Wonderings on how babies feel about living in foster care

Guest post by Theresa

By: pixydust8605CC BY 2.0
“Honey, I think we’re having a baby!”

Our one-and-a-half-year-old foster son was with us for about three months when we found out his biological mother was pregnant. While this was not in our plans, my husband, four-year-old biological son and the already mentioned foster son braced for joy when the baby was “delivered” to our house the very day after being born.

Both of our foster sons had visits with their biological mother that involved Social Services driving them two hours there and two hours back for a one hour visit. This was what I wrote one day when they were gone on a visit:

What does a baby think when he sees his biological mother for only the fourth time in his six months of life? Does he feel a connection? Does he realize this is someone special? Does he feel any of the conflicted feelings that his almost three-year-old brother feels? Maybe he just basks in the love. Maybe he feels the intensity and the roots don’t matter. Maybe it is as basic as happiness to be out of a car seat after a two hour drive, and relief in the arms of someone who is smiling.

What does a mother think when she sees her six-month-old son for the fourth time in six months? Does she ache for him? Does she detach even further in the space where the bonds were never formed? Does she feel like his mother, or does she feel like she’s playacting the role of his mother? Is she jealous that the baby is going home into the arms of another woman, or is she relieved that she doesn’t have the nighttime, decision making, often challenging commitments to adhere to?

As the foster mom, in all honesty I am relieved when Social Services comes to pick up the baby and his brother for visits. It is five hours of time either to myself to try and scrape up my tired body and put together the shambles that my house has become, or time to reconnect with my biological son in a space that never involves saying, “After I’m done feeding the baby…” “Please speak softer…” “In a minute, in a minute, in a minute.”

At the same time, I am even more relieved when Social Services brings them back. When that baby looks into my eyes and breaks into an ear-to-ear grin and says without words how happy he is to see me. When I know that he is in the one place that he has ever considered home.

That baby is almost three years old now! He still breaks out into an ear-to-ear grin when he sees me. I am his mommy, his moon and his stars. This family, the only one he’s ever known, legally became his this past summer after two years of visits and emotional roller coaster rides. Two years of not knowing the future. The adoption and the knowing have helped us all settle and find our places in our family.

The boys do not have visits with their biological mom at this point. This has been a very difficult decision to come to. It has taken heaping doses of self awareness and endless deep discussions to make sure our motives are not selfish. Or even to make sure they’re not coming from an overprotective mama bear emotion. The decision had to come from a place of knowing that the safety and emotional well-being of the boys are the only real, true, transparent motives. We have counted on the advice of counselors that know the boys’ current states of mind and heart better than we do, and social workers who know the situation intimately.

In the meantime, I keep in touch with the mom. I send pictures, share stories, and answer questions. I want to keep the communication open and honest. Someday we will share with the boys the whole story. The details nobody else knows at this point — not family or friends. This is their story alone to own. If they learn the whole truth and want to have a relationship with their biological mom, we will support that and do everything we can to make it happen.

No matter what the future holds, what decisions he makes, what she feels when she sees him again, that baby will forever and always be my baby. That makes me grin from ear to ear.

Comments on Wonderings on how babies feel about living in foster care

  1. fascinating. i am always thrilled to hear people’s stories of fostering.

    i wonder something similar with our youngest kiddo. they are well on track to go home to their mother, which is really wonderful – but part of me feels like the transition back home is going to be harder than the transition away from home was for the youngest, because he is so young and so doesn’t understand.

    • I know what you mean. That was one of my biggest concerns when we had court to decide placement when the baby was around 1. We would have been alright, his older brother would have been alright. The baby would have been broken. It ended up being a whole other year before a decision (gotta love the courts – ugh), but thankfully for him most of all he stayed with the only family he’s known.

  2. This is such a touching post. I have had the same thoughts, but more along the lines of how can I foster a connection to help them feel secure with us without compromising their connection to their family when they’re only here for a short time? What can I do to make their parents feel comfortable with us doing their job, and balance showing we’re more than competent carers without making them feel threatened or replaced? How can I prepare the little people best for going home when home might still be in crisis? Is the contrast between their home and ours going to confuse or damage them? It’s a deep rabbit hole to go down.

    I also want to say how impressed I am that you are continuing contact with their Mum, even if visits aren’t appropriate right now. That’s a hard road to take and so often I see people making excuses or shrugging it off, especially when their rights have been terminated. I’m sure your boys will be thankful for that connection as they grow and learn more about their story.

  3. I read this coming from the other side of the story, my mother and father got divorced when I was around 10 and my mom ended up with sole custody of us and my father had visits which got scarcer and scarcer.

    He wasn’t the most responsible person and I do think if he had made different choices life would have been different for him, however, he and my stepmom later had a baby and they were living with little to no money and struggling with substance abuse and a lack of support network and this baby was taken away from my father at gunpoint.

    I know the child is better off with his adoptive family in terms of safety and stability, and I know that his adoptive family loves him as their own, but my father loves him fiercely as well and never gets to see him. I’ve recently had a child of my own (3 months!) and I try to imagine what it must be like to know that something so precious to you was in someone else’s care and may not remember who you are, and it breaks my heart.

    Don’t get me wrong – it was his own choices that got him there and maybe things would have been different if he had shaped up his life, but this post was hard for me to read with this experience in mind. I have a little brother who doesn’t know who I am, and I wonder if when he is told where he came from and why he was taken away if he will even want to know us at all.

    Just wanted to share.

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