This is going to be another all-over-the-place post, so sorry in advance. I’m also open to advice from other foster/foster-adoptive parents with vastly unequal divisions of labor, because it’s looking again like Lee is going to have to compartmentalize in a way that leaves me with the bulk of the work. I thought about putting that in a separate post but I don’t really want it in a separate post. I know there are a lot of people who do this and I believe we can make it work. For a while, anyway. Well, I hope so. Sigh.
One thing Lee is doing really well is dealing with Mara’s family. She was really threatened by the idea of openness before finalization, always afraid that someone would try to lay claim to Mara in a way that could lead to Mara for some reason being moved. Even after our social worker reassured her and reassured her that TPR really was final and that everyone was on the same page about how another move would be a very bad thing for Mara, it took her a while to get to the point where she felt okay about taking Mara for a visit or even being open about the idea of that. But then she absolutely fell in love with Mara’s siblings and the brave, resilient women who are raising them. (And I hope it doesn’t sound like I’m playing with Strong Black Woman stereotypes here, but it takes some guts and persistence to take in and raise a relative’s child or in one case four children without much support or safety net. Certainly we have not only more resources from a financial perspective but in terms of what the state provides us to raise Mara.)
Anyway, Lee did make contact with Mara’s dad. Samara had let word trickle down to him that we were trying to find him, and he was thrilled about it. Lee was able to stop, say hello, drop off pictures, and then later on Friday went back to the place where he works when he was done working so they could sit and talk for about an hour. We know a fair amount about him going into this, know why he’s been in trouble with the law and what Mara’s siblings’ guardians think of him. We are lucky enough to be in a position where we’re dealing with someone who was a good parent to Mara during the time he was her day-to-day parent and is mentally healthy and not violent. If timing had been different, would he have wanted to become Mara’s full-time parent when she had to leave her mother’s care? I don’t know, and I don’t know if it’s something he’ll ever be able to talk about with us. I just know that he loved her but that he was definitely inaccessible at a time when she needed parenting. And I know that she loves him so much and remembers some of their time together clearly.
Friday afternoon, Mara talked to her dad for the first time since some time before her second birthday and maybe much earlier. She got to tell him that she loved him, and she tells us he said something about how sorry he is that he wasn’t a part of her life. She talked to him again last night and had me pull up the one photo we have of him, something she hasn’t asked for in quite a while. He’s been part of her conversation all weekend in a different way. She’s so happy that she got to talk to him, but she’s also cried for a little while on many of the last few nights about how much she misses her family. There’s not really much I can say except that yeah, it’s absolutely sad and she should feel free to cry if that’s how she needs to express it. So I tell her that and that I love her, and she cries a bit and snuggles against me and eventually falls asleep.
Tonight, her last night as a three-year-old, Mara will be dressed like a ladybug and she’ll get to go trick-or-treat in our neighborhood. Val and Alex are also looking forward to putting on costumes and makeup and heading out for candy. Their dad is busy doing some of the work he needs to do to regain custody of them, but their mom is going to drive over to our house and come with the kids and me as we go out. Lee suddenly became worried this morning about whether we’re putting ourselves at risk by letting the kids’ parents know where we live, but the kids know and it wouldn’t be hard for them to find out if they wanted to. Plus again, we know about what their histories are and I know how much I like and respect their mom. I know she’ll feel better once she’s seen the room her kids share and I know how much she wanted to see them in her costumes. She’s working a grueling schedule that kept her from participating in any of the things we did this weekend, and it only seems fair to include her in this. The kids are thrilled about seeing their mom and I think it will be extra fun for all of us. I’m also hoping that once Lee meets her in-person, she’ll be able to let go of some of the reservations she has. Really, anything positive would be good.
I’ve also been pushing the social workers to make a change in how we’ll get some respite. Basically, Val and Alex have two households of relatives who’ve been deemed “safe” by the state as potential placements for them. One is the relative in our town who took custody of them after their immediate family hit crisis but who wasn’t able to keep up that level of involvement, which is what brought them to us. The other relatives did their post-crisis support by letting the kids’ parents move in with them while getting back on their feet. What I hadn’t realized is that the kids’ caretaker relative had been sending the kids to the other relatives every weekend so they could have supervised visitation all weekend long the whole time the kids were living with her. I’d known the social workers talked about whether or not “relative-supervised visits” would be okay once the kids entered our care, but I assumed they meant that the relative who’d been raising them also had been the one supervising, which is not the case.
The kids’ parents are frustrated because the kids entered our care because of the relative’s needs rather than because the parents were not making progress. And yet that means that family visits have gone from being whole-weekend affairs to one hour each week with a social worker watching through the glass. I know Lee was able to express some of her frustrations to the family’s social worker when she dropped the kids off after last week’s visit. Meanwhile I was with the kids’ mom at Alex’s parent-teacher meeting. Both conversations ended up discussing these visits and that the only reason they ended was that the young and relatively inexperienced social worker thought that visits like that weren’t appropriate for children in foster care, though it was the exact same family and situation as it had been before the kids came to us. I emailed her suggesting that we move on getting those visits reinstated as soon as possible since it would give us/Lee the respite break we need and would also let the kids spend more meaningful time with their parents, who want to have that time with them and are frustrated that as they’ve done more to comply with their case plans they’ve ended up with less access to their kids.
The social workers are all on the same page about this, now, and I think we’re all headed in a positive direction here. I’m a little sad that the workers think it’s so unusual that I’d bring Alex’s mom to his parent-teacher conference (which ended up being a great situation!) or to trick-or-treat with the kids. Again, there are lots of reasons this might not be appropriate, but we feel that we know what’s going on in terms of safety and that if the court feels that we can supervise visits with the kids’ parents we might as well supervise them in ways that are positive toward developing a stronger family relationship and meaningful memories. I’m hoping and assuming that the kids will get to have Thanksgiving with their family not because I don’t want them at our celebration (though honestly Lee might feel that way, as she’s having a hard time with meals) but because I don’t see any reason for them to not be with their family. Now, reasons could arise and everything could change, but that’s where we are right now.
So maybe their mom will get to be the one who puts the vampire makeup on Alex tonight and I’m not threatened by that. I’m stopping at the store on my way home to pick up photos of Mara with her siblings to send to her family and Val and Alex in the costumes their parents bought them to give to their mom. We’ve chosen to become parents in a way that involves complicated family relationships, and I think it’s a good thing for all of us but especially the kids that we’ve chosen to embrace that rather than just acknowledge it. We’re lucky in that we’re not parenting kids who’ve been abused by their parents (as far as we can tell) and that makes it much easier to be open and forgiving while still keeping a close eye on everything. The kids’ mom keeps saying how grateful she is to know that the kids are safe and cared for, to have access to them through things like phone calls. I’m just glad we can give her a little more. For tonight, it will be something new. There will be three happy little kids at our house tonight and three different moms with different perspectives on all of this, but we can work together. We can do our best. I still have lots of hope.