Today we had a foster/adoptive mom come in with her 16 year old to talk to us about her experience. She adopted EIGHT children, fostered over 40, and is an intake specialist for the state for babies. She has evaluated 132 babies for the state to determine what type of fostering they need - to what level. She also grew up in foster care since the age of 13 months.
Her 16 year old daughter was with her, who was placed with her when she was 2. The mom already had the girl's older brother and sister, and when the birth mom had come to them with the 2 year old and her younger sister and asked them to take them, she eventually said she would.
There were many questions we all had for her. One of which was the 'open adoption' concept. When you adopt, you mediate with the birth family that may want to maintain some semblance of contact (when safe and approved by the state) with the birth family. This could be grandparents, siblings, aunts, even the birth mom or dad. This woman is a firm advocate for open adoption, and has helped most of her kids maintain some sort of contact with members of their birth families.
This is an issue that Chris and I have struggled with understanding, until today. Today it was like a light bulb went off in my head. I have had the mindset of a parent of a child with whom I share custody with his father. In this arrangement, I am guaranteed time with my child, unsupervised. We co-parent, and my decisions when he is with me are up to me, and his father's decisions when he is with his father, are up to him. I had this idea in my head that if I allowed any type of contact with the birth family, that THIS was the type of arrangement we would have.
Then the mom said something that completely made it click for me. She said, "I am not a parent who got divorced and now I share custody. *I* am the parent. I do NOT co-parent. I decide when and where the visitation takes place. These people are not my best buds, they do not come to my house for visits. These are MY children. And if I feel that things are getting out of hand, I have no issue with getting up and leaving, and letting the family know that when they can get it together, they can have another visit." It made sense. It CLICKED in my head. It's like visitation with a distant relative that you only see every three or four years.
This mom is a liberal mom. She has a liberal visitation policy. And yet, she only schedules visits once or twice a year. MOST parents only agree to sending pictures and letters through a third party once a year.
One of our fears is that our kids will want to go live with their birth parents. But sitting in that room, and listening to this mom who was raised in foster care tell us that she KNEW her foster parents were her mom and dad, some of our fears were assuaged. She made the comment that family is memories, it's chicken pox, and vacations, and camping, and mission trips. It's soccer games, and dentist appointments, and bike rides. And the birth family doesn't get those memories.
It was a long day. Chris and I were exhausted and decided to go out to eat at a little Italian restaurant in downtown Beaverton. We talked about the things we have learned that have formed some of the decisions we have made about the kinds of children we will pursue. It was a great conversation, plied by wonderful Italian food and a bottle of chianti.