Monday, September 20, 2010

Continuing Contact with Christian

I almost always erase text messages within a few days of receiving them in order to keep my inbox from becoming too cluttered. But for the past two months I’ve had a text message saved on my phone: It’s from Christian’s father and he sent it the day my husband dropped Christian off to him for the last time.  It reads:

Thank u so much for everything you all have done, and if you ever want to see (Christian) please let me know.

It’s always nice when parents of our foster children are appreciative of us rather than resentful! Although I’ve been tempted to take Christian’s dad up on his offer of seeing Christian again right away we talked it over and decided that it’s best for Christian’s sake if we hold off on seeing him until he has a chance to become more used to his father as his primary caregiver- they need their own time together to bond and become reacquainted with each other. Plus, we would hate to confuse Christian by showing up and then leaving.

Christian's age is another big factor in deciding how much contact to maintain, too.  We kept in regular contact with our three year old foster son for a bit at his parent's invitation after he was returned to their care because he knew the difference between his parents and his foster parents and he was aware of what was going on, but babies are a bit different than older children in terms of fully comprehending the situation.

I must also admit that it’s not just for Christian’s sake that we’ve decided to wait till we see him again- My little girl has been heartbroken to have to see her foster baby brother and ever-present playmate gone. Although we’ve continued to explain that we were just babysitting and now he is living with his daddy, she still refers to Christian as “my baby”. “But I want my baby to come back!” she pleads with tears running down her face on the hard days.  It makes me feel terribly guilty inside.

Seeing Christian again only to have to say goodbye again would just add to her trauma. To her this loss is like losing a sibling. After all, Christian is the only sibling she’s ever known. I’ve had my hard days, too, but to me the loss of saying goodbye to Christian isn’t nearly as devastating as it’s been for my daughter. Painful- yes, but I’ve been through this twice before and to me it’s more like the loss of breaking up with someone rather than losing a loved one to death. In that regard, not seeing our former foster child right away makes it a little easier for my husband and I to “move on” in the grieving process. 

Saying goodbye to a foster child and deciding how much contact to have with them in the future (if that’s what their parents want) does feel a lot like breaking up with someone: On the one hand, it’s impossible to forget about that person because you’ve spent so much time together so you’ll see something or hear something that reminds you of them and you just can’t get them out of your mind and the memories come flooding back. But on the other hand, you almost want to forget about them as soon as possible because it’s either too painful (or annoying, depending on the relationship) to think about them. Using the “breaking up” analogy, even if one of the parties in the relationship says, “We can still be friends” it’s just awkward and almost like you’d prefer to never see them again just to make it easier because how do you go back to being “just friends” after being more than just friends?

Similarly, it’s hard to go from being a substitute parent to a child 24/7 for several months to having them disappear from your life. (Then again, I’d be lying if I said I miss changing poopy diapers and waking in the middle of the night for feedings) So when Christian’s father says, “You can still see Christian” it’s like hearing “We can still be friends” after a break-up and it feels me with mixed emotions: Of course we’d love to see him again and we’re extremely grateful for the chance . . . but then again, maybe we just need to move on and make it less painful and confusing for everyone involved.

Last week I got another text from Christian’s dad inviting us to Christian’s 1st Birthday Party the next day. I can’t believe he’s already turning one! We couldn’t make it because we had a previous commitment. I texted back and thanked him for the invitation and said we would love to come visit him at Christmastime and bring him a present.

His reply:

Anytime, you took care of my baby and met his needs and I appreciate it so much and in two weeks I’m getting custody. Things are going great.

Another text message I’ll definitely be saving.


jendoop said...

I see where you are coming from, but I also think there is another side. To the children, all they know is that people they love are gone - they don't know where they have gone, or for how long. When you show them that the person they miss isn't gone forever, by making a quick visit, it can soothe their hearts and take that trouble from their little minds. Who knows, maybe there's a little salve there for you too.

