My ability to make choices or dictate what is best for these boys is very, very small
Social work offices feel so familiar to me I often forget that the majority of the working world has offices with chairs that aren't broken or bathrooms that work. Last week, we had our first visit in almost 2 months. These days I run through my workday feeling both unsettled and some gratitude that Mr. Toddler will be able to visit his brother and sister (whom he loves and misses) and that after this last visit, we have 2 weeks until the next one. It's a funny thing, raising someone else's kids. In almost every way they feel like my kids; I love them, think about them when I'm not with them and care for them like they're mine. And when we have visit days, I'm reminded that this is actually a system I'm co-parenting with and my actual ability to make choices or dictate what is best for these boys is very, very small.
We're the parents until we're not anymore
Here's how it goes. We sit in the waiting room. I hear the baby crying because he's hungry, but the chaos of the 3 other kids makes that less important or harder for Mom to attend to. I overhear the agitation about the haircut we gave Mr. Toddler or the kids yelling and arguing with one another. We're parenting these kiddos. We're the parents until we're not anymore. And then it's over and we pack up and drive home for a rough night. A kiddo melting down all over the place, an overtired baby and us moms, exhausted from the workweek and battling a childcare split; we just keep trying to do our best. And I know it's never as easy as "stop the visits" because one way or another, our kids will have this relationship to manage for the rest of their lives. And if visits stop now someday they'll pick up again with or without our agreement.
Holding with both hands the world you have and the world I wish for you
We know that studies and general attitudes toward adoptive kiddos and birth parents all agree that kids do better when they have contact with birth parents so long as it's safe enough and appropriate enough. What does this mean to us? That we know no matter what happens for our family- whether you go home to your birth mom or whether you spend your life with us in our little family- that there are people who are a part of your story that I hope will always be around to some degree. I wish for you to make sense of the family that brought you into the world in all their strengths and weaknesses. Your life is robust- it didn't begin with us and hopefully someday you will branch from our home to one of your own and get to work on what kind of family you want to have. With the full understanding of what you know about how your life began and how you made it a life worth being in and loving. Foster care is tough stuff. Visits for me are the work of holding with both hands the world you have and the world I wish for you. And our work as mamas is to try our best to take both those hands and hold on tight to yours.
-Foster Mom (the therapist)
Visit days are tough.
In the winter, they're held at the Department of Children and Families office. Fridays are usually the busiest. The space is small, the rooms dank, overcrowded & perpetually overbooked. There are too many kids trying to visit too many parents. Children are screaming. Some are running. Some are fighting. Few are laughing. Social workers are overwhelmed. Everything about it feels heavy & chaotic.
The most difficult thing about visits for me, is hearing the boys crying or distressed & not being able to scoop them up. Tiny's hungry wail is different than his eczema-is-itching-moan which is different from his wet diaper cry. Sometimes he just wants to be held & then starts giggling when picked up. Mr. Toddler's language regresses when he's stressed. He talks super loud when he's anxious & when he cries because he's tired, it's different than his whining for wanting something. I want the world to know, all the while knowing it doesn't change anything while sitting there. Mom doesn't ask. We don't offer. We're not there yet. I'm not sure it makes sense for us to ever be there.
I'll never be your birth Mom
My wife and I drive our foster kiddos to these visits. Sometimes together. Sometimes separate. We sit in the waiting room pretending to read on the iPad or grade papers while the infant & toddler we are raising until further notice spend time with their birth mom & siblings. I try not to just stare at the ground. I smile at other kids. I smile at parents who seem to really be trying their best & whom clearly lack the skills and the support they need to be the parents their kids need them to be. As solid as I think we are for these kids, we can never be their birth mom. And really, regardless of the circumstances under which they entered foster care, they really just want their mom or dad.
So we pack good food for the car ride there and cue fun songs for the trip home. When the visit is over we wait for the kids to trickle out of the visiting room. Tiny, a distance in his eyes we saw when he first came to us, goes into some primal mode and Mr. Toddler, a disorganized, confused hurricane. We make the departure from the building a game & the walk back to the car an adventure. We talk about how nice it was to see siblings and Mom. And then we trek elsewhere. To burn energy at the YMCA. Go to a special restaurant. Or maybe just straight home for the safety and routine of it. Something. Anything.
Foster Mom (the artist)