these kids in our house. She’s 100% committed in every way. I watch the way she interacts with the kids and see little difference between how she is with them and how she is with Eli & Brenna. While it’s true that the kids who come to stay with us could be here for years, it’s also true that Social Services could call us tomorrow and say, “pack their things. They’re going to their ‘Forever’ home.” She knows this and still throws herself into it. She advocates for those kids like any “Mama Bear” would. It’s pretty amazing. And when they go, she goes through a full-on grieving process (as evidenced by the news story in which our family was featured), only to do it again. It’s not easy on her. It definitely takes its toll. But somehow, she manages to find that “reset” switch. Somehow she manages to give the next child the love, affection and dedication needed to show them that they matter.
I think I’ve always justified my reservations as needing to be the way I am so that when Jessica goes through the process, I can be there for her in more of a support role. But I think I’m coming to realize that the support has less to do with my state emotionally and more to do with us going through the journey together.
So, while I think that there are just certain parts of me and the way I’m built that will always handle situations in a more “clinical” way, I also think that I’m going to focus to be more like Jessica when it comes to my state of mind with foster kids. I can only think that at some level they’ll notice. And that’s a good thing, right?