The Mom and the Foster Mom

 by  Guest Writer Amber

I park my vehicle in front of the courthouse, turn off the engine, and lean my head back to take a deep breath. It doesn’t matter how many times I do this, it doesn’t get easier. Or more predictable. Or less heartbreaking.

See, today is the first time I will meet my seven year old foster daughter’s parents. I will walk a sterile courthouse hallway hand-in-hand with their little girl and introduce myself as the person who has had sole care and custody of their daughter for four months now. I will be the third home she has been in since coming into care over a year and a half ago but I will also be the first foster parent they will meet.

Once inside, my foster daughter recognizes her parents sitting in chairs lined down the hallway and immediately runs to them. Hugs, kisses, the normal conversation of a separated parent and child all run together. Slowly they realize that there is a short redhead who is standing suspiciously nearby and they make eye contact with me. I brace myself for this moment because in the 20+ children I have cared for, meeting the parents is a wild card event. Do they hate me on sight because their kids are thriving with me? Do they love me because I am the sole reason that their supervised visits with their kids was restarted? Do they see me as another player in a game stacked against them? What will they say to me in front of everyone sitting here?

I immediately put a smile on my face and reach my hand out to the woman I recognize from the pictures “Hi, I’m the foster mom!” I chirp as I try to set everyone at ease with some friendliness and good cheer. “You must be the mom, it’s so good to meet you.” I say this to acknowledge immediately to this woman that I recognize her position in my daughter’s life. She is The Mom. I am Foster Mom. We don’t get to switch and we both have to deal with the reality of where those names put us. She has her daughter’s history and is supposed to fight for her future. I get the present. Somewhere out in the world there could be a third mom. A woman who doesn’t even know the name of the girl who will one day be her adopted daughter.

Just a few seconds go by as this woman in patterned leggings, blue hair, and a ripped tank top eyes me and has only a moment to decide how to react to my presence. She gets up and shakes my hand. More introductions pass as I meet the dad, the dad’s girlfriend, and the mom’s boyfriend. I go and sit a few chairs away to give them some semblance of separation so that neither of us has to endure finding a safe common topic and to keep our daughter from having to choose between us.

After a few minutes the mom comes up to me and asks how The Girl (lets just call her that) is doing. I fill her in on dentist visits, how the new school year is going, that a few weeks ago The Girl learned to ride a bike without training wheels, and the accomplishment of finally getting The Girl off all (unnecessary) medication. We both continue sharing details, she gets to tell me bits and pieces of childhood tales, I get to share all the growing and changing that has happened this summer. The Girl is happily sitting on her daddy’s lap and telling him all about her life.

This is how it should be. The Mom and Foster Mom coming together and putting aside anything else but how much they love The Girl. And for those 15 minutes before the court hearing begins, we are able to do just that.

I wish I could end here. Draw the curtain over a happy ending. That wouldn't be honest though, or even fair to cover up the ugly reality that is so prevalent in foster care. What happened in the court room is typical but heartbreaking. The story of drugs, neglect, poverty, abuse, and addictions is a common one in the foster care world but to hear it in black and white, almost dragging the truth into the light, is bound to stir up dark reactions. For parents to be told they are coming up on their last shot. That instead of a lifetime with their children they are facing weeks before a judge will hand down a decision that would legally separate them forever. It is a harsh reality that when the parents are faced with it- their instinct is to strike out. To avoid. To justify.

My daughter left that courthouse in tears as her mom stormed down the hallway, unable to control herself long enough to give her daughter a hug goodbye or any reassurance at all. I was reduced to a villain in the parents eyes and the few moments of camaraderie we shared in the hallway was long gone. I was left to console a seven year old girl whose questions had no answers that I could share with her other than I loved her, that I understood her sadness, that I wanted everything that is right for her. 

In the end, you do your best. You fight. You pray. You overcome. What you can't do is control who hurts your kids. All you can do is be there to pick up the pieces and help put them back in place as best you can.