This is the second part of a series in which I answer reader questions about caring for our four-year-old foster son, BlueJay. Click here to read Part 1, and feel free to comment or email me at phasethreeoflife at gmail dot com to ask any other questions you might have about life as a foster parent.
Q: Can you have contact with Blue Jay? Can he contact you at some point?
(This question is a summary of several variations on the same question that Mike and I have received; it is probably the most frequent question we get now, which is no surprise.)
I know many of you have followed our story closely and want to know more about how things ended. I truly wish I could explain the situation in greater detail, but I have to continue to be careful about how much I say for privacy reasons. So, with that in mind…
No, we presently do not have contact with BlueJay. That decision remains in the hands of the relatives who now care for him. Our hope had been to build a relationship with them before BlueJay moved so that we could continue to be a support for him and for them as BlueJay and his biological brothers transitioned to their new home. We have always had a good relationship with BlueJay’s mother and a very cordial relationship with the rest of his family, but I only met the relatives who took custody of him briefly a couple of times.
On moving day, the relatives made it fairly clear that they were not interested in continuing a relationship with any of the foster families involved in the boys’ case. I gave them all of our contact information in case they ever changed their minds and said we would always be happy to hear from them.
I suppose BlueJay could contact us himself at some point, but I don’t see how that will realistically be possible until he is much older and can decide to locate us on his own. I am honestly doubtful he ever will do that simply because he was so young while he lived with us and he is unlikely to have many lasting memories of his time with us. But who knows; maybe he’ll surprise us one day.
Q: In another variation on that same question, one reader asked me how I find the willpower to stay out of contact with the relatives (i.e., refrain from “Facebook stalking” or attempting to contact the family in a more direct way).
I suppose, with the Internet being what it is, it is always possible to find some method by which to contact the relatives. Mike and I would never do that, though. Quite simply, it would be crossing a line we are not willing to cross.
The truth is: Yes, we are dying to know that BlueJay is ok. The lack of information and connection with him, wondering how he is adjusting and whether anyone is answering his endless questions, wondering whether he is laughing or getting enough sleep … it is difficult. Probably the most difficult part about the entire situation.
But at the same time… BlueJay’s relatives don’t owe us anything. We did what we, as his foster parents, said we would do — what we signed up for. We cared for BlueJay to the best of our ability while he was in our care. They were respectful to us and thanked us for our help, and I believe they simply wanted to move on.
If they don’t want to continue a relationship, then that’s the end of it as far as I’m concerned (and more importantly, as far as the law is concerned). It doesn’t matter whether I personally agree with their decision; it’s their decision to make. I don’t have to like it, but I do have to honor it.
Q: My toddler foster daughter is a different race than I am, so the most common comment/question I get is, “Aww, she’s so cute! Is she yours?” If it’s an acquaintance asking, I feel ok saying that I’m fostering, but I’ve been feeling that I shouldn’t have to explain our relationship to strangers in the grocery store. I’ve said everything from “For now” to “Yes” to “I’m her foster mom,” just to be polite. Did you ever get asked this question, and if so how did you respond?
BlueJay is the same race as the rest of our family, so we didn’t get specific race-based questions like that from strangers. However, I did encounter many situations where I felt I had to balance that fine line between need-to-know situations and situations where it felt like I should explain even though I didn’t really have to.
I did always refer to myself in BlueJay’s presence — and only when absolutely necessary — as his “foster mother,” rather than calling him my “foster son,” simply to put the label on me rather than him. Toward the beginning when everything was so new, if someone asked me how many children I had, I would say something like, “I’m a mother to one and a foster mother to another,” but as I became more comfortable and confident in my role as a foster parent, I would simply say something like, “I have two kiddos at home.” I always tried to use language that equated to a socially “easy” answer without divulging too much personal information about our family.
It’s complicated, I know; I think the answers come a little easier with time and experience.
Q: Taking the financial side out of the equation, why do you favor fostering a child over adopting a child?
I will back up a bit to give a little context for our decision. Mike and I always planned to have more than one child. Early in our marriage, we agreed we wanted to have at least one or two biological children (if we were able); but we both also felt drawn to adoption. We talked often about international adoption and foster care adoption long before I got pregnant with Ryan.
