And all the other stress that comes with periods of unknown
We're officially a million years into a case without a concrete timeline. I know there's nothing new to our struggle over here at the Zehring household. Anyone who's been in a period of waiting-- for a pregnancy, for wellness, for finality in a foster care case, for closure in a relationship-- knows that the limbo period is the worst. We also know, or at least many of us could say that this place of in-between is also where the growth happens.
All of this is true and Nick and I know this in our hearts, but it just doesn't make it easier.
So here I am, writing this all out and asking myself: in this space of foster parenting (insert all other challenges) how do we navigate the most fundamental part of this journey without becoming overwhelming inward focused and negative?
The process of owning who I am
I recently took the Enneagram test and shortly afterward found myself down the rabbit hole of the 16 Personalities and the Myers-Briggs. The Enneagram is an identifying system that helps participants better understand their innate motivations and tendencies. After taking the test, I couldn't get the information out of my head. I was and still am so, so thirsty to understand myself.
I read a book by Ian Cron titled The Road Back to You and when I journal in the mornings, it’s all about wrestling with my identity. If there’s anything I’ve learned since having kids, it’s that I’m pretty much totally confused about who I am.
Motherhood has fundamentally led me to question my identity more than any other single thing in my life.
The ever-present tension of foster care
In its best form, foster care is like an amicable divorce. Both parties communicate regularly and make every effort to do what is best for the child stuck in the middle. In my opinion, self awareness and humility is a huge part of what can make foster care (and divorce) successful for the child. You need to know your limitations, faults, and be able to bend toward the other adult for the sake of the child.
In the case of our little man and our journey in foster care, self awareness is very high on our end as foster parents working closely with our little man’s family. We over analyze what we wear to court, carefully practice statements we might read in a foster care review board meeting, and always make a point to pray and take a deep breath before approaching challenging conversations.
Beyond communication and self awareness, there are practical efforts we can make to respond to this tension between our roles in his life.
In our home, we regularly mention our little man's mama. We call her by her name, talk about what she does when they're not together, and share in our excitement when it's time for him to visit her twice a week. We have photos of her in frames within eye level and make a point for all the boys to know her and her role in his life.
When opportunities arise, we have phone calls on speaker phone and have occasionally had additional visits just us and her. When people say he looks like us, we smile and share how he has her beautiful smile, infectious laugh, and stunning hair color. Nick and I are the biggest influences on our son's life right now so its our responsibility to him, to keep her presence alive and well in his mind, not knowing the future of his case.
The emotional toll of managing this responsibility gets a little more challenging. At the end of day, as a mother and woman, I am regularly confronted with the reality that I am his primary parent and she is his mother. I will always do what is required and called for as a parent, but when decisions are made for his life, I do not hold the coveted title that would otherwise define my role in his life.
In his life, we likely hold a high place, but in the eyes of the court, we are, as foster parents, the last in line because we are a part of the system’s work. We are rolled into the child services bundle of services and play a service provider role
The practical aspects of honoring biological families is a lot easier than managing the emotional tension of parenting someone else's child.
The simplest thing has changed the game for our marriage
When I first started staying/working at home, I read everything I could on schedules and activities. When I talked to my friends who already stayed at home, I asked them for their best practices on managing the balance between playtime and house chores.
I looked at staying at home and working from home with my kids full-time as a new job. Technically, that is exactly what it was.
If you're tracking with me so far, you understand that I was going from working full-time out of the house with two babies and one on the way, to working very part-time at home while caring for these kids and preparing to give birth. I really don't think there's a more drastic change to be made here folks. I had no idea what to expect and really no understanding of Nick's expectations and desires through this transition.
The realities of foster care visitation
There's really nothing that will prepare you for the moment you buckle your child into someone else's car and then watch the car drive away.
What I experience 2-3x/week with our little man's visits with his family is very common. Foster families-- and biological families-- across the country do this day in and day out.