I had a great conversation with my dear foster mom friend about bitterness. She thinks she has more trouble with bitterness toward birth parents, while I don't seem to have that problem. I do, really, but in my difficulties with the system, I often come back to myself and feel I am falling short in some way. I don't think this makes me more noble, because perfectionism does smack of pride: why do I think that I'm so special that the world revolves around what I do, not what God does with it? I thought I'd unpack these struggles of perfectionism and bitterness a little, confessing my need to depend on God more every day as a foster parent.
One of my strengths is empathy, and in some ways this has helped me in foster parenting. But with empathy comes a too-keen sense of how people react to my words and actions, or lack thereof. I put myself in their shoes and run through in my mind the different emotional reactions they could be having. This leads me to set an impossible standard for myself. What does this mean for foster care? With birth parents, I want to be that foster parent that reassures, encourages, and mentors birth parents, and I have very rarely succeeded in this. I just don't have the personality that puts people at ease, or I just don't know the right things to say to open those doors. I go over interactions over and over, wondering if I could have said something different that would have made all the difference (as training tells me that foster parent-birth parent relationships can make a huge difference in the outcome).
Then there is the parenting of the foster kids. I feel I can never be trained well enough or dedicated enough. These little ones need me desperately in superhuman ways, and I can only be human. I miss triggers. I lose patience. I let them get away with too little or too much. And even when I tell myself that I'm doing necessary things, like self-care, I'm flooded with guilt when I see the impact of my absence in the eyes of a child that hasn't learned to trust that adults come back.
As my friend pointed out, I tend to judge less and become less bitter because of my empathy for birth parents. But I'm still human. The areas I struggle with the most are birth parent actions that have a direct impact on the child, as I'm feeling their emotions deeply. How could they have neglected simple tasks that would have prevented the kids from coming into care? How could they not show up for a visit, knowing the child would arrive, eager to see them? I understand there are layers of reasons why birth parents fail their kids, but looking in the children's eyes, it's hard to understand it in my heart. And sometimes there is a story so awful, you are at a loss to look at it with anything but anger.
God uses me in spite of my perfectionism and bitterness, and I pray he continues to transform me so that I can shine His light more and more.