Today I saw a Facebook post of some friends of mine who have been foster parents for a sibling group of three little kids over the last few years. The post included a cute, professional family photo of them smiling with their foster kids and their new baby. The caption below it read, “Took a family picture before my oldest daughter has to go live with her bio dad.” The photo and the caption broke my heart.
Many years ago, long before our battle with infertility, Heidi and I were foster parents to a cute little first grader we called JoJo. Heidi got to know JoJo when she was a first grade teacher, and he was a student in her class for a brief amount of time. One day, Heidi came home and told me that she thought we should look into taking him into our home as a foster kid. Apparently, he was in a home with four or five other foster kids and was not happy there. After some paperwork and some contact with CPS, he came to live with our family on Christmas Eve.
One thing we learned quickly was that Child Protective Services — especially in the state of Arizona — has a very strong biology bias. What I mean by that is that they push VERY hard for the rights of biological parents, even in the face of chronic and appalling negligence or abuse. We had it in our minds that we would like to adopt JoJo in order to give him a stable, loving home in which to live, but ours was a maddening uphill battle because the State is generally more interested in a child being with his/her biological parent than being in a loving home. The small-minded idea that blood is more important than bond is something that I have very strong feelings about — but that’s another post altogether.
Eventually, JoJo went back to live with extended family until such a time as his mother was able to get out of jail and get on with living a responsible adult life. From what I can gather, it sounds like she has made some positive changes, and I’m pretty sure JoJo (now 16/17 years old) is either living with or has some contact with her. I’m happy about that — not so much for her sake, but for JoJo’s.
Though it’s been many years since we had JoJo, there is one nagging question I can never seem to shake: Does JoJo’s mom really have any idea what we did for her son? I’m not talking about a roof and three square meals a day, I mean the care and love and protection and stability and guidance that we brought into his life when she was off dealing with her own issues? Is she grateful that there were two loving adults who took her little six year-old and gave him hugs, read him books, and tucked him in at night while she was in jail? When he wondered if his absent parents even loved him, does she care that we assured him that he was valuable and loved by them, by us, and by God?
I hope so.
Even in a more broad sense, do any parents whose kids have been in the foster care system really grasp the tremendous gift that their child was given while they were unable to be there like they should have been? From what I can tell, there isn’t much gratitude there — but there should be.
So to all you foster parents out there who are practicing the art of loving a child who could be ripped away at any minute, I want to say thank you. Thank you for loving children who feel unloved. Thank you for putting your heart at risk for the sake of a smaller, more fragile heart. Thank you for doing one of the most important and thankless jobs there is.
In the case of my friends, thank you for truly making this girl your daughter. The State may not have recognized you as her mom and dad, but I know that you were.
And I think she knows it too.