Niki is currently taking Sociology. The professor had told each of his students that they were to answer the questions on the handout (basically a rough outline) of what their end of semester paper was going to be about. If they didn’t hear back from him, he liked the topic and outline and they could write about it. If they heard back from him, then he had an issue with it and would call them in for a meeting to discuss it. Three weeks later, Niki was called in for a meeting.
She had chosen to do her paper on the dynamics of foster care. It ended up that he didn’t want her to change topics but instead wanted her to narrow her paper to a single dynamic about foster care. He was explaining to her that before he was a sociology professor, he was a social worker. He also grew up in foster care himself. He was one of 16 children in his biological mom’s home. His dad was not in the picture, he didn’t share why, and when he was 7, his mom put him on the street and told him to fend for himself because she couldn’t take care of him. Thus he grew up in foster care. He told Niki that he never wanted affection from his foster parents in the way we want affection from our parents. Affection to him was a roof over his head, clothes to wear, and food to eat.
Niki was telling him a bit about our story. When she told him, “My parents adopted my brothers…” he stopped her cold in her tracks and told her he wanted to hear more but needed to say something first. He told her, “You come from a loving family.” With a puzzled look on her face, she asked him, “Why?” He responded, “Because you said my brothers instead of my foster brothers”. They went on talking and Niki said it was one of the best conversations she’s ever had with anyone.
I was recently talking to a brand new foster parent. She was confiding in me that she felt guilty that she didn’t love her foster child the same as her biological children. I shared with her that I felt guilty about that at first too. Then I realized that love doesn’t come in one form. Many languages have multiple words for love because there are different types of love. It’s a shame that the English language only has one word for it. I do not love my parents in the same way that I love my husband. Likewise, I do not love my children in the same way I love my husband. I love them all differently. And just because I love them differently, does not mean I love one more than the other. It’s just different. The same goes for foster and adopted children. My bond with my boys happened in a very different way from my bond to Niki and Gabriel. I still love them though. It’s just different.
Sadly, from what I’ve been told from several sources, being in foster care is not a guarantee that you will see 3 meals a day or get clothes let alone affection from your foster parents. For Les and myself, we took care of these 5 little guys day in and day out. We took them to therapy, surgery, the ER, birthparent visits, church, and the grocery store. I cleaned their diapers, wiped up their throw up, and bathed them. I dealt with their meltdowns, their seizures, and everything in between. To us – they were our children even if I didn’t give birth to them. We treated them no differently than we did Niki. We always referred to all five of the boys as Niki’s brothers – because they were. They traumatized her (at first) as they escaped from their rooms naked after a bath. She snuggled with them on the couch as they watched tv. And…they got into her room and went through her stuff just like my little brothers did to me.
I’ve heard many things over the years after taking in the boys. “I could never take care of someone else’s children.” “You’re such a saint for doing this for these children.” “Your children will appreciate what you’ve done for them when they’re older.” …and many more.
The fact of the matter is that maybe it was a huge blessing that I waited 18 years before I held my next biological child in my arms. It gave me time to think about just how precious each and every child is in the world – born from my womb…or not. Yes, some days it’s more challenging than others but every time someone tells me “I could never take care of someone else’s children” I think of –
For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? Matthew 5:46