Born out of sadness; Used to cause pain.
The past two weeks have had its fair share of ups and downs for my family. Ups have included the munchkins in our life. Downs have included finding out my mother’s ever dwindling health is even worse. Watching those you love slowly die without being able to help them can be shelved up there with some pretty horrible life moments. Another down moment was a teaching lesson for me, a moment of sadness imparted in what I thought was a private setting that was then shared to cause others pain.
While writing a post this month I created a meme that pulled out a very specific moment in a post, a moment born out of sadness. I shared that post on our Facebook page and the meme with our state fostering community. The thought process behind sharing the meme and not the post was that it was a quick thought, no need to share an entire post. Something from one foster parent to another. After all if I couldn’t share my sadness with them who else could I share it with?
The meme was shared in what I felt was a safe place for foster parents, something advertised as a support group for foster and adoptive parents. In support groups you don’t judge those hurting, right? A support group is a safe haven, right?
What I couldn’t predict was that meme would be shared outside of our fostering community. Whomever the person was who shared the meme, they apparently shared it with birth parents who are currently in pain over their loss and fighting through a system that is failing them. The meme outraged and further hurt some of those people.
Outside of the context of how my husband and I foster, the meme would paint me as the enemy to struggling birth parents. They wouldn’t have the opportunity to know I am an advocate of reunification. Let alone how our method of fostering has created a loving village and refuge for both foster children and birth families.
The post I am talking about is Some truth in being a temporary parent and the meme is included right here.
Suddenly that meme has had many more views than I ever had intended. While it has brought people to our page wanting to share their story, to be heard in a way they thought they might not, it has also caused some unnecessary pain.
Could I have made the meme friendly for all, even those outside of a foster parent support group?
Should I have used the word “stolen”, as was said in one comment, instead of the word “borrowed”?
I write as a foster parent. I hurt as a foster parent. The point that I can sympathize and help birth parents with reunification does not change my own struggles or the fact that I am a foster parent.
To put all of the words/emotions I feel about the bittersweet moments of happiness and joy, as a foster parent into one meme is nigh unto impossible.
The meme was created with the picture of an art project one of our former fosters made. It was an art project that I scanned in so I could have a copy while I gave the original to the birth mother. The birth mother cried over the picture as she loved it. We cried together. We talked about borrowed moments, her words.
When I wrote the post mentioned above, the comment I made in reference to our relationship with my nephew and his family was:
“Because I feel as if our happiness comes at another’s expense.
We are living on borrowed joy.”
I used that phrase of “borrowed joy” because that wording has come up multiple times in our fostering journey.
My nephew’s own mother and I talk often about “borrowed joy” and how precious our relationship is to each other. That she enjoys sharing her children with us as any mother loves sharing her children with aunts and uncles. She thinks of us as siblings separated by space, time and birth. That we were brought together because God knew we needed each other. Even with all of this in mind, I still feel like I am taking moments away from her but she says it is not taking but rather borrowing something she wants to share.
Right now a high percentage of the birth parents we have worked with see our relationships and interactions as blessed. They have talked about the moments they have missed as their own fault; how they are grateful for what we have done for them. Moments are talked about as shared, as much as one can share them, even described as borrowed, but not stolen. I have been told by them to get over this thought of feeling like I am taking something away from them because they feel like I have given them so much more in return. Should I doubt their sincerity?
Should I have used the word “stolen”?
Not for a meme being shared on my Facebook fan page or in the privacy of what I thought was a (closed) support group for foster parents (it is an open community page support group because of government funding).
Does the wording make a difference?
Yes, obviously it makes a difference.
Even though I am someone who believes in working with birth families and reunification, I am also someone who sees a rainbow of foster parent personalities. Foster parents do not see themselves as thieves.
Those who are bad apples will never see themselves as anything bad.
There is a spectrum though. You have good, bad, and those that fall in-between. Sometimes circumstances can make you appear as more of a villain than a savior.
Most who choose to foster mainly (or only) to adopt a baby generally has their mind closed off to the idea of theft (“You can’t steal what someone else doesn’t want.” And yes I have heard that insensitive and inflammatory statement used before).
Those who are decent or good foster parents are doing so out of the goodness of their heart; because they feel they have a calling; and not for any of the income (even as small as it is).
To use the word “stolen” implies stealing/theft. Using that word would be like putting salt into an open wound as many good foster parents make daily sacrifices to be foster parents.
As in my case, one of the daily sacrifices I make is splitting myself and my time up, sometimes at the detriment of my own marriage and own self-care. Having a job, being a foster parent, staying involved in the lives of former foster children (and providing aid to their parents), being a care-giver to my mom… it all comes at a price and that price generally is I have less time for me or any kind of private time with my husband.
The truth is I wouldn’t share this meme on a birth parent support group page. I would share something inspiring to their plight. Words of encouragement like:
“Once a parent, always a parent”
“Birth parents are NOT the enemy”
“Never give up! Keep fighting until they are in your arms again”
Inciting the anger of birth parents and keeping that anger fueled is more destructive than helpful. I would rather empower them, inspire them, and raise them up so that they can complete their plan, get their children back and beat the system, not cause them pain or undue sadness on top of what they are already experiencing.