A couple weeks back, we were talking about what was best to do for her birthday. At the time, she had been kicked out of her pre-adoptive home and was living in a children's shelter. As each day passed, we began to witness a little girl we love deeply go from being a kid in a family to being an unwanted kid to being a homeless kid. A part of us went quiet inside. Because we care so much about her. Because no one, especially a child, should ever have to live in a shelter anywhere, particularly in a country as rich as ours. Because she was the 3rd generation of Black women in her birth family to be currently living in a homeless shelter.
My partner, whom I respect deeply and fully adore, isn’t ready to talk publicly about her thoughts on all things Big Sister. I respect her choice. In many ways, she has been a compass for me as we both navigate these parenting waters. Her wisdom and humility are invaluable, holding clinical best interest and compassion over me in a world where I lead with passion and authenticity. We operate differently but not separately, oftentimes with polarity, but when we overlap, we complement each other so well. When we disagree, we learn from one another. We have always been two voices here and now is certainly no different. I have some things to say now.
I knew my journey to being the best version of myself as a parent would be an awakening of sorts. I could not have known just how tough or transformative. I could not have known that becoming a parent would coincide with the galvanizing of the Black Lives Matter movement. Or that we would go from fostering children on an emergency basis to adopting Black baby brothers. Or that building the foundation of our little family would coincide with the transition from the greatest president in our lifetime to the worst along with an uprise in visibility of our country’s biggest strengths and deepest race-based fears. What a moment in time we live in. What an opportunity.
Many of us find ourselves enmeshed ongoing in a battle of balance; protect without hovering; teach without enabling; bond without smothering. We research the best practitioners. We protect our kids from creeps and perpetrators. But what if we’re setting our kids up for failure from the very foundation we’re so invested in building? What if we are unwittingly inviting danger into their lives, now or in the future? What if we are creating a scenario that negatively impacts them as they find their own way in this world?
Updated to include an audio version of this blogpost.
If you were not happy at your job before you left you will not be happy when you return. Feel free to pin that. Being a parent now informs everything I do in a way it did not previous to taking leave. It is my greatest secret power.
It's easy to want to blame something else when things don't go well. Or, someone else - especially your parents. The day-to-day minutiae of raising babies to be their best little selves shines a light into the darkest folds of our own experiences of being parented and forces us to contend with layers of memories which we may or may not wish to venture toward or work through. I'm a gay white mom raising adopted black sons with a therapist partner. I don't have a choice but to figure this shit out.
There were a couple important things Therapist Mom wanted to carry forward from her childhood that were super special and a couple things I did not want to repeat from my own. The following were our big-ticket items, how we graded our success and some things we’d change for the rolling out of future seasons of magic.
I think a lot about what it takes for a kiddo to want to say out loud, to someone else that they're hurt, especially after there has been so many people and so much hurt, and so little apology. When life has not offered you glimpses of empathy, or repair you have no reason to believe these things exist and therefore when you are faced with people trying to repair or connect, you shun or skim around it because it's weird and uncomfortable and what are they even trying to get away with here anyway?
There are many moments I have experienced throughout our foster care journey I imagine I will not ever lose the feeling of: seeing Tiny for the first time in his little tattered, stained carseat, hearing Mr. T scream and claw his way out of his co-sleeper with night terrors, hearing my kids' birth Mom cry in a way only a parent who knows they chose a better life for their kids at the expense of their heart can. I will add walking out of the room with Mr. T looking confused and anxious sitting with a stranger who is in our life because of a case opened on just me. The case of just me, as it were.
In the summer you came to live with us, you and your big sister moved in for a weekend, while the grown ups in charge searched for a home for the two of you to live and grow up big and strong in. They were looking for a family that wanted to adopt you and be your parents forever.
In the end the biggest reason I wanted to say yes to being a home for our biggest kiddos was that I wanted our boys to know that our family did a really hard thing, all together, when it mattered, because it was the right thing to do. And that in essence this is the way we write our family story.
