Blog post by Kristen Bolander, a foster, adoptive and biological mom in North Florida.
Kristen and the kiddos on an adventure (kids’ faces hidden for privacy).
I’m not a holiday person. I’m not an anti-holiday person, but I’m not one to get all hyped up and in the spirit. Mother’s Day is no exception to my holiday feelings. I pretty much expect it to be like any other day, except that I get to choose what restaurant we go to (why didn’t I marry a man who can cook?!) and the kids present me with a gift. Then our day goes on like a normal Sunday.
But for many mothers who have their children in state custody it’s a hard, hard day. I could not imagine being without my kids on Mother’s Day. I know, I know, some of you mothers go off to a spa for a day by yourself, but then you come home … to your children.
When we have foster children in our home, Mother’s Day takes on a different role. I’m not the only mother in their lives. My adopted kids are young and are just now having to deal with the intricate emotional details of “you can love more than one mommy.”
The issue has been more in my head. When I look at my children and think about how I am responsible for them, and every one of those overwhelming parenting feelings is overcoming me, I also have to think about the “other” mother. The one who gave birth, the mother who lost her children, the woman who is working as hard as she can to get them back, the woman whose addictions have taken over and are stronger than her, the mother who is in jail, the mother who neglected her children because that’s the way she was raised, the mother who shook her baby after hours of crying.
It’s hard to not have venom in you when you think of those women. Sometimes when I think about what children in foster care have been through I find myself wishing death, or worse, on people I have never met. But then you get a call for a child, welcome them into your home and you finally get to meet one of these women. They are no longer just a story you heard about, they are a broken person, someone whose soul hurts for their children. It’s easy to assume a mother does not love her child if she allowed these terrible things to happen, but from what I have seen that is not always true. (Though sometimes it is true, and sometimes it’s hard to tell based on their actions.) These women do love their children, even if it’s not in the same way that we would love them.
We forget that foster care is supposed to be a temporary situation while a parent gets back on their feet, that it’s our job to support these parents during their darkest hours and remind them why the fight is worth it. It’s hard when you feel like you can give this child a better life, but even when we feel this way it doesn’t always mean it’s the right thing to do. How difficult would it be to be judged at your worse parenting moment, to have people believe that they can do better than you to raise your own child? I have had a lot of bad parenting moments and I judge myself hard enough about them, I could not imagine an entire team of people going through everything I have ever done telling me I didn’t do well enough.
Mother’s Day is a hard day for these women. They have to acknowledge that their house is empty because of a series of choices that they made. So before Mother’s Day, I prepare a gift for biological mothers for the children to take to their visits. Often times I do not know much about these women except what I find out through other people, so I keep it to a photo album, a Starbucks gift card, chocolate and handprints. I am taking back Mother’s Day for these women, giving them hope and power in themselves. I write a note on how the kids are doing in their activities, how excited they are to show them their gift, how we continue to pray for them and pray for a swift reunification. I try to keep our communication positive and encouraging. Honestly, I may be the only positive person they have in their life. Being withholding isn’t going to do anyone any favors. That is their child, give them some pictures and show them their children are being cared for. If nothing else comes out of it, if termination of parental rights happens, at least they can rest assured that their children are happy and healthy. That’s what I want for my kids, no matter where they are, for them to be happy and healthy.
When it comes time to address the issues of how the kids can love more than one mom, even one they haven’t seen in years, we will address it the same way we do everything, positively but honestly: “I cannot sugar-coat the choices your mother made, but I can tell you how much she loved getting gifts when you went on a visit. Her eyes lit up when she looked through the scrapbook we made for her. She told me that it was the best Mother’s Day gift she had ever received. No, she was not able to overcome her demons, and I’m sorry for that, I wish she could have, but we can pray for her, because it’s never too late for her to change, even if it is too late for her to be a part of your life right now.“