“Do they see their parents?”. This is generally the first question we get asked once people know that the kids are fostered. I feel like replying “Yep. Everyday. Actually they are seeing them right now” because WE are their parents. They may not share our genes but we care for them day to day and love them as our own. If you are ever thinking of asking this question, please stop and think… and then add ‘biological’ or ‘birth’ into the sentence: “Do they see their biological/birth parents?”. Now that makes much more sense.
The next question we will be asked will be if we have met their birth parents, or if we have to meet them. When we did our training we were told that we would not meet the birth parents of kids we have in care, but we met them within a few months. We first met them when dropping off the kids for contact. Last contact we even spent time cuddling Whozma – the kids’ baby brother who is living with their birth Mum.
The question I find the hardest to answer is “how do you cope seeing the birth parents when you know how they treated the kids?”. It’s hard because when I talk about their birth parents I think about them now, so my answer would tell you that we are lucky – the kids have good birth parents. Then I start to think about that and realise that obviously they aren’t ‘good parents’ or the kids would still be living at home. When I think about it further I realise that I have two sets of birth family compartmentalised in my brain – the family now and the family before the kids were removed. In a way the later doesn’t matter (hey, that rhymes). Well it does matter, but who and how is it going to help if we expect the family to be the people they were two years ago and treat them like that? I have changed in the last two years and I’m sure everyone reading this also has. The kids’ birth family has also changed – their birth Mum was given a chance to parent Whozma and is, by all accounts, going really well. That isn’t to say that I don’t get cranky, upset, annoyed, frustrated, and horrified about what happened to the kids before they went into care. I also have trouble compartmentalising one member of the birth family and would quite happily cut them out of the kids’ lives completely if I could but I can’t – and that’s really what it comes down to. I can’t change what happened before, I can’t change who they have to see now, all I can do is know that the kids are safe with us.
I said earlier that the kids have good birth parents, by that I mean that they turn up to contacts, they care about the kids, they are able to be ‘good parents’ for a few hours four times a year, they buy age appropriate gifts (probably too many – but that’s much better than none!) and most importantly, in my opinion, they encourage the kids’ relationship with Grumpy and me. They also participate in case conferences, write letters, send photos between contacts, and have accepted that they can’t parent Giggles and Chatterbox. They have told us that they would not try to get them back which is reassuring – but we know that things/people change and nothing is certain in foster care.
Part of our job as foster parents is to ensure that Giggles and Chatterbox have a relationship with their birth family. We get them presents, talk about them in a positive way and always refer to them as Mummy ____ and Dad ____. We constantly talk about their baby brother. The kids have photos of their birth family in their rooms, and have a photo album specifically for photos that they are given by them. They have contact this week so yesterday we spent time making a simple mobile for Whozma. Today they drew some pictures and I printed some photos for the rest of the family.
I have also been researching books to give to the birth family to fill out and provide their history for the kids. I’m aware that whatever they write may not be realistic and they also may not fill them. I also think that it’s possible that the kids will not want them when they are older but I hope that they help to show them that there are two sides to all people. The most important one, I feel, is the one I have found for their grandparents. I don’t know their stories or life history and if they aren’t around when the kids want to ask them questions I won’t be able to help. At least the books might then be able to help them find answers to their questions. This will also help as the kids start to have questions but there is a while between contacts – having the books will mean we can find out the information when they ask. In a way I’m also being a bit selfish as we will then be able to show the kids that we have done everything we can to encourage their relationships with their birth family.
It was hard to work out which books to buy but last night I decided on these:
The Grandparent Book by Amy Krouse Rosenthal – http://www.whoisamy.com
Dear Mum, from you to me – http://fromyoutome.com/journals/dearmumsketch.html
Dear Dad, from you to me – http://fromyoutome.com/journals/deardadsketch.html
I can’t wait to get them and have a good look inside. If they are good I might order more – one each for me and Grumpy and then a few for our parents (look out guys – you might have a book to fill in soon!).
For those of you who are reading and foster or have adopted:
What questions do you hear when people find out your kids are fostered/adopted?