There are times when all it takes is the whisper of a breeze to blow you down, crying and snotting in the dirt where you just want to lay and rest for awhile. Down there in the mud created by your weeping, pity parties are easily arranged affairs. Or so I’ve heard. It’s not like I was there last week, making tear-and-mud pies and whining at passersby to join me in my sadfest. Okay, so that was me.
It was the mountain of paper that got me this time. In addition to the scores of papers originating from school to be read, signed, checked, and oohed and aahed over, I had at least 10 weeks’ worth of daily logs (per child), reminders and announcements from my foster agency, checklists, helpful articles, official documents, emergency preparedness forms and escape plans, and formal letters staring at me from my refrigerator, my coffee table, my desk, and my I-know-I-just-cleaned-that dresser. Everywhere I looked there were papers and every time I saw papers I wanted to cry. After I allowed myself a good cry, I realized I wasn’t upset about the papers. What was hurting me was what many of the papers symbolized: the loneliness that comes part and parcel with raising children who for some reason or another do not have a place in line when the roll is called for relatively normal childhoods with little to no interruptions for cataclysmic events.
Being a foster parent, especially a new(ish)foster parent without biological children who is parenting children outside the age range of the children of many of her peers, can be incredibly lonely. While parents often seem to connect with each other by sharing memories and information about their children, my earliest memories of my children go back to the morning of August 19, 2014 and much of what I know about my children is confidential, so I struggle in connecting with other parents. Then there are my attempts to share common parenting trials such as trying to parent a teenager who is wholeheartedly being a teenager and being greeted with well-meaning but disheartening exhortations to not give up on my child, as if people do not realize that I chose a teenager knowing there would be skirmishes and think that I am one eye roll or huffy exit away from kicking my child to the curb. Add to that the background checks for babysitters, the restrictions on normal childhood things like sleepovers and playing at a friend’s house, the many appointments, the implications from some that ‘foster’ is a synonym for fake and we are not a real family, and the emotional toll that foster care takes on every single member of a family and there is a lot of fodder for a poor-me-poor-us feast.
I almost partook of it. I almost sat there and stuffed myself on the idea that we are unique in our struggles. But as I started to mentally go down the list of all that makes us different, I began to see that I am far from alone and my family is not exceptional. My children are just two of nearly 400,000 foster children in private homes, group homes, or institutions. Beyond the spectrum of foster care, there are thousands of families who yearn for a sense of normalcy amidst diagnoses, treatments, emergencies, and loss far greater than my comprehension. My children are not the only ones who had to go to a new school and make new friends this year. I am not the only mom who feels guilty for not being my children’s ‘real’ mom. We are not the only parents trying to convince their children that the myriad appointments and visits are not punishments for who they are but necessary for their health and wellbeing. My family is not the only family created from a blend of heartrending tragedy, uncertain hope, and fierce love. If I am lonely, it is because I am not looking beyond myself.
The most difficult aspect of parenting thus far has been the realization that I cannot teach my children with integrity if I am not also willing to partake of whatever lesson needs to be learned. My children were dealt a rotten hand. No doubt about it. But self-pity is one of the greatest enemies of resilience. I want my children to find a balance between focusing on their own healing and turning their attention outward in order to help others. Preaching the message of awareness, compassion, and love for others is not enough. I must cultivate the same in my own life. There are many lonely families, lonely children, and lonely parents out there for me to find and support and there is emotional sustenance to be given and received from those who share my worries, frustrations, fears, and heartaches even if they do not share my particular circumstances. It is time to stop looking in the mirror and look out the window instead, searching for anyone who can use whatever goodness I am able to offer.