I mentioned before that our next foster parent support group was on birth parent relationships, and I would share notes. Well, it was better than just a chat about relationships; a birth mom with an open case came and shared her experiences! As might be expected, she had a good relationship with her child's foster parents and seemed to be on track for reunification. I was honored to hear what she had to say. Some things that stood out:
The first time you meet birth parents, they may still be in shock. Some may see it coming, some may not, but the trauma of losing your child causes emotional reactions sometimes out of one's control.
Seeing where the child lives is very important to them. In this case, she has visits at the foster parents' home, which is unusual in our agency and area. But if that isn't appropriate, we talked about how pictures of the child's room or where the child plays could be positive.
First impressions of how their child is cared for make an impact. This mom instantly had a criticism that she later figured out was no big deal. But she clearly remembers that worry, and how it made her legitimately fear for how her child was cared for.
Birth parents are in classes with other birth parents. I never really thought about this, but she shared about how she realized she was lucky to have such a good relationship because she'd met other parents with kids in foster care that the relationship was non-existent or negative. She acknowledged that she chose an attitude that helped that relationship.
Birth parents want to contribute to their child's needs. She talked about bringing clothes and things for her child, which helped her stay in the mode of being a parent and prepare for reunification. I asked how to balance involving birth parents in supplying a child's needs yet not wanting them to feel obligated, as we should be providing for them in our role as foster parents. She suggested if birth parents ask if they can bring anything, suggest cheap items like pacifiers. She couldn't think of many examples, but later I thought of books, even paperback books that then you could read at visits and at home. I'm still thinking on this one.
Birth parents want to be consulted and informed about the little and big things. This is where it gets tricky. She said it was so important to her that they talked to her before lots of decisions in caring for her baby. But what about parenting differences? I gave her a scenario similar to Caterpillar's mom's requests for me: what if a birth parent tells me to use diaper cream for every single diaper change, rash or no rash? She suggested exactly what I do: don't change my parenting completely especially when it would be really inconvenient or what I think is not best for the child, but acknowledge the parent by putting on diaper cream sometimes before visits, because it's clearly important to her. I had to crack up at a birth parent telling me to put on a good show for birth parents. It did make me think how I could ask more questions, though. What fruit or vegetable should we try with Caterpillar next? Do you have anything you would do as a part of bedtime routine? These small choices could give a birth parent positive involvement.
So, as I've been working so hard on my relationship with Caterpillar's mom, it may be changing very soon. I knew the agency was working through a list of potential relative caregivers. They have settled on one, and while she hasn't been fully cleared yet, it's expected she will be cleared soon. I really hope this relative is fully committed and responsive. The caseworker is. We'll see what happens.
It made me sad for a little more than losing Caterpillar. I'm sad to lose his mom. While it hasn't been easy, I know building our relationship has been a positive thing. I'm wondering if I might be able to keep in touch with her. She has talked about play groups that I bring my kids to, that she always wanted to bring her daughter (in a guardianship situation) but transportation is an issue. I'm thinking about offering to pick her up and take them to the play group with me. If I've put the pieces of information together, she lives near me, and we go there anyway. The play groups are all about parents as teachers, and I think they'd be great for her as a parent. I could help with this need, and still encourage her that she can do this parenting thing. And of course, for myself, I would hear how Caterpillar is doing, and God willing, see him again sometime. I'll be praying and considering.