Sunday, February 15, 2015

Fostering Love

October 2013, I posted this about the beginning of our fostering journey. As life has happened, I have struggled with how much I should share with all of you and how much to keep close to home. In a culture full of people who long to share every detail of our lives....right down to what we ate for breakfast, what time we woke up, and how many toe nails we clip per day; I feel almost a rebellion to over-privatize our lives. To make a bold statement that says, "I do not want the whole world to know every detail of my life." To keep treasured moments sacred and to protect the privacy and the rights of my children.

Yet, there is something stirring in me that longs to be heard. Something bigger than my need to stay quiet on the subject of our hopefully "soon to be adopted" son. Something that wants to be heard over Superbowls, Deflate Gate, and hundreds of facebook posts about vaccinations. Something that needs to be heard above the cultural judgments, above the disapproving looks and comments we make when passing on our opinions. Yet, in order for something to be heard, it first needs to be spoken.

When we first began this journey, we heard the same statement from many people, "Be careful; you will become attached, and then the state will just take the child away."  I could probably grow rich if I made money on how many times I have heard this statement. I may have, in fact, said the same thing to other foster parents before I became one myself (and to all of you, I am sorry). This statement is completely false. There is no truth to this whatsoever.  The reality is: it is not that EASY to become emotionally attached to another person's child. Especially when this child is seeing their birth parents three times a week. Especially when there are constant reminders from caseworkers, lawyers, and judges that this child is not yours, and you may not claim them as your own. Especially when you know that you did not give birth to this child that you have welcomed into your home.

We have all heard the age old mantra, "love is a verb." What does that really look like? I can honestly tell you I didn't know until I welcomed a stranger into my home. I had an instant emotional attachment to all of my birth children. There are no words that can describe the instant love and emotion a mom has for her newborn child. Foster parents do not have the privilege of this instant emotional attachment. Our little guy came into our home walking, talking, crying for his birth parents, eating so much that he would puke. He came into our home with screaming fits of rage, hitting me, running away from us, and more. I can tell you that there was not an instant emotional attachment. There was no time. It was an instant playing referee and trying to anticipate the next outburst so we could prevent it. Then our little guy got sick: high fever, lethargic....and we held him. He snuggled into me and fell asleep. This is when I first thought about love as a verb. As he slept, I kissed him and told him how much I loved him. I chose the action of love even without the emotion of love.

We were on vacation, and the little guy fell down. Daddy ran to him, picked him up, held him, kissed his boo-boo and snuggled until he felt better. We only had him a couple of months; he was still seeing his birth parents. We chose the action of love even without the emotion of love.

One year, almost exactly, after he came to live with us, I am tucking him into bed. I look at him and say, "Good-night, Mommy loves you." He says, "My love you too Mommy." I melt. I cry uncontrollably. My heart feels like it is going to rip out of my chest. Now, I love with action AND emotion. It took almost a full year for me to feel emotionally attached to this little child. Through that whole year, we chose to love him. We chose kisses, hugs, bedtimes stories, snuggles, "love yous." We chose patience, eagerness to listen. We chose to go to meeting after meeting, court, and phone calls all about the "case." We chose to love him even without an emotional attachment.

I say this to be heard. I say this because so many people are "set up" to be instantly attached; then feel guilty when they are not.  Foster mom and dad....adoptive mom and dad: it is okay if you are not instantly emotionally attached; it will come. It takes time, energy, and a complete sacrifice of self-will to love a child that you did not birth. A child that comes with a history that you may not know. A child that comes with behaviors that you do not expect. A child that comes in innocence and fear. A child that is so beautiful that you can hardly turn your head away. This child, the one that you have right now, will receive your love because you make a choice. In time, your heart will melt for his (and his for you), and you will be knit together in a way that you cannot completely understand. A way that doesn't make sense and will never make sense.

We have had this little guy for over a year. He calls us Mommy and Daddy. If either of us needs to leave the house he says, "Wait! My need to give you a kiss." He holds us tight, and we hold him tighter at night. We tuck him in and tell him how much we love him.While we wait for the final adoption to go through, we know without a doubt that he completes our family. We are blessed once again with a loving, full of energy and excitement little guy.

So, foster and adoptive parents. Let's be heard above the noise of life. Let us allow love to prevail. Let us love without inhibition. Let us make a choice to love even when emotionally we cannot feel it. Because, after all: Love is a verb.