Before we started fostering, I knew I would have to let go of people’s opinions about my parenting, about my kids’ behavior, about my family dynamics in general. This knowledge does not mean I have accomplished the task.
I like for people to think that my kids are wonderful. I like recognition for the non-stop effort I put into my parenting. The consistency and the creating and keeping of standards are all very thankless hard work and the resulting good behavior was something that gave me a great feeling of accomplishment, especially when compared with other people’s children! Ha! Being a stay-at-home parent can be a job without many checklist-able accomplishments, so having pleasant, well-behaved children was a good payout…before we started fostering. Even at our pre-certification training classes, I realized that letting this go would be one of my number one difficulties!
Now we are a family of seven. Two of my kids have experienced trauma for 4-6 years in the form of caregivers who completely lacked stability and parenting skills and didn’t put kids’ needs first, to say the least. One of my kids still buries her head on my shoulder sometimes, crying, “I don’t want to have two houses anymore. I want to stay here!” but she also lights up when she sees her birth father and goes home to him happily. She’s living a split life and is too young to process the big feelings. My other two children have been traumatized by the chaos, uncertainty, emotional upheaval, and even violence that have come into our home via fostering. Heck, I see my own trauma come out sometimes in my worst parenting moments, and I’m 38 years old! They say PTSD is more common in foster kids than in war veterans, and I believe it. I even see flashes in myself that shock me. If I can’t even master my mild trauma all the time, I should realize that it is way harder for my little ones to do it.
So now instead of being the one who is judging other people’s children, I’m the one whose children are being judged. There’s some irony for you. Payback, I guess. I found this unfortunate verse a few years ago when I experienced it firsthand: Whoever digs a pit will fall into it; if someone rolls a stone, it will roll back on them. Proverbs 26:27
I’m sorry if my children aren’t perfect. I’m sorry that my children don’t obey all the way, right away, with a good attitude (which, incidentally, is one of our family rules.) I’m sorry if you feel like you’re parenting your two or three year old in such a way that they will never turn out as unruly as my 4, 6, 7, 8, and 10 year olds can sometimes be. Ironically, I thought the same thing when my kids were 2 and 3, too. There’s something truly condescending about how you look at my children, knowing that yours could never do such things when they get older. Such things as fighting bitterly with annoying siblings they’ve had for only 16 months. Such things as throwing massive tantrums because they can’t handle the emotions that the past years have brought to their lives. Such things as disobeying parents because maybe those parents have been battling with another child all day or all week and that certain child hasn’t been priority #1 today, or even lately. Believe me, we see these misbehaviors and deal with them when you’re not watching. Yet somehow, our children still aren’t perfect like yours, and we’re not perfect parents like you are. Somehow, we can’t predict what our children will be like in the future like you can.
I CAN, however, see how far our children have come and find hope for the future. Sure, my sweet little bio sons have gone through some rough times in the past four years, and they’re coming out of it with scars and with strength. Yes, two of my kids are scrappy survivors with some shocking behaviors, but their behavior this year is a night-and-day difference from their behavior last year! And sadly, my littlest has to continually adjust to going from a home where she is spoiled to one that has standards of behavior. And that’s hard, but she’s slowly adjusting. You wouldn’t believe how far they’ve all come.
The cool thing about wisdom is that it also brings humility. I can see that if my family is fighting a battle that outsiders don’t know about, maybe others are doing the same thing. Perhaps that family is dealing with the loss of a parent through death or divorce. Maybe those kids are struggling with being bullied at school or in the neighborhood. Could that family be dealing with serious medical issues that require painful interventions all the time? Or did those parents get a new job or have a family situation that is making consistent parenting a real struggle right now? Maybe just managing everyday life with two kids on not enough sleep is more taxing on that mother than I could possibly know. Everyone has different strengths. Just because parenting comes naturally to me, doesn’t mean it comes naturally to everyone. Just because 5 kids doesn’t seem overwhelming to me, doesn’t mean that one kid isn’t pushing that mom to her limit.
When Jesus came upon a woman of questionable reputation being harassed by a bunch of judgmental townspeople who wanted to stone her, he said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” I’ve got my own issues and my kids have issues, too. That’s life. Especially a life of following God, where the fire of everyday struggle brings our imperfections embarrassingly to the surface. That’s where God and we can deal with them and clear them away, like the dross being purified out of the gold. I was a much better parent before I had kids, and I was a much better Christian before I started following God into the hard places. Being “better” isn’t the goal. Being purified, being holy, being more like Jesus IS the goal.
So when it comes to other people’s kids and other people’s lives:
BE KIND, FOR EVERYONE IS FIGHTING A BATTLE YOU KNOW NOTHING ABOUT.
It’s called grace. And that’s something Jesus was really into.