Recently, a thoughtful and talented friend of mine, whom I greatly respect, asked me:
"Do you think those of us who have been in foster care should feel obligated to be a foster parent for a little bit?"
I started to reply, but my answer got so long that I decided to write a blog entry about it!
I believe that those of us who are in and from foster care should take the Maslow approach:
1.) First and foremost, we have to physically and emotionally survive loss, chaos and often unsafe living conditions. It breaks my heart to read newspaper articles about children who die in foster care or at the hands of abusive bio-parents.
2.) Second, after aging out of care, we have build a base of resources for ourselves. Food to eat. A place to sleep. A plan for the future, such as education and/or a job.
It's okay to try to help other people, and I certainly did at the time.
However, at this point it's sort of like being on a plane and putting the airmask on yourself first, before trying to help the person sitting next to you. If you run out of oxygen, you will perish, and you will not make it to help anybody else.
3.) Third, allow ourselves time to heal. This takes time. It cannot be rushed. And we can't take other people further along the path of healing than we have made it ourselves.
Again, it is okay to help other people during this process -- but it's also wise to build friendships with "not-needy" people. People who might seem sheltered, and at first difficult to relate to because they seem so unfamiliar.
Why befriend these unfamiliar people? If they care about us, they can be part of our circle of restorative relationships.
Speaking as a stepmom, it was hard to be a mother, when I had only distant memories of having a mother myself. One thing that helped was the fact that my friends from college had invited me to spend holidays with them, and those trips gave me a glimpse into another world.
Also, let's be honest, and I am speaking from personal experience here, if you have problems and all of your friends have problems, it's easy to start thinking that the whole world is this DARK and desolate place, with nothing but problems.
And that might feel true, but it's simply not an accurate picture of the world.
As Jack Nicholson sardonically put it in the movie As Good As It Gets: "It's not true. Some people have great stories, pretty stories that take place at lakes with boats and friends and noodle salad. Just no one in this car."
In college, I tended to drift back and forth between friendships with the pretty story, boat-floating, noodle salad people, and my other friends whose boatless, noodle-salad-less lives were more familiar.
I think most all of us who have been in foster care have a deep desire to help others. That is a big part of the premise of what Foster Care Alumni of America is based upon... The entire national organization is rooted in phone calls and interviews with 1600 foster care alumni who all wanted to give back and help 'the next generation.'
But how we choose help is up to each one of us, individually:
- Some of us might (and do) choose to be foster parents.
- Others adopt.
- Others have children of their own, and choose not to continue the cycle of abuse that we experienced as children.
- Many of us volunteer our time and advocate for change.
Just as I believe that there's no "one size fits all" approach to families that break down, there's no "one map" to how we alumni should function as adults either.
The beauty and the glory of foster care alumni is that we each bring our talents, insights, creativity, gifts and passion to the table. We are each very unique - and I love that!
So.... that's my take. I must confess to not always taking my own advice. In college, there were times when I spent my grocery money on other people and then had to make do with condiments from the student center. Really goofy, silly things like that, because I really - really - really wanted to help everyone.
But this is how I feel about it, looking back from an adult perspective.
What do YOU think?