In October, we wrote about our final steps toward adoption. I asked therapist mom to blog about what to expect because I did not know what to expect and a lot of folks were asking what to expect at such a thing. We continue to write about the process for both reasons and now that I have a broader perspective, we both have some things to say.
Today is Sunday and, therefore, tomorrow is Monday. This week trial begins to terminate rights for the boys' parents. I've kept any real thoughts of this week packed up for awhile now, as we just could not worry or try to control what was outside our control. We did not set out for this Adoption life. So here we are, in our last few days before, perhaps, our last few days. There are three ways this week could go, here's my thoughts on the options we have before us:
People of my kids' life, you are causing harm. Not by allowing visits and contact- but by not managing this well. And letting kids feel scared and upset and while you sit in the room with them and do nothing. Causing harm by hearing us share over and over the impact and ignore our ideas for how to allow this to work better. You send a message that adults don't actually protect kids, and that scary parents are just that.
Here's how it all started: we had itty bitty 6 week old Tiny for a grand total of three days and got a phone call. Our social worker called to say Tiny's goal was changing to adoption, and his three older siblings' goals had changed to adoption (they had been in foster care for a lot longer) and he was being rolled into that permanency plan change. There are four kiddos altogether in this family, and they all needed permanent placements...
At work, I'm often asked to evaluate a kiddo's capacity "to attach" or I'll have referrals for kiddos to "assess their ability to attach" when they are being matched with a pre-adoptive home and these questions make my hair stand on end. I'll start at the beginning just to frame this all: Attachment is not a zero sum gain. The questions I'm being asked are broken. It's not that you either are attached or you're not. There are patterns of attachment (healthy, anxious, ambivalent, disorganized), and what folks are really trying to ask me is what is this kiddo's attachment style, and is it Healthy Attachment.
One month ago, we were standing in our kitchen when my she turned to me and said, "Remind me again, did you go to a school where white kids were the minority or the majority?" It turned out, we had some things to revisit. We didn't know a tremendous amount about one another's earliest experiences with different races, racism and class. We thought we did. We were wrong.
Tiny and Mr. Toddler's Mom is easy to hate on paper - most parents who abuse or neglect their kids are. We, the foster parents, are the supposed virtuous ones in this dynamic who can often get the title of savior, hero or saint, giving up sleep, money, work opportunities and any and all personal time. But what really causes me to get all kinds of worked up is how easy it is to dismiss their Mom here, how easy it is to demonize her or say she was unfit or judge her rage and choices and partners and lifestyle. But here is what I know for certain. There are many reasons why the two beautiful little people in my home are here, and it's not as simple as "their Mom didn't do a good job." It's also not as simple as "we are doing a good job and so they should stay."
Here's the thing I want to say about parenting two Black boys as White Mamas: it's complicated. Before we became foster parents, back when we were thinking of getting pregnant to start our family, I thought a lot about what it would be like for kiddos in our family to be raised by two Moms. I thought about how we would frame the conversation about our future kids' birth father being a sperm donor, how to manage friends' questions and other parents' homophobia. I thought about all kinds of ways we could and should make choices in our family about our family, where our family lives and who our family spends time with so we had a healthy diversity of parenting models for our kids. And then we became foster parents to two beautiful, brave-hearted boys with brown and black skin, and this whole parenting thing gave me more pieces to consider.
I wonder about really big things like, what the fuck are we doing? I worry about whether we're ready for the life we've created and the responsibility we've taken on in raising two boys until further notice...or maybe forever. I grieve the life we had before despite loving them so much. I find myself fantasizing about a do-over and saying "no" on that day we got the call for 6 week old Tiny.
Did we think that someday we would probably choose permanency for a kiddo we were fostering if it made sense and we were all a good fit together? Absolutely. Did we think we might grow our family through adoption at some point? Yes we did. But not now. This is foster care. This is for the kids without homes. This is where we parent kids like our own, without the plan for them being in our home forever. It was initially a really clean decision for us and it quickly got messy because, of course it did.
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.