One of the things I have the hardest time talking about is my marriage. Why? I was raised that you don’t air your private life in a public forum. In so many ways that cat has been let out of the bag for years but if possible I try to keep my marriage more private than public. While fundamentally I know that no relationship is truly ever perfect, I often feel as if my marriage is compared to this unattainable perfection others are seeking. The ugly truth is that our marriage is as imperfect as we are. Even with all of our imperfections one of the many things that has kept our relationship going is that we try to be on the same team even when we are each on different paths.

Too often I hear that a marriage failed because the people within the relationship were just on different paths and seeking different things. The sad part is that half of that statement is a copout. It is very possible to be on different paths and make a relationship work. Most of life is about being on a different path than those around you. There are many things that make a relationship work from common goals or interests to core family values but most of all make sure you are working as a team.

 

Walking Different Paths

There have only been a handful of times that Rent-a-Dad and I were truly walking the exact same path. Those times all occurred while we were in college. We went to the same school and for a time held the exact same position at the same restaurant.

Since then we have counted ourselves lucky if we have been able to sleep under the same roof for more than a few days at a time and break bread together. The first job after college for Rent-a-Dad had him traveling out of state to train people on the program his company sold. My first full time job out of college had me working 10am to 6pm one month and 5pm to midnight the next.

Even with very different career paths, Rent-a-Dad and I have felt our relationship has done fine as long as we make sure we are still working as a team. Part of that is the knowledge that we have very similar family values. Then there is the shared respect for and support of the other’s career goals. Having shared common interests and respect for interests we do not share also helps. Ultimately, the knowledge that when the sh*t hits the fan that there is no one else either one of us would rather have there beside us is a big plus. The rest has just been the sand filling in around the pebbles, rocks and boulders.

Being on different paths has never been a problem for us. My grandparents used to tell us that as long as we didn’t go to bed angry, or could at least give each other a kiss goodnight, that the rest was gravy.

 

The World is a Different Place

In my opinion it is very rare that both partners within a relationship are on exactly the same path. My question then is: Why is it that people seem shocked when they hear two people on different paths have been together for so long?

In part it is that the world is a very different place today then it was 150, 100 or even 50 years ago. Part of that difference is the role that women play in the household. Before women were mostly just homemakers and were meant to fully support the endeavors of their spouse.

I have had friends who quote parts of the bible to show that it is the job (as in only job) of a woman to fully support her spouse in all his endeavors. While I am happy to support my husband in his endeavors, I am not 100% sold on the idea that my sole purpose in life is to make his easier.

That said I also don’t quite fit into the other camp. You know the one where a woman is not allowed to be a homemaker without sending her whole gender back to the dark ages, not to mention how it would spit on all of the struggles of our fore-mothers. I truly detest that thought as our fore-mothers did what they did so that we could have a choice. That, however, is a conversation for another day.

The world is different and women have more options today than ever before. Does that truly mean we can not have careers and be a wife or choose to be a homemaker? Does it mean that two people on different paths can not find a common ground on which to build a relationship or be part of a team?

 

Watching the Evolution of Relationships

Relationships are often judged (based) on what is seen around us. In a day and time where most of the youth are watching the evolution of relationships on TV or YouTube, it can be shocking when a relationship lasts longer then that of a pop-star, let alone longer than one of her songs.

To top that off there are plenty of children growing up in single parent households or homes where their parental figures do not respect each other. Children are witnessing a lot of conflict without seeing good ways to work around or to avoid the conflict. They are growing up with skewed relationship goals and fractured family values. As they are reaching adulthood they aren’t sure how to be apart of a healthy adult relationship where you don’t have to be in each other’s pocket 24/7 let alone the fact that relationships are just 2-person teams. If they could see a relationship in terms of a team then they could better understand all of its moving parts from the importance of trust to shared goals and values.

 

Then and Now

Some of what I have said probably comes off a bit arrogant considering I do not have a degree in sociology or psychology. However, I am speaking from a place of experience. Even though it is a cliché, it is also the truth.

My head was always in the clouds as a youth. What I thought were “perfect relationships” frequently weren’t. They were relationships built on appearances and consequently were set on the path of break-up or divorce before really starting. The relationships that truly lasted took effort and were often messy in their own right.

Thanks to being a dreamer growing up on Disney romances, I often thought I needed a prince to come and rescue me from my own life. Little did I know then that life is not something you could escape, that life is what you make of it for better, or worse. The first lasting relationship you need to work on is the one with yourself.

Then there was the truth that I was more capable of rescuing myself, and my prince, than waiting around for the perfect person to come rescue me. Too often this inner Disney inspired dreamer led me to looking for a guy that fit an archetype that never truly existed. Or I sought a larger than life “spark” when most good relationships are built on smaller moments.

