It’s interesting to talk to other foster parents. We have our own language; acronyms that are familiar to us; and an empathy that runs deep. We face a common foe, a foster care system that at best is messy and at its worst is horribly broken. We theorize; we generalize; we agonize; and we find encouragement in each other even when things seem their darkest.
One such conversation I had led to the disclosure that this particular foster parent is facing the reunification of their youngest foster child with his parents. His perspective surprised me a little. He seemed to understand the family’s difficult situation, even though he had been raising this boy for more than a year and the most recent efforts of his parents have seemed to be a little too little, a little too late. You have to admire a foster parent who in spite of their great love for the children in their care, can empathize with the plight of the family. It’s much easier to ask the question: Why now? Why didn’t you do anything when there was neglect? Why have you not been there for the last year, year and a half, two years that your child has been in foster care?
It can be difficult to understand the biological parents of foster children— the thing we most desperately want, they lack the motivation to keep. The attachment we hold to the children in our care makes objectivity elusive and judgment easy. Sometimes it seems as though we love their children more than they do. It becomes hard to frame reunification in a positive light. Do we want children to lose their biologic parents—no, of course not. Greater than the pain of losing them, though is the fear of having them return to a neglectful or even abusive situation—one that cannot be remedied by thirty days in rehab or two weeks of parenting classes. As confusing as this might seem to a foster parent, there is a dynamic even more maddening.
We are caught in the paradox of loving someone so much that you not only want them to remain with you forever, you realize that if they do, you will be overcome with a sadness that will carry with you through life. Hidden in the great heights of joy in knowing that your son or daughter will remain with you and as a family you will go on—hidden in that beautiful knowledge is the dark and sad truth that your beloved child has lost his mommy and daddy and there is nothing that can ever be done to replace them. Within the paradox you become this dichotomous being who believes that adoption is the gift of fatherhood and at the same time realizing that its cost is much higher than you imagined. One day the child that you love so desperately will have to face the kind of loss that you could never imagine, and for that you hate adoption.
When I let myself imagine an adoption day for us, I think of a courtroom packed with family. I think of what it means for all of them to be present when this boy becomes a part of this extended clan. I think of all of our friends who have come to know us and love us as a family. I imagine our foster son being handed from person to person, kissed and hugged repeatedly. I think of our house overflowing with people and food and music and the squeals of children. And of course I imagine myself along with my partner standing before a judge trying to choke back the tears of happiness, and then remembering that it is the most bittersweet of days: the day our son lost his parents. I love and hate adoption.