We eventually did have Ryan, and when he was two years old, we moved across the country from Arizona to Pennsylvania to live near family. It was a stressful year for us, moving with a toddler and living out of suitcases at Mike’s parents’ home for several months while Mike started a new job and we bought a house. By the time we were semi-settled, Ryan was three years old and and was hitting a challenging behavioral stage. I couldn’t imagine having another baby at that point, so we decided to wait.
After another year, we realized we probably weren’t ever going to feel that same “baby fever” we’d had before getting pregnant with Ryan. However, we did feel like we had more space in our family and in our hearts for another child, so we began researching adoption options. We researched international adoption but the travel requirements were extensive, often requiring one very long trip or multiple shorter trips that equalled about a month’s time away from home. That kind of travel commitment simply wasn’t feasible for us. And here’s where the cost does come in — we couldn’t have afforded it anyway.
It became very clear that adoption from the foster care system was the best fit for us. By this point, Ryan was four years old and we wanted stay close to his age range (give or take a couple years either way). Typically there are very few — if any — children of that age who are legally free for adoption within the system. (“Legally free” means that their parents’ rights have already been terminated, other family members are not a longterm option and the caseworkers are now trying to find a permanent adoptive home for the child.)
There are many reasons that single children of that age are not often legally free for adoption, including the length of time it takes for these cases to work through the system and get to that point, the fact that the children can often be placed with relatives or that their current foster families have already applied to adopt the child. Or, very often, they are part of a larger sibling group that would ideally be adopted together. We knew we were only prepared to take one child.
So, that left us with the foster-to-adopt option where you agree to foster a child while the case works its way through the system, you pledge to support reunification with biological family as long as that is the case goal, but you also make an initial commitment that you are willing to consider adoption should parental rights ever be terminated and the child become legally free for adoption. Basically, you are pledging to be an option as a permanent home for the child while also agreeing to support whatever else may happen in the meantime.
Q: How is Ryan doing? Does he look forward to the possibility of a new foster sibling?
Ryan is doing very well (and thank you for asking). He has such a big heart, as most kids do, but he also has an emotional intelligence about him that is far beyond his years. He loves BlueJay and misses him, of course, but he also knows BlueJay is with family members who love him. I think Ryan really is happy that BlueJay is with his family.
And yes, Ryan wants another sibling. Specifically, he wants another brother. Even more specifically, he has requested an older brother this time. Mike and I have been very hesitant and slow to decide what we will do going forward, but we recently had a home visit with our caseworker to get re-licensed for another year. When I explained to Ryan that our caseworker was coming to visit to make sure our home would be a safe place for another child, if we ever welcomed another one, he looked at me like I had two heads and said, “Of course we’ll take another kid! Why wouldn’t we??”
Q: What surprised you the most through this process?
That’s easy. The relationship I was lucky enough to build with BlueJay’s mother. The day I met her, I immediately liked her. Over time, I also grew to very much respect her and consider her to be like family. I still do, and she and I are still in regular contact. (I know that might be confusing given what I say about having no current contact or information regarding BlueJay… but again, that’s an area of their lives that isn’t mine to write about.)
BlueJay’s mom and I are much more alike than we are different. She has taught me more about strength and grace than anyone else I have ever known. I didn’t expect to feel so connected to her so quickly, but I am better for having known her, and I cherish the relationship we have built.
Q: Would you foster another child again knowing what you know now, and would you do anything differently the next time.
I will start my answer with this: I have no regrets. I truly wouldn’t change a thing (other than maybe my own expectations). That’s mostly because I could never regret or wish to change anything that would prevent me from knowing BlueJay. He added such joy to our lives, and the memories we made with him are memories we will cherish forever.
Having said that, we certainly know and understand much more now than we did last spring when we first welcomed BlueJay into our home. I honestly don’t know at this point whether — or when — Mike and I will move forward with fostering or adoption. We will keep our foster care license current, and I think we both feel there is still another child out there we are meant to love, but we’re not pressuring ourselves to figure it out now. We (hopefully) have many parenting years ahead of us and lots of time to add to our family if we decide to do so.
Regardless, I intend to remain an active advocate for foster families and kids in care and will hopefully continue to be a voice of support for other foster parents managing the wide range of emotions that come with first-time foster parenthood.