In essence I ignored all of the truly good relationships around me and opted to seek something out that was fictional. Yes, from experience, I do know some of what teenagers and young adults are going through today.

I know I passed by (and over) some really good relationships. While I was a truly hopeless youth, I did learn from my mistakes in enough time to recognize someone who would be one of my greatest supporters.

While I have been married for over 16 years, our marriage has not always been a cakewalk, nor will it ever be something I would consider “easy”. All relationships take work, and that means effort on both party’s parts. A relationship is never a one-sided affair. When it works it is like a well-oiled machine, or more aptly put it is like being part of a winning team.

Fostering My Village

village

In the early days of talking about fostering, Rent-a-Dad and I knew two things about our fostering path. We wanted fostering to be more than just a way to grow our family. It was always about opening our home to children in a way in which they would always feel it was a safe haven. In the process of creating a safe haven we have also built a village.

Birth parents describe the first moments of seeing their babies as “love at first sight”. It really was no different for us with each placement. Everyone has hopes that they will feel that way about birth and adoptive children. Not many people say that about foster children but honestly, for us, how could we not feel that way?

Our first placements were a sibling group. We went to the hospital to pick them up after a check-up. Rent-a-Dad gravitated to the 13-month old blond haired blue eyed bundle of energy that could have passed as his son. My own arms were naturally reaching for the cooing 3-week old baby that easily could have been my baby. For both us there was an immediate bond with these children.

Even with this natural connection we were not jaded into thinking they belonged to us or that we would instantly be better parents. The truth is we always knew the plan was for the boys to return home. If that was not possible there were plenty of biological family members who would have taken the boys if plans changed.

Another truth was that we didn’t really know what to expect with our first placement. We didn’t know what would happen with the case, how the family would act and ultimately what kind of foster parents we would be. What we did know was that we wanted the family to know the boys were being taken care of and that we wanted to show them respect. It is easier to reciprocate respect when it is first given. Respect is always a good foundation on which to build any relationship.

Respect, so far, is the foundation we have used to build relationships with each birth family. Respect, honesty, and patience are other good foundation stones. Thanks to those building blocks we have been able to do more than develop relationships. We have been able to grow a relationship that has gone past reunification.

At the beginning of each placement we have had no idea what would be the end of each story. Because we did not assume the end story would be adoption but rather reunification, we were able to have meaningful interactions with the birth families. These interactions have gone beyond what DCS, or us really, would have expected.

By the time our first placements went home friends and family were asking “what is the plan”. That question meant something different for each person who asked us. For some it meant “do you think you will stay in touch with the family”. Others who asked really just wanted to know if the pain and loss would prove to be too much for us and end our journey. Some gently urged us to re-consider outright adoption. No one quite expected what actually happened, not even us.

Our hope has always been to have some form of continued relationship with each placement and their family. The shocker has been how close of a relationship we have been able to have. While all of our placements have been successfully re-united with family, we have yet to go more than one week without some form of contact with each child.

The children are still a part of the village we are building. Not only are they a part of our village but they each are part of their own village as they all have growing friendships with each other.

Our village is more than a family. It goes beyond blood ties. Our village is about never giving up on the children who come into our care.

Our village is about providing reciprocal advice, support, and love. Because we have been there for these children and been supportive of the families, we are often asked for our input on care for the children. This would not happen without trust of the family. Often the questions we receive are on topics the birth parents are worried about asking their family for advice on. This knowledge is humbling.

When our friends and family first found out how involved we still are in these children’s lives we recieved a lot of concerned questions. The biggest two being “If DCS wanted these families reunited so badly, why are you still involved? Why aren’t you letting the parents learn how to swim on their own?”

The truth is often more complicated than we want it to be. Both Rent-a-dad and I know first hand how it can take a village to raise a child. If we all walk away from these children, pull this support network out from under these families, then we, as foster parents, are failing them just to be spiteful. That is not who we are.

It takes a village to raise a child. We may not be the permanent caregivers, parents, or blood relations of any kind, but what we are is bigger. We are the people who help create this village for this child.

Our home will always be open, just as our hearts will be.

This is how we want to help break the chain for the next generation. There are statistics that show a portion of children currently in care came from parents who were also in care. We don’t want any child in our care to be in a place where they will continue that cycle.

Too many times the reason a child came into care goes beyond neglect or drug use. It goes beyond one bad decision. The circumstance is complicated and situation did not happen overnight. One big reason children come into care is because of a lack of resources and knowledge of available resources. Birth families feel isolated in their situations. Isolation leads people to bad decision making and reacting instead of planning. We hope that as birth families get to know us that they feel comfortable turning to us for advice knowing we care about the future of their children.

There is always room to expand one’s village.

While we do not expect that everyone will understand how we are growing our village or how the village is meant to function, we hope that there will be respect for what we are attempting to accomplish.