Sunday, February 17, 2013

Other People's Children...

This is probably not the best day for me to be writing this post, or maybe it’s the perfect day. Sundays are rough… between getting kids up and dressed for church, to church on time, behaving through 3 hours of church, and then having them get along at home together for the rest of the day. Yes, Sundays are rough. Today, particularly so. I guess that’s beside the point though.

Most of you know that I have five young children, 4 boys and 1 girl. When my oldest son, Brandon, was a baby I had an experience that profoundly changed the way I thought about children. I was watching a news magazine (Dateline, or 20/20 or something like that) about foster children. It was heartbreaking. I will never forget the profile of a 12-year-old boy who was living with his elderly grandmother after being shuttled through 5 or 6 foster homes when his mother went to prison. The boy was sad, lonely, shy, withdrawn and had never been hugged in his life. I don’t know why this affected me so much, but it did. I thought of my own son. Being a new mother, the intensity of the feelings I had for my own child were new to me. I was absolutely and profoundly in love with him, committed to him, desperate for his happiness and health in a way that scared me at times. While I was watching this little boy on television, it was apparent that no one had ever felt those feelings for this child. The injustice of it haunted me. And then, something amazing happened. I imagined my own little boy as this one. I imagined what if some mistake had been made in Heaven and my child had been send to this other home (or one like it) where he was never hugged, loved, cherished, doted on, taught, disciplined or worried about.

The thought nearly crushed me with its’ sadness. Why was my son so lucky, so blessed? He had a mother and father who were married, who loved him, who would do anything to ensure that he was happy and well cared for. Growing up, I naively assumed that most parents loved their children like my parents loved me. Boy was I wrong. I have come to know that the home I grew up in and the home I strive to provide for my children is the exception rather than the rule. “Normal” is a term that has lost all weight and meaning.

After I watched this program, I talked to my husband at length about it. It was difficult for me to get my feelings across to him because I was so emotional about it. We promised each other then, that when our children were a little older, we would become foster parents. Since then, it’s something I’ve thought about often and looked forward to. A large part of the reason we chose to go to law school is so we can provide for foster children without having to rely on the state supplement. As soon as law school is over and we are settled somewhere, we plan on going through the training and beginning immediately.

Over the last 4 months or so, we’ve become acquainted with a 17-year-old girl and her 5-year-old sister. The older sister babysat for us a few times and the family was members of our church, though they rarely attended. I won’t go in to the particulars of their situation other than to say, Mom is single and struggling and has untreated mental health issues and both girls have absent fathers. As the months have gone by, these girls have spent more and more time in our home. We’re to the point now where they are both living with us more than half the time. Mom rarely calls to check on them or inquire about their welfare. The younger of the girls calls Peter ‘daddy’ and my boys are her ‘brothers.’ They each have their own bed, toothbrush and chores at our home. Despite their difficult upbringing, they are remarkably well-behave and loving girls. But I fear for them in the future. Child Protective Services have been notified, but it’s a frustrating bureaucracy with no real power to do anything to better the lives of kids, at least here in the state where we live. On the rare night when the girls are not at our house, I worry about them constantly. Are they safe? Warm? Happy? My heart breaks for them as they are continually disappointed by their own mother’s disinterest in them. It’s a difficult situation for them and for us; they don’t have any real stability going back and forth between our home and their mother. It’s difficult for our family to have them come and go and worry about them when they’re gone. On more than one occasion we’ve had to interrupt family events or outings to run and get them. The kids sometimes feel possessive of us as their parents, our time and our attention. I have been in uncomfortable positions as friends and acquaintances familiar with what’s going on have gushed about what an awesome person I am to do this.

So. Please, please, please if you see me at church or the store or anywhere else, don’t tell me what a great person I am for taking them in. Don’t tell me I’m a great human being for being the mom these girls need and don’t have. Don’t compliment me on my ‘selflessness’ or ‘service.’ I am a regular human being just like you. But I’ve been given a rare insight from my Heavenly Father: the ability to see other’s children, ANY children, as my own. It’s an insight that’s available to any and all of us if we ask for it and can open our hearts to receive it. Please, don’t tell me I’m some great person, because I’m not. I am just doing the least of what our Father in Heaven expects us to do for His little ones.