Saints and Foster Care

People often call foster parents saints. And I’m down with that. Are you?

Peace Corps coined the phrase “the toughest job you’ll ever love.”  Foster care could perhaps be labeled as “the toughest job you’ll ever love-hate-love-hate.”

Let’s face it.  Foster care has many wonderful aspects, but it can be darn tough.  Foster care requires a lot of sacrifices.

Case in point, check out our lives.  We give up our vacation time to sit in courts with our foster children.  We traded away our relaxing afternoons filled with Little League or cheerleading, for countless hours of talking about sexual boundaries, redirecting physical aggression, or correcting anti-social behavior.  We empty out our wallets to cover the many expenses that the State doesn’t pay, so it’s fewer lattes at Starbucks (this, as you know, is a HUGE sacrifice!!).

Do our traumatized children rush over to lavish us with love, thanking us?  Of course, not.  Their biological parents, who are hurting, are not likely to say thanks, either.  We don’t expect them to.  But if random strangers want to express appreciation for our hard work, I say we should take it.

Because at heart, when people call us saints for volunteering to take in abused or neglected children, what they really are saying is thanks for taking on such an incredibly challenging job.

So am I saint?  No.  Not by a long shot.  Probably you’re no saint either (hey, no offense, but it’s a really high bar!!).  But I am grateful for the people who want to fill up my “emotional tank” with their gratitude and appreciation.

I Killed the Dog

I killed the dog. Actually, I didn’t. Our dog is still alive. But Watchful still thinks that I did. Here’s what actually happened.

Our sixteen-year-old son Silent One’s hamster died of natural causes today. The little critter simply curled up in his tiny hut and never woke up. Hamsters don’t live forever and since we rescued the hamster from the animal shelter, he had already lived a long time.

This hamster meant a lot to Silent One. The hamster was his responsibility, his first pet. The hamster was “adopted” from a shelter and Silent One was adopted, too. The hamster slept right by his bed, the first thing Silent One saw when he awoke and the last thing he saw when he went to sleep (while except for maybe his iPhone – but I digress).

So Silent One was understandably very sad.

Eight-year-old Watchful shares a room with Silent One. Where Silent One sought me out for hugs and solace, Watchful accused me of assassinating the hamster. And since I am a pet killer, it just makes sense that I would kill our family dog, too. Then, he saw the knife on the kitchen counter since I was making lunch. This is undeniable proof that I have killed the dog, too. So, Watchful expressed his anger at my murderous tendencies for the next hour.

I called the dog over to Watchful to show him that she was very much alive, thinking this would put an end to the accusation of me being a dog killer. I realize now how foolish and faulty my logic was.

Trauma twists reality. If you have been beaten and threatened by your bio mom, leaving you to fear for your life on a daily basis for years, then surely your foster mom, who is a mom, must also be a cold hearted abuser. The presence of the living dog for this one moment cannot overcome the years of abuse and lack of safety.

So, while I do not like to be thought of as a dog killer, since I am not an animal murderer, I get where Watchful’s coming from.

But try explaining that to a heart-broken Silent One.

To make things worse, our 10-year-old foster daughter Joyful was making helpful suggestions like we should just go to the store and get a new pet, because everyone knows pets are replaceable. And probably she should get to choose which animal, because, you know, she wants to choose. At least, she thought it was a sad situation.

So I pulled aside both Joyful and Watchful. I explained the short life span of hamsters and the circle of life. And then talked about ways to be sensitive to Silent One’s loss. For example, Joyful can express her sadness, but she will not suggest Silent One get a new pet for at least one week. For Watchful, there’s no talking about the hamster’s death at all to Silent One for one week – but he can talk about it with other adults.

And so goes life in our bio-adoptive-foster family home.

Guilty of Child Abuse

So the kids’ mom pled guilty to criminal child abuse this week.  Now what?

Originally, she had confessed, but then had retracted her statement.  Then she said that it was just the one time abuse of one child.  But since the kids were going to testify, she changed her plea to guilty of abusing both kids consistently and regularly over the past four years.   Yes, FOUR years.  Essentially, she agreed that she had been abusing the kids since social services had stopped making follow up visits from the last time she was convicted of child abuse.

Sentencing won’t be for another couple of months.  And the county still has the plan to return the kids home to dad.  So not a whole lot has changed in our day to day life.

But 8-year-old Watchful is so relieved that his mom told the truth.  Now, he feels validated.  Everyone has to believe him now.  (Though with the physical evidence and past history, everyone knew it was true.)  And 10-year-old Joyful is really hopeful that mom will have a long jail time.  If mom’s in jail, she and her brother are safe.

The State attorney had wanted the kids to testify and it’s their statements to the prosecution and their willingness to testify which changed this from a charge of more minor crime with a shorter sentence, to a crime that fit the truth and came with a longer sentence.  The therapists had been against the kids testifying.  But I am glad that we had the kids talk to the attorney.  Now they have justice, or at least something closer to justice (can there ever be justice for abusing kids their whole lives?).  And while mom is in jail, the kids will be a whole lot safer for a whole lot longer.

At this point, the State attorney wants the kids to write victim impact statements.  Again, the therapists are against it.  The therapists worry about the emotional burden of having been part of mom’s imprisonment.  But what about the emotional burden of worrying that mom will eventually get out of jail and come and get you?  That’s what happened last time.  Mom served time, got out, the county stopped following the case after a while, and mom started beating the kids again.  How relieved the kids would be if they didn’t have to worry about seeing mom for a very, very long time.  The victim impact statement could help persuade the judge to give a longer sentence, or to make the sentences consecutive rather than concurrent.

The kids would also be able to speak their truth and be heard.  Doesn’t that count for something?