The first time I set eyes on my son’s foster mother, I did not see her through rose-colored glasses — they were more like fire red! I was angry and resentful that my son had been removed from me, so I was in no mood to be friendly or forgiving.
I met her at my first visit with my son — eight weeks after he went into care. I noticed a tall blond woman with a kind but crooked face walk in and speak to my caseworker.
He Called Her “Mom’
I had been sitting on a couch waiting for about 15 minutes. A little short-haired blond boy ran past me and I just sat there staring at my caseworker. She turned to me and said, “Aren’t you going to say hello to your son?”
I said, “Where is he?”
She pointed to the kid and said, “Right there!” Now, when they took my son from me, he had long hair and a longer tail down his back. The little boy she pointed out had one of those ugly mushroom cuts. I called my son’s name and the boy turned around. I almost fainted — that was my son! I was furious.
Then I heard him call the blond woman “Mom.” I nearly lost my mind. After I calmed down, the caseworker explained to me that since all the kids in her home called her mom, it made him feel comfortable to call her that, too. Guess how much I liked that?
I Asked Questions
After my son said a tearful goodbye, I stayed behind to ask the caseworker about the foster parent. I found out that she and her husband had been doing this for many years and they were in the process of adopting the four sisters they had in their home. The father was a clerk in family court and the mom had been a registered nurse but was now a stay-at-home mom.
While I wasn’t happy about my son being in the system, my impression was that he was with people who fostered out of love, not for money, and would be stable in his life.
I knew my son would not come home soon. I had been using drugs, and to get my son back, I had to do an 18-month drug rehab program, take a parenting skills class and show I had housing and a steady income.
Getting to Know Each Other
At the time, the agency didn’t actively encourage parents and foster parents to connect. Now they do, because they’ve seen that children do better when both families that are raising them can communicate and trust each other. My son’s foster mother and I built a relationship anyway. To show my commitment to my son, I always made it a point to get to the visits early. When my son arrived, I would greet his foster mom and we would speak briefly about my son. She would give me a progress report of sorts. She was so friendly and thoughtful.
His foster mom usually brought the other kids in her home for visits, too, and sometimes she had to wait for the other children’s mother to show up, so my son and I would stay with his foster family and talk.
Other moms asked me how I could stand talking to the foster mom. They were taking their anger and shame out on the foster parent, just as I had on our first visit. I told that to the other moms. Believe me, that did not make me too popular, but I saw some starting to speak to their children’s foster parents.
A Caring, Loving Family
As I got to know my son’s foster mom, I found her and her whole family to be warm, caring, loving and patient. My son loved his foster family. The only problem he had was adjusting to the foster mother’s cooking. Once the foster mom asked me, “Is your son a fussy eater?”
I looked at her kind of puzzled and said, “He always ate everything on his plate and nearly always asked for seconds.”
“He hasn’t been eating very much except at breakfast,” she told me.
“I’ll speak to him,” I said. He told me he didn’t like her cooking but didn’t want to tell her. After all, I had brought him up to be polite and not hurt people’s feelings.
After the visit, I told the foster mother, as politely as I could, that he was just used to my cooking and that I used a lot of garlic and oregano. I didn’t want to tell her that my son thought she couldn’t cook!
The only problem I had was that I felt my son was being spoiled. At every visit, he had a new toy or a new outfit to show me. I didn’t know how I was going to keep that up once I got him back. Soon I was bringing him presents, too. When I spoke to the foster mom about the presents, she said that she understood and scaled back on what she got him (or at least what I saw of it).
I also stopped bringing anything but food to visits, except on special occasions. I wanted to be sure my son was happy to see me. I wanted our visits to be about us, not about me sitting and watching him play with his new toy.
At first I didn’t ask my son too much about where he was living. I didn’t want to hear that they were taking better care of him than I had when I was using drugs. But after a while I did ask. My son told me he liked having a lot of kids to play with, that the house was really nice and that he had pets to take care of. I was jealous. At the time, I didn’t believe I’d ever be able to provide a good home for him again.
She Encouraged Me
At one low point in my recovery, when I felt there was no hope, I spoke to the foster mother and the caseworker about surrendering my rights voluntarily. The foster mom looked startled and asked me why.
I responded, “You seem to be able to do so-o-o-o much more for my son than I can do. You take him to great vacation places, buy him anything he asks for, and give him a wonderful place to live.”
She said to me, “No matter what I do for him, no one can give him the love you can — so don’t give up.”
I began to believe that my recovery was possible. I had someone who actually believed I could get him back. While she might have loved to adopt my son, she nevertheless encouraged me to do my best to reunite with him. That meant a lot to me.
An Astounding Gift
About a week before Christmas, the time finally came for my son to come home. What a wonderful gift Santa gave us that year! That day, my son’s foster mother did an unbelievably compassionate and astounding thing — she handed me a check.
“What is this for?” I asked her.
“This is the rest of the foster care money for this month. I thought you might need it to get him some Christmas gifts, since you’re not working yet,” she said.
Well, I gave that woman the biggest hug and thanked her.
She and I also agreed to keep my son in the Catholic school he attended, which was some distance from my house. She offered to pick my son up and drop him off every day so he could finish the term with his friends. Even after he transferred to the public school near our house, she was there for us. If I had to work late or he got sick at school, she would pick him up and bring him to me when I got home.
Giving to Each Other
Now it’s been almost 11 years since my son has come home. There have been many changes in our lives, but one consistent thing has been our relationship with his former foster parents.
My son has spent many nights and weekends at their house. He’s gone with them on vacations and to family celebrations, ball games, swim meets and more. I have gone to some, too! I’ve also been able to help them out by babysitting their youngest daughter. Their trust in me made me feel especially good about myself.
His ‘Other Family’
Packing up my son for a vacation or overnight, I’ve felt grateful that my son has had another family that enriches his life. I also feel good that I’m no longer an angry, jealous and resentful person, but one who can appreciate that my son benefits from the caring of a family that took him into their hearts and home.
In the years since he came home, I’ve also regained my confidence that I, too, can take my son places and expand his horizons.
Sometimes my son throws it at me in anger that he was in foster care. But once he told me that he was really glad we were able to be friends with his ex-foster parents. He had come to love his “other family” almost as much as he loved his siblings and me.
This article is reprinted with permission from Rise magazine’s Building a Bridge workbook.
Lynne Miller has worked as a parent advocate at Seamen’s Society for Children and Families and at Forestdale Inc. Miller has been a frequent contributor to Rise. She is now helping her youngest son raise his own child.