Christian's Dad could feel supported by a visit, especially when he keeps reaching out.

Unknown said...

Thanks for sharing this. Your timing for sharing this was just perfect because it is what I needed to hear. I worked as a Nanny for a family for 18 months. I took care of their infant daughter and their infant grandson. Their oldest daughter became pregnant and wanted to parent her child. She had told me that if she couldn't be a good mom to him, she wanted me to "have him". I was there to coach her through her labor, support her through breastfeeding, and just be there for her. I felt like her older sister. We got close. I wanted to see her do well and be a good little mommy to her son. Unfortunately, she made bad decisions which resulted in her baby being placed in her mother's custody. Her mother took her grandson out of obligation, not desire. It is a sad, complicated, messy situation. I was his consistent caregiver for the first 7 months of his life and we have a really strong bond. He lights up my world. I talked with my hubby about the possibility of adopting him if he becomes legally free, his grandma said she would be happy about that. My hubby doesn't want to do adopt him. He is happy with the dymnamics of our family now. My job recently came to an end because mom/grandma is taking FMLA leave. There were no hard feelings. I miss both of the babies, but I don't worry about the baby girl. She still has her mom and her mom is crazy about her. Grandma is a little different towards her grandson and I think it just has to do with the poor relationship that she has with the baby's mother, her oldest daughter. As I said, it's a mess and I am praying for a miracle in the situation. As for me, it has been a month since I have seen the kids. It really does feel like a break up! That was a great analogy. I thought that the kids needed time with just mom/grandma and I didn't want to interfere with their new routine and their bonding. I have cried so many tears over this situation. She called me the other day about getting together. They are coming over to my house on Thursday to bring me a gift. I want to see them, but at the same time, I know it's going to hurt. I am continuing to pray about this situation because I really don't know how to handle it at this point. I have taken care of a lot of children, but there is just something special about the bond that I have with this little baby boy.

Shine said...

You never cease to inspire me Mary! What a wonderful person you are to care so much for Christian and his well-being. And how wonderful to have an appreciative father!!! My heart aches for your "break-up," especially for your little girl! Perhaps a quick visit could heal hearts like jendoop said? My husband and his entire family still have contact with two foster "aunts."

Leah Wentzel said...

all i can say is a agree with you AND jendoop.

:) thanks for sharing though, it is nice to read about someone else that is going thru the same thing.

Maggie said...

We always wait a little bit before having additional contact too. Mostly for the same reason you stated, to let the kids get used to having a different caretaker before we see them again.
But we do always maintain contact when we can. I feel like for us it is a way to smooth out transitional confusion and to reassure the kids that even though there has been lots of change - everyone in the situation still loves and cares for them deeply. We've also found that it can make an immense difference for the new caretaker to have the support of someone who knows the child and knows the situation.

With that said, I totally see where you are coming from too! I don't think there are cut and dried answers when it comes to fostering - each decision is so difficult!

FootPrints said...

love your write up! it is such a good feeling to hear from the birth family, that you did well AND the appreciate you.

i think i'd like to see my past foster children, but not sure if i want them to see me...i think i'd be emotional.

Carla said...

What a blessing to have the option of a future visit! I have found that a visit or two has helped with the letting go process (especially once the little one clings to their parent and no longer wants to come to you...reality sets in , as does closure). It's a strange and hard thing to go from primary care acquaintance. I have never thought about it in the "breakup" way..but i like your comparison.

There are three little boys who I have had absolutely no contact with or word of since I dropped them off at Social Services last year. It breaks my heart to not even know if they are in foster care, been adopted or with a relative. They are still in my thoughts almost daily and will be in my heart forever. I think even an update and a "one year later' picture would be so incredible ...but that doesn't usually happen. What a blessing when it does.

Karine said...

I hope you don't mind but I posted your blog on my blog as one of my favorites to read on

Jenny said...

That's a lot of things to ask. I'm so bad at answering questions I think I'd fail as a foster parent. :(