When I began foster care classes there were two things that scared me more than anything else: teenagers and birth families. I swore up and down that I would never take a teenager into my home, and really struggled with the idea of forming any kind of relationship with my future foster child’s birth family.
Fast forward 2 years. I am now the proud foster mom of a 16 year old boy. We will call him J for short. He came to me when he was 14 and has been here ever since. How in the world did you end up with a teenager, you ask? It was serendipitous to say the least. Two weeks before I was due to finish classes for licensing I had an epiphany. I contacted the social worker and told her to add teens to my license. I still to this day cannot tell you exactly why I did it, but it just felt like the right thing to do.
When J arrived he was shy and reserved. It took me several months before I could really get him to open up to me. Slowly, but surely, I managed to crack his hard outer shell. Once he trusted me he asked me if he could see his mom. I was hesitant, but we contacted the social worker about making it happen. Life gets busy, and social workers have a million responsibilities, so it just kept getting pushed to the wayside. I could see how important it was to him so one day I decided I would just take him to see her.
We drove the 40 minutes and picked her up for lunch. As I sat across from her I quickly realized several things. First, she loved her child. Second, she was grateful that I was taking care of him. Third, birth families are not nearly as scary as I had built them up to be in my head. As our relationship evolved we began to spend more time with his mother’s fiancé as well. It was very clear from early on that he loved J as his own, and would do anything for him.
As Thanksgiving approached last year I knew that I wanted to try to get J to spend time with his family to celebrate. I asked my parents if they would be willing to host dinner at their house and allow me to invite J’s mom, her fiancé, and my sister’s family. They gladly said yes. We merged our two families and had a wonderful evening. It didn’t matter who was related to whom and in what way, but just that we were happy and thankful to be together. We have made it a tradition to celebrate major holidays together. I know for a fact that my family’s acceptance of J’s family has been a huge factor in the growth that he has made.
In last couple of months J has managed to reconnect with family members from his father’s side as well. We have gone out to eat with both his great aunt and great uncle. Every time he is around his family he truly lights up, and you can see the love they have for him in their eyes. My favorite part about spending time with them is hearing them talk about how much he has grown as a person. Last night his aunt told me that he truly is a butterfly that has emerged from his cocoon. These words mean a lot to me because they let me know that that strange urge I had to add teenagers to my license wasn’t just a fluke. There was a reason it happened. I was meant to help this kid come into his own.
It has been almost 2 years since I received my license. I am no longer afraid of teenagers and I now realize the importance of birth family in a foster child’s life. I also realize that family doesn’t have to be related by blood. A family can be a group of people who come together simply because they all have love for the same child. Our family may not look like everyone else’s, but it works. We’re all happy and most importantly, my foster son is happy. That shy and reserved kid is gone. He is now a confident, outgoing, young man with a great head on his shoulders. I truly believe that if you open your mind and your heart great things can happen.