Our first fostering experience was a baptism by fire into the world of child welfare. It was a NICU infant. It was an ICWA (Indian Child Welfare Act) case. The family had a lengthy history with the court system. There was a case plan and paperwork and visitation and court dates and that was all just in the first few weeks of our life adjusting to a preemie in the house. While we had had a hand in parenting lots of boys through our group home work and the adoption of our first child, we had never had an infant. There was a lot to learn, but in all of that, one thing became very clear to me.
This child was wanted.
I wanted to be his mom for today, for tomorrow, for as long as he needed me. He had a biological mother who wanted him. She was going to do what she could to convince the state she could parent him. He was wanted by the parents of his biological siblings and by his biological grandparents. Each of us had our role to play in his story and we knew the ending would mean only one of us could be his family, but there was no lack of “wanting” involved in his life.
I remember my first visit to the pediatrician with this five pound bundle in my arms. I was exceptionally proud of this little guy and absolutely in love with him. His future was very uncertain, but how much we cared for him was an established fact. The woman next to me in the pediatrician’s newborn waiting area leaned over to look at my swaddled baby (who I obviously didn’t birth) and began to ask what I would later find are the typical questions. This was my first time answering them and I wasn’t quite prepared for her response when she found out he was a foster child. She looked at the beautiful baby in my arms and said, “Oh! A foster child? That’s great! I have a friend who wants to have a baby, but it’s been taking awhile. I bet she’d take this one since nobody wants him.” To this day I have no idea what I said to her after that. My mind was spinning. What could I have possibly said to indicate that nobody wanted him? It was the furthest thing from the truth. I knew I would never say he wasn’t wanted, but the label FOSTER CHILD communicated more than my obvious love and care for him could.
While nobody since that day nearly 6 years ago has been quite that blunt about it, it is still a sentiment I hear expressed when people find out the child they’re interacting with is a foster kid. Maybe they say, “I can’t believe her mom didn’t want her” or “There are so many kids out there that don’t have anybody to love them” or “You guys are angels for taking this on” or any number of things that sound kind of nice on the surface, but imply that these children are alone in the world and not worthy of the kind of love we’d give to our biological kids.
I can understand why we may even want to think those things. Surely a woman who desperately wants her child wouldn’t be separated from her? How could a foster parent really want this child knowing the likelihood of having to give him back? But those sentiments have never been true of the parents we’ve worked with, the community of foster parents we’re invested in, or the children in our home. These children have been wanted by a large circle of people around them.
There are many things we want in life that we can’t make happen. There are major obstacles to parents trying to reunite with their children. As much as they may want it to happen and may want to be the parent their child needs, it takes time. And when reunification can’t happen a foster child may have a lengthy wait for permanency, but many times they are adopted by the same loving foster parents who have cared for them from the day they left their biological family. While each of my children adopted from foster care may have had a moment in time where no one person had parental rights to them and they were technically an orphaned ward of the state, that was never a moment they consciously knew about. All they knew was being loved and wanted until we were able to make them legally a permanent member of our family.
The foster children that have been in my home are not public property. Their stories do not belong to the taxpayers because they pay for their care. They are not in a legal free fall with no one watching out for them. When the random lady in the grocery store told me she thought the child strapped to my chest should have been aborted to save the state some money, she was not talking about some theoretical idea. She was talking about the child I loved and cared for and desperately wanted.
As long as the picture in society of these children remains one of the neglected, maladjusted, unwanted, drain on society, foster children will continue to struggle for acceptance. When we understand that these kids are wanted, watched over, fought for, and loved, then maybe it will be easier for us to value their lives and their best interests.
Are there children who don’t seem to be wanted? Who truly are alone? Yes. This is why we need more educated, committed, and passionate advocates for children either through foster parenting, adopting a waiting child, becoming a CASA, or serving them in whatever ways you are gifted.
Maralee is a mother of six pretty incredible kids ages seven and under. Four of my kids were adopted (one internationally from Liberia, three through foster care) and two of our sons we made ourselves. Prior to becoming parents my husband and I were houseparents at a children’s home and had the privilege of helping to raise17 boys during our five year tenure. I’m crazy passionate about caring for kids, foster parenting and adoption, making my husband a fairly decent dinner every night, staying on top of the laundry, watching ridiculous documentaries, and doing everything I do for God’s glory.
Read more from Maralee at www.amusingmaralee.com.