"So, you're not her REAL mother."
The woman who said that to me at the grocery store yesterday made me clench my teeth. I had to breathe deeply as I turned and walked away, with two-year-old Allie in tow. We didn't get far before Allie gave me a toothy grin and asked, "Mommy, go home now?" with her usual lispy cuteness.
I'm still angry at the offhand comment from this woman. I'm frustrated, because she's right in the eyes of the law.
I did not give birth to Allie. She is not even my adopted daughter. I'm her foster mother, but I have no rights to make key decisions for this child in my care. I am the one who feeds her and clothes her; the one who gets up with her at night when she can't sleep; the one who lets her throw up down my back when she's sick (still a vivid memory); the one who cleans up spilled milk and crayon wall art, Every Single Day.
And, yet, I'm not allowed to cut her hair. Not even one snip. I need permission from her "real" mother to do so. I can't take her on vacation without a signed letter of approval. If Allie was school-age, I wouldn't be able to sign permission forms for school field trips, since I'm not her legal guardian or even considered her parent.
So, who am I?
When I started foster parenting, I tried to get the kids to call me "Auntie" or "Mama K" or something short and cute, since most of them had a biological mother still in the picture. Nothing stuck. Every single kid ended up calling me "Mommy." When my own children are calling me "Mom" daily, how can I expect my foster children to call me something completely different? No one in our house is treated differently. Everyone gets the same love and attention, eats the same food, and shares the same toys. But what is sad is that, apparently, that doesn't happen a lot.
I've learned that many foster families have a very definite line between their own kids and the "other" kids. There are separate tables for eating meals. There are specific foods and clothes and toys that are earmarked for "those kids." There are no extra treats, unless it's reimbursable. Many homes also send their foster kids away over Christmas -- to live somewhere else -- because they want the holiday with just their "real" family.
Am I the only one that is shocked by that?
Every 90 days, I meet with Children's Aid and Allie's biological mother to discuss whether I should be doing anything differently, in the type of care that I am providing. I have to listen to this woman -- who has never been a parent, since Allie went straight to foster care at birth -- and I have to do my best to comply to her wishes on how her child needs to be fed, clothed, and parented. How I need to take her to a specific doctor, in another neighbourhood, an hour away, for checkups. How I need to go to a specific church on Sundays, to ensure Allie gets a specific religious upbringing. How I have to dress her in pink more, so people don't think she's a boy. How I have to encourage something other than "Mommy," as my term of reference.
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I understand how it must be frustrating to want so badly to play a part in your child's upbringing -- and being denied that chance -- but I believe that if you continue to deny addictions and make poor life choices and your own personal judgement and choices are continually flawed, then you lose the right to make decisions on how a child is raised.
Allie's "real" mother has never been with her daughter for more than two hours at a time -- and only in an office where she is closely supervised. "Mom" has never taken Allie to the park, given her a bath, or put her to bed. I'm the one teaching manners, surviving potty training, and enforcing timeouts for bad behaviour. Maybe one day, Allie will be able to return to her biological mother, but until that happens -- whether it be months or years -- I am the one that is parenting this little girl. And until that time, "Mommy" is the only title I can see that fits.
Last week I drove Allie to the Children's Aid office for her regular visit, and a social worker walked Allie to the front door where her biological mom was waiting. I heard the worker say, "Look! It's Mommy!" and saw Allie turn around, point to me, and announce firmly, "DAT'S my mommy." I had to smile.
Raising a child is what makes you a parent. It has nothing to do with the uterus your child came from.
Written By: Karen Elliott, Yummy Mummy Club
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