Does this look familiar? Click on the comment link in any posting and leave us some feedback- we'd love to hear from you!

Friday, April 13, 2007

Children and Loyalty (Part II of Foster/Adopting Series)

As I mentioned very briefly before, children have an allegiance or loyalty to the caregivers who created their foundations, regardless of what else happened at the time. Often children in foster care will be vehemently supportive of parents who may have done horrible things to them. This is actually a good thing. If your child were to be taken away and placed in someone else's care for whatever reason, would you want that child to turn against you or forget you? None of us would want that. And despite whatever happened, the parent is still the 'owner' of that child (for lack of a better term) and will most likely bring that child home again. The goal of foster care is always to reunite a family if possible. So if we plan to send that child home after the parent receives the necessary training or is recovered from the medical emergency or whatever the circumstance, we want that child to continue to see the parent as authoritative. Why?

This probably sounds very foreign, because many people we run into who know we are foster parents say things like "They should never get them back if they are removed" or "I hope they never go home". Sometimes this opinion is well-founded. There has crept such sin into this world that people do unthinkable things to one another- including their own children. But we cannot make a generalized statement of such matters. For one, there are parents who are not guilty. Many a pioneering homeschooler was either threatened with or realized jail time and the removal of children because of the 'crime' of keeping them home. We look back now and see it as preposterous, but it continues to happen in countries where homeschooling is not yet legal. There are also instances of custody battles where one parent will make false accusation against the other in an attempt to gain vengeance. There are children who enter foster care only to be retuned home for lack of evidence.

Another situation that is not well known by the public is the teenaged girl who enters foster care along with her child or soon to be born child. Regardless of what was going on at home to allow a child to have a child, the fact that she did not abort that baby requires our respect. And the goal again is to have the mother receive training and then allow her to raise the child. Why would we then want to try and compete for the affection of the infant? Our job is simply to make sure the two of them are fed, clothed, warm, loved, and healthy. We need to nurture her mothering instinct rather then provide an escape or take over her role.

Then there are the situations where the child will never go home. Either the parents surrender their rights, or the courts take the rights away. Now we have a child or children who are still fiercely loyal to parents whom they will probably never see again, and the need for an adoptive family. Recently there has been much done toward licensing foster homes as adoptive homes all in one move, so that the child can remain in the same place if adoption becomes the goal. This is both a good and bad decision. It is obviously good for a child to have as few interruptions in life as possible, since each will bring its own trauma and scars. It can also be helpful to hasten the adjustment period if little changes in the small, practical matters (where I sleep, my school routines, and the people I know). The continuity and security will allow a child to view the situation with much less of a panic and feeling of abandonment. It will not completely remove it, however. Even a child who does not wish to go back home will have the loss of parents to deal with. This stage makes permanent changes, and that is something that cannot be taken lightly.

The down side of keeping a child in a foster home to be adopted is the change of command. Foster parents are accountable to a long list of people for everything that occurs in the foster child's life. Something as simple as a hair cut must be approved by the birth parents, and the child sees that chain of command carried out in everything from special documentation for the schools since the foster parents cannot give consent for emergency treatment, to the gifts a parent may give the child that foster parents might not approve of but have no real grounds to refuse (for instance, I do not like the Bratz line of products because they sexualize little girls, but I cannot say they are not allowed if the birth parent buys them because I am not the ultimate authority of that child). The caseworkers come to interview the children, asking if they are happy and feel safe, at visitation the parents ask questions about the foster home and how it is different from their own, and many, many other incidents cement the low position of the foster parent on the chain of command into the child's mind. Then in cases where the courts place the child in permanent custody and available for adoption, there is a sudden shift.

I'm sure you can see the thought line of these children already. One day I'm really a nobody as far as making decision for him or her, and the next I am the forever parent, with the ultimate responsibility and authority for the child's welfare. Naturally, ever decision I make is going to be challenged. When we are out in public and I say "No, you may not have ice cream because you have not eaten anything except french fries from your dinner" the child instinctually begins to look for someone to overrule me. She will cry, put on a sad, pathetic face, and search for a sucker in the crowd. I have gotten into arguments with waitresses, passersby, and even my own extended family because of the too-strict rules I enforced in public. What they do not realize is that it does not matter what the rule is, the point is to show the child that I (we) are the actually authority now. They do not know that the child snuck out in the middle of the night and ate an entire box of granola bars, or that he refused to eat a hamburger as an act of 'terrorism'. That is exactly what we deal with. What do terrorists do? They try to force you to concede to their demands by threats, violence, or public humiliation. That is how a kid who does not accept his new parents operates. And I do not concede to the demands of terrorists.

I do want to stop here and answer one question I hear all the time. Why don't you show them love instead? Back before we got any placements, I really believed that hugging and kissing a child could fix anything. I fell for the line that all they needed was someone to love them. Now, I agree completely that love is absolutely necessary. But I have realized over the years that love is not just hugs and kisses and pats on the back. Love is hard. Love makes you accountable and love has a price to it. Jesus loved us. So did he just hug and kiss out sins away? Hardly. He confronted people with their sins. He obviously did this from a motive of love- he wanted to see them delivered from those sins. And ultimately, he was beaten and mutilated more than any man had been and lived, THEN he was crucified on the cross where he willingly gave his life to save sinners. Love was brutal, ugly, and sad. So how does that compare to fostering and adopting? You will be sacrificing a lot in order to try and help these kids. (I'll get into the specifics of this in part 4). So this is tough love in the flesh. Love does what is best, not what is easy or fun. Sometimes the best thing is for a child to suffer a little. Let her pride be trampled because you would not give in. Let her feel the embarrassment of looking odd in public because she refused to comb her hair just to get at you. In the end, she will be better off because she will know there is stability in you (even if it looks 'mean', it is constant) and she will know that she cannot terrorize her way through life.

Go to Part III

1 comment:

Laura said...

Very good post! I soooooo relate, as I am also a foster/adopt mama! Not an easy road, huh? Thanks for sharing!