Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Why I Don't Mind When My Kids Don't Call Me Mom

In six years of foster parenting, it has never bothered me that the person T and E call Mom is not me. Other people in my life occasionally make a big deal of this. "Why doesn't he call you mom?" "When do you think he'll call you mom?" "Did you want him to call you mom?" Honestly, I never gave it much thought. I truly don't care.

To me, the question misses an essential truth of foster/adoptive parenting of older children in foster care: you are a partner for the birth family, you share in their family, support their family, become part of that family yourself, in admittedly awkward ways sometimes. And the kids most often already have someone they call "mom" by the time they bond with you. So they might call you something else. And that's fine, because it's not a competition. It is NEVER  a competition. Love and respect for one person never reduces the amount of love and respect you can give to another person, do they?

I had the most stunning experience not too long ago, while talking to a colleague who knows me pretty well. She asked if T and E have other siblings, and I said yes, they do. Their mother has several children. She asked if any of the children were raised with their birth mom and I said, yes, the youngest is growing up with her now. And my colleague, someone I thought until that moment might be a casual friend, replied "Some people should be sterilized." It was unimaginably vicious, from someone I know to be otherwise gentle. Her comment left me absolutely stunned. I am rarely speechless, but in this instant I was totally unable to make a sound.

What I wish she knew is this: her words sickened me, because on some abstract level, I love the birth mom of the kids in my life. There are unique and beautiful things in each of them that have filled me with delight and wonder and they came from her, and from their father. To disparage her is to disparage them. To assert that she should have been sterilized is to suggest that it would be better if the kids I love so much had not been born. To sit in judgement of her is to avoid compassion and empathy, not to mention decency.

Many months later, I finally want to scream at her, and I would say this: we have NO RIGHT to judge her. We have NO IDEA what pain it must cause to carry and give birth to children who are taken away. There is no woman on the planet who could go through that without enduring a wound that won't heal. I have no idea how one can carry on after that. But she did, and not only that, she conquered drug addiction, and she pieced her life back together and put a roof over her head and her daughter's. I've achieved far less in my life if we're measuring on the basis of distance traversed and odds conquered. The boys spend time with her now, and it's complicated, but I'm glad - it is a good thing for them to feel the connection they have with her, to know her, as part of knowing themselves.

Neither my colleague nor I have any concept of what it is like to grow up extremely poor, developmentally disadvantaged, addicted to drugs, and without the backbone of family to emulate, as she did. Truly, we just have absolutely no idea and therefore no right to sit in moral approbation of someone in those circumstances. Like many foster/birth parent combos, with her I have a policy of non-intrusion: I have never met her, though I have spoken with her on the phone, I have stood by through many a conversation as she and the boys reached out to each other (not always kindly or successfully), and I have delivered cards and gifts on occasions ranging from Mother's Day to the death of her eldest son. I expect neither hostility nor gratitude from her for my role in her son's lives. In fact, I'd prefer she not feel any need to think about me at all; we are both pieces of what I hope might be a whole, and as such, we have no need to overlap, but just to touch lightly along the edges that define our difference.

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