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In life there are no guarantees.
A little over a week ago, we were asked to sit on a panel that included representatives from the Department of Children’s Services and active foster parents to answer questions for a class of prospective foster parents. Our caseworker had emailed us and said that the class would appreciate our “expertise”, which made me laugh since we’re only starting our third year of being foster parents. We are only on our second placement, though having two kids under two years old placed with us the first time was a sort of “baptism by fire” that taught us a lot of things very quickly.
It was with no small amount of trepidation that I entered the classroom and discovered that we were the only parents on the panel, so ours would be the only voices that didn’t come from DCS. That simultaneously made me feel better about being there, needed, while increasing the pressure I felt to present the reality of the last couple of years without sugar coating the unpleasant bits or painting everything as more bleak than it was. I didn’t know what to expect from the class- I had no idea how far through the process they were, what questions they might ask, or even what the mix of typical foster parents and kinship parents would be. Sure, there might be a few procedural things that would overlap between what we deal with on a regular basis as standard resource parents, but so many of the kinship parents I’ve met have been grandparents working through the process to care for their grandchildren that I don’t feel that there’s anything I can share that will benefit them because they’ve done all of the actual parenting stuff before. Maybe that’s more a case of me being self-conscious than an actual issue though.
Once we started talking, the time passed quickly and I barely realized that we’d been there for a little more than two hours when the panel wrapped up. The questions covered a lot of ground, some of them touching on things that we’ve dealt with personally and some that we could only repeat what we’d been told during our own classes and when the topics have come up in conversations with our caseworker. We both had things to contribute throughout the evening and some of the participants from DCS made a point of saying that we did very well. But that’s another topic altogether.
As we wrapped up, the facilitator asked for parting words of wisdom from each of the panelists. One of the DCS employees said something that stuck in my mind: patience. She reminded everyone that the department very often finds itself handling a lot of cases with fewer resources than they might like and that sometimes phone calls won’t be returned and information won’t come immediately, but they will come. I have no problem remembering that the majority of the time, but I haven’t always taken that fact to heart so it helps me to be reminded.
When my turn came, I saw a chance to be unoriginal, so I also said: patience. I needed to add something to convince myself that I had something more to contribute, so I expanded on it by saying that I’ve come to believe that it’s important for foster parents to not only be patient with birth families but with themselves. Any of the positive interactions I’ve had with birth families have mostly been because I’ve tried to put myself in a similar position and imagine how I would behave if it were my child that had been taken away and sent to live with total strangers. I’ve been lucky so far and I know that I may not always be able to manage empathy depending on the situation that gets the system involved in the first place, but I think it’s a good aspiration to have. It’s also been painfully obvious from day one that I’ve needed to be patient with myself, because N has to remind me that my expectations are sometimes too high for myself and others and that no one can be perfect 100% of the time. Instead, I try to ask myself every day whether I’m confident that I’ve done everything I could for the kids to make sure their lives were as good as I could make them and that they knew they were loved if that day was going to be the last time I ever saw them and the last chance I’d ever have to be a part of their lives. The answer isn’t always yes, but it helps me to be mindful of the fact that tomorrow isn’t guaranteed.