When we first agreed to Joyful and Watchful’s placement, we said we’d take their little brother, 4-year-old Jumping Jack too, if he came into care. But a week later, we made a different plan. Here’s why.
Initially, we were told the youngest sibling was a three-year-old girl. Room-wise, this made it easy to house everyone, since a little girl could bunk with Joyful. When we found out that she was a he, we still were interested in the taking Jumping Jack, and thought we’d look at moving Joyful in with Sassy.
But in the intervening week between Joyful and Watchful’s arrival and Jumping Jack entering foster care, two things happened. First, Sassy had a hard time adjusting to Joyful and Watchful’s presence in our home. Second, we saw how the three siblings interact together and found out there were some major issues.
Sassy is our 13-year-old (bio) daughter. She’s a giving, sensitive teenager. Having to confront the hard reality of abuse and neglect has been tough. Like many young teens, Sassy had already been grappling with the harsh reality that the outside world can be cruel. It can be a difficult transition from the age of Care Bears & My Little Ponies to burgeoning awareness of poverty, racism, inequality, etc.
It’s an even harder transition when living proof of the world’s cruelty moves into your home. Here are two young children whom Sassy has immediately befriended. These new friends have been abused and neglected, and they are honest and open about their experiences. Sassy is learning how to handle hearing about the trauma or witnessing Watchful’s panic attacks. We had deep reservations about taking away her refuge – her personal bedroom – where she could escape the craziness that foster care had injected into her life.
And then there was the matter of dysfunction in the siblings’ relationships. Joyful and Watchful have deep resentment of Jumping Jack. Jumping Jack was exempt from the physical abuse. In fact, Jumping Jack was allowed to hit or throw things at Joyful and Watchful. It’s heart breaking to see a brother hurt his brother and sister, and even harder hearing their dad tell the older two that they had to let their baby brother hurt them. Jumping Jack is allowed to steal any toy, food or possession from Joyful and Watchful; but if Joyful or Watchful try to do the same back, they were beaten. Jumping Jack is the favored golden child, who gets presents, cuddles from dad, and yummy treats. Joyful and Watchful don’t receive anything. Dad says the 10-year-old and 8-year-old are too old for toys, and dad has to be prompted to say hello to them and do stuff with them during visits. Additionally, the three kids were frequently left home alone and Joyful was forced to be the mom.
So when the social worker asked us if we would take Jumping Jack, we expressed our concerns. Given that Jumping Jack doesn’t speak English, we felt that having all three together would continue to put Joyful in a parentified role. Jumping Jack would run to her as a translator, seeking her out to do things for him. Watchful and Joyful didn’t want Jumping Jack to live with us. Joyful didn’t want the responsibility and both were angry and resentful of him. They would say mean things to him, taunting him and excluding him. We were concerned that adding even more drama into the house would make Sassy’s problem coping even more troublesome.
We’ve come up with a plan to eventually move Jumping Jack in with us, so the siblings can all be together. First, Jumping Jack is living with another foster family where he is learning English. He’s also learning not to scream in people’s faces, not to hit, or otherwise hurt people. He’s learning that the world doesn’t revolve around him. Joyful and Watchful are learning how to talk kindly and play nicely with Jumping Jack. We practice friendly, loving interactions when the three siblings get together.
As for Sassy, we’ve started weekly therapy for her. We are emphasizing that we adults are responsible for handling Watchful’s outbursts and Joyful’s talk of abuse. She can come to us if she notices Watchful hiding or panicking. We are also spending some special one-on-one time with her, so Sassy knows we continue to love and cherish her, even though we spend lots of time with Joyful and Watchful.
There’s no time table for when Jumping Jack will move in with us. Life will unfold and we will chip away at the things that make keeping siblings apart the healthier option.
As for me, I try not to feel guilty about saying “not right now” to Jumping Jack. I pray that we are making the right decision. And I hope that the day when we can all live happily and safely under one roof comes soon.