People expect that the hardest thing about foster care is that you get attached to a baby who isn’t yours to keep. I get that. It is hard. I tried for the first couple weeks to keep my heart slightly hardened, but it just doesn’t make sense. If I can’t love this little girl with my whole heart, then what is the point of her being here?
No, what is actually harder is to love her mom.
I have lived a life struggling to love instead of judge. I suppose we all do, but I am self-aware enough to know that it is a fault of mine. See, the blessing of coming from an extremely blessed life and background is that … well, you come from an extremely blessed life and background. The downside is it is hard to see life through any lens but your own.
Again, I am sure everyone struggles a bit with this. But walking in other people’s shoes is harder when you are used to designer shoes (metaphorically speaking—most of my shoes are from Target) and you are asked to wear $2 flip flops.
Now listen. I am not suggesting that it is not OK to look upon the actions of another mother toward her child and call them inappropriate. And I am not suggesting that in the foster care system there are not many many instances where children should not be returned to their mothers. The ability to physically birth a child does not make you a mom.
But as I sat across from this woman who has made many bad choices with her life, I watched her look at me and a tear form in her eye. I had her child. I rocked her child to sleep. I giggled with her baby on the floor. I got to be there the first time her daughter rolled over. She has made a myriad of bad choices, but I am not sure we started with the same deck.
Ryan traveled all week last week on a business trip and I was left to fend for myself for five days with four kids. It went as well as it could. For some reason, baby S decided this was the week she would decide not to sleep at night, so I was low on sleep all week. Short tempered with a baby who was doing nothing but being a baby.
On Thursday morning in a frantic race to get out the door and get the kids to school on time, I went out to open the minivan power door and there was no power. My first clue that my battery was dead. I called my dad who lives a few blocks away and he was able to come to my rescue.
I was on five hours of sleep (maybe). With no spouse around. Pressed for time with four kids in my care. And I seriously wanted to just throw in the towel for the day. I, who had help and resources and support all around me, wanted to curl into the fetal position and check out for awhile. How much worse would it have been without support?
Again, I want to be clear. Having no support system, an addiction, a horrible childhood, an abusive past. None of those things excuse not being a parent to your children. Nothing ever excuses harming or neglecting a child. Nothing.
But I have an opportunity to offer empathy. I have an opportunity to reach out in love. I have an opportunity to be someone who encourages rather than another person who contributes to a cycle I can’t possibly comprehend.
I don’t know what the future holds for our family or for baby S. But I know my job. It is to love.