“Aren’t you afraid that she’s going to have… you know… issues?” A fellow colleague whispered to me in the staff lounge.
I had been back from family leave for two days after a 10-week family leave. February 18th we had been called to pick up a newborn baby from the hospital, and by now my husband and I had fallen deeply in love with our foster kiddo.
In my mind I was screaming… “Are you kidding me? That cannot be a serious question.” I don’t know what surprised me more; the fact that she was a fellow teacher, a parent, or that she would actually be that judgmental.
My response came out more as a baffled, “What do you mean?”
She replied, “Well, I mean, you don’t know her pre-natal background, and her parents, you just don’t know. Aren’t you worried that she’s going to have developmental delays?”
WOW! This conversation was actually happening.
Honestly, what came out of my mouth probably sounded more like, “Um. I don’t know, it hadn’t crossed my mind.”
This had turned into a very awkward conversation. I was irritated and annoyed.
No, I wasn’t concerned about developmental delays. I was concerned that I would have to give back a child we fell in love with. I was concerned that I was going to be late to meet the social worker after work. I was concerned that she would be crying and wondering where I was while she was with her new child-care provider. I was concerned about being an adequate parent. I was concerned about teaching her gratitude and kindness, and respect. I was concerned people would judge her because she was a foster kid.
But developmental delays? Well, I guess I was as concerned as any parent when it comes to education.
As she finished grabbing her paper from the printer she said, “Well. I know I just couldn’t do it. I just don’t know how I could love a stranger more than my biological children. You’re so strong. She is just so lucky.”
The whole conversation was just so awkward and I was so annoyed. Did she really just say all of that? Also, keep in mind she didn’t know anything about my daughters background. Not only was it confidential information, but it also was none of her business. So her judgment was purely based on the knowledge that she was a foster child.
I wish I could say that I had responded to her with an eloquent answer. But I didn’t. I think I replied, “Uh, thanks,” and walked as fast as I could out of the staff lounge.
This would be my first conversation like this, but surprisingly would not be my last. I needed a plan! I would no longer be the one with the awkward response. And my initial reaction couldn’t be that of irritation.
Over the next few weeks I had a series of wonderful conversations in regards to this very awkward moment with friends and fellow colleagues and social workers, and had come up with a response I was comfortable with.
Now when people ask me questions like this, I have a response I am comfortable with.
When people ask me, “Aren’t you afraid that she’s going to have issues because… you know… she’s a foster kid?” I respond with, “not more or less than any other biological parent. I mean there are parents that eat all organic food, and attend every prenatal exam, and their kiddo is diagnosed with autism at age three, or ADHD at 13. So it doesn’t really matter what her prenatal background is. And there’s no way I can predict what will happen, the best I can do is educate her for when people judge her for her “background.” And if she happens to have developmental delays, then my job will be to help her rise above and solve problems despite those delays.” If the conversation seems to go well, I’ll even throw in a few personal examples. For example, one of my inspirations in college was a woman diagnosed with dyslexia, and she never used her accommodations. I admired her greatly. Her handwriting was beautiful and she explained that reading the literature took her twice as long. But she was brilliant and smart and kind, and had straight A’s. She used her weakness to make her stronger, and that’s what I would want for my kiddo.
And when people say, “I just couldn’t do it. I just don’t know how I could love a stranger more than my own biological children,” I respond with, “well fostering isn’t for everybody. At least you’re honest with yourself. There probably needs to be more people like that. But you’d be amazed at how much you can love a child who is not initially yours. Now, I don’t have a biological child to compare it to, but my brother once explained that the day his daughter was born his heart swelled up like the Grinch’s, where it grew 10 times that day. And the moment I fell for my daughter my heart grew 10 times that day, and it grows more with every passing day. So I bet you could. You just have to be ready.”
And when people say, “You’re so strong, she’s so lucky to have you.” I reply confidently, “Honestly, we’re the lucky ones. She brings so much joy and laughter and love into our home.”
I’ve also had strange questions where people ask about why we have her, or if her parents were bad people. I just answer as general as possible with, “no, they aren’t bad people.” And, “I really don’t know why she was put in foster care.” That’s not true, we do know. But it’s also none of their business, and so this is the easiest way to end a very intrusive awkward conversation.
I’m not perfect at these conversations, and some still end awkwardly, but fostering has taught me a lot about judgment. And that is, some people will judge things they don’t understand, and so hopefully I can give a little bit of education on the topic rather than irritation. And there are some people who I will never be able to change in spite of my positivity, and so we steer clear of them, and seek out those who are accepting.
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Until Next time…. Happy Parenting!
If you want updates on this blog or are interested in the foster parent resources like the foster parent planner, the foster child binder, or the foster parent binder I have available please follow this link to register and gain access to the resource library.
More recently, I published a post on recommended foster parenting reads, and thought it’d be really cool to start up a closed Facebook group where we would read a common book and share ideas and strategies that enlightened us. Please reach out to let me know if you’d be interested by commenting on the post or shooting me an e-mail. If I can get enough interest I would love to organize something like this.