Foster Parenting

Published on May 13th, 2014 | by Mutha Magazine



When I thought about having a baby I imagined one thing. Forty weeks spent growing a non-verbal lump of human, a thing that would come out helpless and small. It would be the same race as me and have my last name. We would have months to gradually babyproof the house, get our dog used to small children, research daycare and preschool before any of these things had to happen. I could work on making mommy friends, maybe even gay mommy friends. (There is this mythical lesbian couple with triplets, for instance, a friend of a friend, that I’ve yet to meet). There could be friends for the kid by the time it was ready to play with other children, and friends for me to talk about mom stuff with– whatever that means.

Last fall the plan changed. My donor was having some health problems and my partner and I began researching being foster parents. We found there was a great need in our community and signed up for the class, which met for nine weeks in the choir room of a Baptist church.

At our last foster parent class, I asked how you should respond to people asking questions about the child’s situation. “If you do it right, if you treat them like your own, people won’t know the child is a foster child.” If you’re gay with kids, though, people want to know where they came from. If your kids are a different race from you, people want to know where they came from. Last year, when I was talking about getting pregnant, people asked me tons of questions. Invasive, personal, about-my-body questions. If someone doesn’t have a child, and then suddenly they have a two- or five- or ten year old child, people are going to ask questions. If I’m bumbling through systems that parents of school-age children are expected to understand – calling the pediatrician, registering for school, signing up for soccer or Girl Scouts – people are going to notice. Add into that the fact that we’re young and visibly queer (we don’t look like ‘parents’) and we live in a small town in the South. People notice things, and they don’t always mind their own business.

When I thought about getting pregnant, I thought about it in the way that many people do: if you make all the right choices, the child will turn out right. “Right” means like you, or a better version of you. The child will share your preferences and values– they won’t drink Kool-Aid or eat gluten or fast food; they won’t quit their violin lessons. Parents brag that their children prefer grapes over candy or have never watched a cartoon in their life or have no idea who Justin Bieber is. I thought about that too, when I thought about a baby– how we would buy only the smooth, earthy toys like my partner had growing up at Waldorf school– beeswax and gauzy scarves and puppets. Getting to choose everything, to shape a person from the moment of conception. No BPA or school lunches, no Disney-themed bedspreads or t-shirts.

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This idea of choice is also about fear– if you do things right, nothing bad will happen. If you do things right, your own individual child in your own individual house will be soft, pure, unexposed to misogyny or pesticides. If you make all the right choices, if you do parenting right, your child will be mindful and empathetic; have a long attention span; be emotionally resilient and invulnerable to bullies and predators.

I had to give this up when I decided to foster, give up the idea of parenting as a series of choices designed to maximize results raising a blank-slate child. My choices cannot prevent a bad thing from happening; a bad thing has already happened. Not only are many of the choices out of my hands, but the child is going to come fully formed, with preferences and desires. The child will be different from me, and a stranger. They may do things I don’t understand, like run track or hoard food. They might like things I find politically suspect, like Disney Princesses, or things I find ugly, like shoes with Velcro.

The child will probably not be like me, and will probably not be mine forever. But the purpose of love is to see the other as they truly are, and to nurture their spiritual growth. I will love them because they are hurt and because they are here, in my house. I’m not going to see Doritos and Hannah Montana as battles or obstacles or a moral issue.

Sometimes I worry. We’re expecting to get a placement (child-welfare speak for “bringing a kid to your house and leaving them there”) around the time school gets out, and since we’ve finished most of the tasks associated with getting ready (“licensed”) all I have to do is wait. What if they try to bring us a baby instead of the school-age child that we specified? What if the child pees on the walls or kicks the dog or won’t bathe or refuses to eat? Should we make a chore chart? I’ve filled out all the paperwork, so now I’m dreaming, and obsessing. This child, our temporary child, is out there playing and going to school and possibly having a really hard time, right now, somewhere in the tri-county area.

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I try to think about it in terms of faith: I am choosing to have faith in my partner and I, our capacity to love, even under difficult circumstances. One day she tells me, “Whatever is supposed to happen, will.” I hope she’s right.

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Exploring real-life motherhood, from every angle, at every stage.

3 Responses to On FOSTER DREAMING

  1. Dawn says:

    Even if you get a Disney-loving, junk food eating, Justin Bieber obsessed tweener, I know you’ll all survive. It’s all about love, security, and just being there – whether they’re born to you or only “on loan”. And you and your partner are infinitely capable of “being there”.

  2. Claire says:

    My wife and I are trying to have a baby and OMG the personal questions people ask you. I’m glad I’m not the only one. It’s insane how much right people seem to think they have to very personal information. And why does everyone suggest we get pregnant at the same time?

  3. Stefanie says:

    As a foster parent of a wonderful two-year-old girl (living with us for amazing six months by now!) I am sending you a big hug. We’ve been through all those questions and all the fear and waiting and all the doubts. I can’t promise that it will be easy but it’s worth it. Our life is a rollercoaster of love, laugh, tears, fears and besides all problems: I can’t even imagine living without our shiny little girl. I wish you all the best. Be open, be sensitive, be strong. You’ll make it!

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