You Ain’t Got No Kids: Defying the Stigma That Foster Parents Aren’t ‘Real Parents’
Can we talk about Foster Parents for a minute? Like, are they real parents? Temporary parents? Should they even be called “parents”? Especially the ones that don’t have their own children– how can they get credit for being parents when they haven’t gone through the process of creating a child? As a married couple with no children of our own who are foster parents to a 6-year old little girl, my husband and I do not question the authenticity of our parenthood. We, along with all other foster parents, are without a doubt “real parents.”
I got into an argument with a family member recently and she yelled, “You ain’t got no kids!” “Well, who do you think is raising [her]?!” I blurted back. Her words cut deeper than she’d realized.
Raising children ain’t easy. Raising someone else’s children, I would argue, is even harder. Think about it. Someone else has been loving this child, rearing this child, teaching this child to move through life and make decisions based on their principles and values, as a parent should. But for whatever reason, someone decided that it would be in the best interest of the child to give those responsibilities to someone else. That someone else inherits another human being who comes with all of the love, rearing, principles, values, and oftentimes pain and trauma that they have received from their birth parents. They also come with deep love and a special bond that they have developed with the people who gave them life, as a child should. No matter what has happened, their mom is still their mom, their dad is still their dad, and they will always love and have an affinity toward them.
So, you take all of that, remove this child from the only family they know and love, and introduce them to a new environment– a new home, a different set of principles and values, a different style of discipline, a new set of people to love them. You don’t know how long they’ll be in this new environment, and are uncertain what the impacts of such dramatic life changes will have on them; you hope for the best and pray that it will work out for everyone.
Now the child’s family has expanded. They have their birth parents and their foster parents. In many cases, the birth parents are working toward improving themselves so they can be reunited with their child. In other cases, reunification is not a viable option. In both cases, the foster parents have a responsibility to love the child as if they were their own. And it’s hard. In fact, it feels like what I imagine co-parenting through a bad divorce to be– a lot of tension, drama, trauma and tears, but on steroids because you have a whole system in the mix that includes judges, lawyers, social workers, and other random people who all have an opinion and substantial power over how you raise this child.
And yet, it’s beautiful. A beautiful opportunity and a blessing to be able to love a child whose world has been turned upside down. Although we’ve experienced a lot of tough days, harsh words and sleepless nights, we’ve also experienced the beauty of loving and investing in a child. We’ve helped our little one fall in love with books and learn to read. We’ve taught her to tie her shoes and took her on her first camping trip. She’s lost a tooth while in our care, went ice-skating for the first time, tried tons of new foods (we’re vegan), baked her first batch of homemade chocolate chip cookies and landed a solo in the church choir! She’s also received awards for perfect attendance (twice) and student of the month, and is learning a second language, which she’s really good at. We feel so much love, pride and joy for her. And just like other parents, all of these happy emotions outweigh the pain, frustration, exhaustion and anger that we sometimes feel as we go through the motions of raising a child.
So, when you think of foster parents, know that while we are not parents in the traditional sense, we are parents in all of the ways that matter– loving, rearing, teaching, and caring for our foster children as if they were our own, because for a time, they are.
La Mikia Castillo is an activist, community organizer, professor of all things social justice and co-host of a new podcast called “Hood Digest.”
Instagram & Twitter: @lamikiacastillo
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