Build a Bigger Table
I was recently scrolling through Facebook, and this quote caught my eye “When you have more than you need build a bigger table – not a higher fence.” It resonated deep in my heart as I thought of my family.
My family structure is sometimes confusing for people with its complicated connections. I am mom to my 4 kids. But then it gets more complex. You might see my son run up to another woman and call her “Mama”. You might see all 4 of my kids rushing up to their Uncle Rob, smothering him in hugs and excitedly telling him a million things at once. But when you asked me if he was my brother or my husband’s brother, I would smile and say, “Neither. We aren’t related by blood.” One of my kids might tell you “I have 4 sisters and 1 brother.”, while another might say “I have 5 brothers and 3 sisters.” Still another would explain “I only have one brother and 2 sisters.”
People sometimes struggle to understand how on earth we all fit together. But we do. We fit perfectly together in one big family – one very big table - created through foster care and adoption.
Too often in foster care, I’ve seen “saviorism attitudes”, where the focus is on the foster parents and how their actions “saved” the child in their care. But foster care isn’t about saving a child – or even saving a family. It’s about coming alongside another family and doing the messy work of building real relationships.
In fact, I see foster care as more like a marriage in terms of building relationships and expanding your table. When I married my husband, I didn’t just enter into a relationship with him. I became connected to his entire extended family. Much like foster care, I didn’t get to pick the people who were becoming my family. Were there bumps in the road as we navigated combining our two families? Absolutely! There were times that it was super easy, but there were also times where things weren’t going quite as well, and it would have been emotionally easier to just say “Forget it! I’m done.” But quitting on his family wasn’t an option. We all loved my husband enough to put in the work to figure this out.
When a child is placed in your home, you are, by extension, getting a new set of in-laws. Just like with in-laws, you might be creating a relationship with people who have very different life experiences than you do. Maybe you all disagree on far more than you agree on. But you know what you both probably can agree on? You both care about the child. You both want to make the traumatic experience of foster care better for this child. You both want the child to smile, to be happy. You both want a child who feels secure, knowing that the adults in his or her life are doing their best to work together to reduce the trauma of foster care. You want a child who can hug his foster mom goodnight, and then turn and gaze at the picture of his mom that is placed right next to his bed.
Foster care isn’t about saving a family. It’s about coming alongside another family during what may very well be the worst time of their life, the removal of their children. It’s looking past assumptions, preconceived notions, and your own biases to see another human standing in front of you, hurting. It’s being willing to step outside of your comfort zone and reach out a hand to that family. Not to save them, but to say “I see you. You have value. You matter”. It’s saying, “I’ll be beside you. I’ll care for your child so you can focus on yourself and doing what you need to do to get your child back home with you. And if that isn’t possible, I will continue to walk alongside you, because both you and this child matter to me.”
Relationships are messy. They just are. We are humans, with emotions and feelings. And despite our best efforts, misunderstandings happen. Add in the emotions that occur when foster care is in the mix, and it’s the perfect recipe for a whole lot of big feelings. We often need help navigating these complex (and frankly quite awkward) relationships. But just because it’s hard, or because there are ups and downs, or because you are feeling big feelings, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it. It just means we sometimes need to reach out to figure out how to meet everyone’s needs in the relationship.
Over my years of being involved in foster care and adoption, I have learned that the parents of kids I care for are no different from me. It’s just different circumstances in their lives that have brought them to this point. In a different set of circumstances and life experiences, this could be me. These are people who want the same things as I do. They want their children to be safe, to be loved, to be fed. They need someone to come alongside them so they can overcome whatever circumstances have gotten in the way of being able to provide for their children. They need someone to say, “You have value.” They need someone who has built a bigger table.
When we gather at our big table, I don’t see the complicated web of connections and circumstances that brought us all together. Instead I see a group of people who care about each other and who choose to do the work of being a family together. As with all families, it is not always easy, sometimes we must manage big emotions, come up with a plan A, then a plan B, and finally end up on plan X and figure things out as we go. But when I look at my children connected with people who love them, who share their heritage, who can answer the complex questions inherent to foster care and adoption, I feel deep in my heart that it has been completely worth it.