Something I haven’t liked about parenting is the judgment of other parents. People have such deep rooted ideas about what a parent’s job is and how they should raise their kids. When one family does it differently than another, there’s a mostly silent, sometimes voiced opinion that lingers. I won’t make general statements about all parents because I’ve seen very wise moms and dads understand how unique kids need to be treated. But we all know them. The looks, the comments, the sighs as people see how we deal with our kids in a way they wouldn’t.
This is a pretty significant part of foster and adoptive parenting. It’s a tough part of opening your home to kids that didn’t begin their life with you. As a foster parent, you’re trying to get a grasp of your child’s needs and personality. Life at home is filled with questions about their likes and dislikes, gently asking about memories of their past, watching them react to a scary, difficult time of their lives. Going out in public can be a fairly nerve wracking thing when you have a new, unpredictable person with you. I feel pretty anxious when we bring a new child to school, specifically. It’s normally in the middle of the school year, and their life has just been completely disrupted. I’ve known them for about 24 hours. If the school calls with a problem, I have no idea how to help them. I have only slightly figured out the child’s temperament or reactions. But what good parent doesn’t know how to handle their kid?
I didn’t realize just how many judgements I took on when I became a foster mom. I have an amazing support system at Thornwell, a fantastic husband, and quite a bit of self confidence that keep me up on my feet, regardless of others’ judgements. But some days it still hurts.
Many times I’ve stood outside our van or sat in the front seat while a child screams and kicks during a timeout or cools down. I’ve gently coached and encouraged a kid to follow instructions in public with no success. I’ve asked a waiter for help when a child throws food or drink or even licks the salt shaker. I’ve explained underlying conditions that may have caused a disruption for teachers or receptionists. We even had a kid run into the kitchen of a local restaurant. I see these things as part of raising kids. Although it was a whole different time, I remember my mom spanking us in the grocery store when we wouldn’t listen. Kids cause a disturbance most of the time, especially in public. Yet, people say the craziest things.
‘Ma’am, are you gonna handle your kid?’
‘You must not know how to take care of him’
‘What did you do that made him so mad?’
‘Wow, your kid is loud’
‘Just pick him up and deal with it’
The response I’d love to give: Shut. Up.
I’ve felt guilty some days because I try to explain myself to ‘those’ people. ‘We just got him yesterday. He’s in foster care’, ‘He has anxiety and he’s having trouble today’, ‘I’m sorry we’re bothering you. He’s just struggling because he doesn’t know me yet. He’s our foster kid’
But I don’t need to explain that to them. Sometimes it’s necessary, but most of the time I feel that no one needs to know my kids aren’t really my own. They aren’t defined by that. They aren’t a charity case or need pity. They need someone on their side. Someone who will stand and listen even when they’re throwing shoes or when they’re trying to run away. I feel successful when I can go to a conference and an appointment and not tell someone the child is in the foster care system. A key point of fostering, in my opinion, is that you bring them into your home and life and treat them as your own biological children. When your kids are connected by blood, you can’t run from their problems, although many parents do. The same goes in fostering. You can’t just give up on them when things get complicated. That’s what you signed up for – kids. You can’t give up. God doesn’t give up on us. That’s the beauty of being in the body of Christ. Well, it’s supposed to be anyway. Living life together no matter what.
Jonathon and I just got back from vacation in California, and we visited the San Diego Zoo. We encountered a few families that seemed exactly like mine – a boy on the autism spectrum who openly corrected strangers when they called it a crocodile instead of an alligator, a mother who tried to calm a child who clearly struggled with anxiety with no success, a family with very disruptive children. My mind instantly brought me to a precious little boy of ours who had a meltdown for 45 minutes in his Halloween costume during school. The school staff was phenomenal in letting me talk him down and handle it how he needed. Some parents weren’t so nice though. So at the zoo, I said a quick prayer for that mom who was working so hard to keep it all together. It’s hard to do that. I know. One of my favorite literary characters said it best:
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” Atticus Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird
I’m seeing that most parents are judged by others, even with ‘normal’ kids. I know that judgment on our parenting will only increase as we move towards adoption. As a foster parent, I could easily say ‘It’s not really my kid.’ (although I don’t!) But when we make a child permanently ours and they bite me in public or need inpatient therapy, it IS really our kid. My job as a parent and a mom is to fight for my kids – to stand up for them, to defend them, to treat them all with love and care no matter what their behavior, illness, or experience has been. And they don’t have to appreciate or recognize that. It’s a part of the Gospel that we often forget, God loves us unconditionally no matter what our relationship is with Him. So, when foster and adoptive kids can’t attach to our family because of their past, I will still be on their side.
Raising kids isn’t for the weak, and raising a child with anxiety all the more.
Wow. This was a super powerful one, Heidi. I’m so glad I found your blog. The part about being expected to be the parent who knows the child best when you’ve just met the child, that resonates. Or the desire to say “don’t be looking at me sideways – the child was delivered to me this way.”
Lately, I’ve been saying “yes, I am aware his pants are three inches too short and yes, he does have other clothes that do fit. Yes, I really do let him dress that way” and leaving out the part “because those are his clothes from home and give him great comfort. because so much has changed in his life and he can’t handle having to mourn the loss of his beloved pants, too. because the new clothes are from me and he’s still not sure if he wants to trust me. because clothes factor in to his traumatic past and we’re avoiding triggers, folks. because he has had so little choice in his life and I want to give him choice over this small thing.”
Man, I really do hate those judgmental eyes. The ones that look at me like, wow, she’s such a bad mom she doesn’t even dress her kids appropriately. However, I would rather “they” judge me harshly and keep the children’s private lives private.
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