Things you should NEVER say to foster or adoptive parents.

This is a bit of a rant, but please bear with me. Lately I’ve picked up the mantra “Some people just shouldn’t talk” and repeated it to myself and my girls whenever we encounter insensitive people. Which is decently often.

I’m a foster mom. My girls have been placed with my husband and I permanently, we hope the court will eventually allow us to adopt them. Whatever the legal system says, we are a family. The girls call us Mom and Dad, we refer to them as our daughters. We live together, we have arguments and issues, we love each other. We’re a family.

Technically, if Magda and Rosie were our biological children, Josh and I would have been 18 years old when Magda was born. Also, they are partially Hispanic. The girls’ little brother, Isaiah, lived with us for 1 1/2 years before he returned home to his biological dad and he’s especially Hispanic looking. This is where a lot of people get hung up. We look young to have a 12 year old and the kids don’t look like us.

And people say things. Out loud. Stupid things.

One conversation I had while at the bookstore with Isaiah went like this:

Man hears Isaiah call me “Mom”, does a double take and says, “You’re his mom?”

Me: “Yes.”  You just heard him call me “Mom”, congratulations on being a genius.

Man: “But he’s Hispanic.”

Me: “Yep.”  What? Holy crap, how did that happen?!

Man:”Is his father Hispanic?”

Me: “Yes.”  You’re not my best friend, I’m not going to share all the details of my life. Have you never seen an interracial family before?

Usually, I try to be optimistic about the human race and see beauty in people, but when you say rude things in front of my kids, I’m not on your side anymore.

People need to realize that the things they say about kids and to kids have a profound affect on them. Please, think before you speak. Is it necessary to point out differences in our skin tone or our ages? The kids already feel different, must you speak the obvious? What is the point?  Why can’t you just look at us and see a happy family?

So, here’s a little guide based on personal experience of what not to say to foster or adoptive parents and kids:

Don’t ask me how old I am. It doesn’t matter. My kids are well taken care of and well behaved, it shouldn’t matter if I was a teen mom or not. I know many people who’re teen parents and they are lovely and have wonderful kids. Besides, what are you hoping to accomplish with your condescending, judgmental looks and tone of voice?  I can’t and wouldn’t send them back. How about a little support.

Don’t say things like, “I could never be a foster parent.” Either you’re saying that you couldn’t handle becoming attached to a child and having to let him go, or you’re saying you couldn’t handle dealing with children that are not yours biologically. Either way you’re going to hurt my feelings or my kids’ feelings. The thing is, being a foster parent is hard and I’m not some calloused robot that doesn’t feel pain when a child I love leaves my home. And yes, foster kids come with issues from their past, but lets not talk about that right in front of them please. They’re just people who deserve love.

Never say, “It’s like you’re a real family”.  We are a real family.

Don’t gush about how wonderful we are for taking in older kids. Maybe we became parents non traditionally, but we’re just parents like anyone else who chooses to have kids.

I don’t want to hear all your horror stories about foster care. Everybody has a, “My friend’s friend had a sister who was a foster mom and those kids burnt her house down”, story.  Save it. Especially if my girls are with me.

Don’t ask where their “real” parents are. First of all, the term you’re looking for is “birth parent”. My husband and I are the ones living with them and caring for them. At this point we’re their real parents. Secondly, why would you ask this question in front of the kids? Obviously, if they’re in foster care there’s a reason and it’s not a nice story. If you’re looking for a sad story to gossip about, look elsewhere.

Don’t ask how much money we make being foster parents.  This one really shouldn’t require an explanation. When you ask me that in front of my girls, you’re reducing their value to a number. We recently told the court that we would be their guardians and not receive monetary reimbursement if it meant less DHS involvement in our lives. It still might happen that way eventually.

Don’t tell me I got kids the easy way.  Just because I didn’t give birth, doesn’t mean its been easy. Raising kids is hard work no matter what. I promise I would trade the years of emotional pain of infertility, for a few hours of labor pains any day. However unconventional it may look, we’re a family. You probably don’t know the whole story of how we came to be, so don’t make assumptions.

The truth is, I really appreciate my friends and family and how supportive they are of us. They’ve accepted our kids with open arms and never once questioned our motives. Hopefully, someday the rest of the world will catch up. I remind my girls once in a while that Josh and I chose to make them part of our family. I hope it makes them feel special. Even though its been a long, hard road for all of us, I don’t have regrets. I wouldn’t change my experiences, even the hard ones, because they led us here.

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Originally written on 5/23/2012

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