Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Momma Bear has Arrived!

I said in Child F.'s letter that the Momma Bear would come out at some point, if needed. But when it came, I was surprised.

I arrived at the per-determined visit-location just about on time. I try to arrive a few minutes early in case the girls' parents are early, that way they get a few extra minutes. This motivates me and usually I manage to arrive on time as a result. When I'm a few minutes late at pickup, I tell myself it's okay because I'm giving the girls a few extra minutes with their parents.

So on this particular day I arrived a minute or so early. It doesn't really matter. The point is, I arrived just as mom did. Yay! She met me in the parking lot and asked if I needed help juggling the bags, 3 young girls, and Noah (he was in charge of holding the hands of the older two girls).
"Sure," I replied, not sure what to hand off to her. We have a system and sometimes it's hard to figure out how to allocate in a mildly stressful situation (anticipating leaving the kids, dodging not-the-best-drivers in the parking lot, running through the list of last minute info I should mention such as last diaper changes and reminder that the toddler isn't fully potty trained). The older two are bopping around, excited to see their mom, but also remembering to keep their hands in Noah's.
"Can I have the baby?" she asks.
"Sure," I say. Who's going to say 'no'? As soon as Baby E. is out of my arms I cringe internally expecting the baby to protest.
She has a one-track mind - and it goes something like: "I want momma, I want momma, I want momma" - and sadly her definition of "momma" is not mine or her first mom's either. It's something she's decided on and her favorite place is in my arms.

But she's content to sit in her mom's arms. Phew. She did have a 3 hour nap, unlike most visit-days when we just don't have time to fit in the nap(s) she needs.
I'm excited along with relief. We make our way in to the building and Noah's anxious to leave. We have an epic library visit planned.
"Hold on," I say, feeling impatient with Noah. I'm having to remind myself that I can't just walk away from a mom with her kids. She's not allowed to be alone with the kids. I have to call the foster care unit and let them know we're here.
By the time I hang up, Baby E. has decided she is done with this, and is reaching for me. She's starting to cry. "Momma, momma!" she says.
"I'm going to cry," her mom says, and I feel myself getting hot under the collar. I nod sympathetically feeling increasingly uncomfortable but not raising my arms to rescue the baby who is increasingly getting upset. "I'm your momma!" her mom explains to her kindly. "She gets you all the time, I get you right now," she explains to her baby.
Meanwhile the older two are grabbing at their mom, starting to take their coats off, frantic to tell her the million things they've been holding on to - just to share with her when they finally see her again.
The baby is crying and reaching and "momma"-ing still.
Noah is still begging to leave.

Finally the appropriate staff member emerges, and I make a hasty escape.
And then realize I'm still holding a bag and make a quick re-entry to pass the bag off lightening-fast before retreating again, never giving last minute instructions.

I left shaking. It's not about the mom! It's about a baby who wanted comfort from the "momma" she's living with every day. We need to do what's best for our kids, and put ourselves behind their needs. Because if we don't meet those needs, who will? The kids can't. They can't. They are kids. They can't meet all of their needs without a grownups help. It would have been an easy fix to calm this baby. But this was a mom who chose her own needs over a baby's.

But did I do any different? Should I have ignored my social discomfort and my desire to let this mom parent as much as she is allowed (which is not a lot) and reached for this distressed baby?

Part of training is a lesson in parenting kids 100% - just as you would parent a child you birthed. But I would never leave a child I birthed in anyone else's arms as I stood there, looking on helplessly. But here's the thing: I didn't birth this baby, and it isn't the same. I find myself in situations, needing to do uncomfortable things, explaining impossible scenarios - all because of fostering, nothing to do with parenting. Everyone says what we do is in the kids' best interest. But that's not true. Our first priority is the kids' parents. We don't consider the damage of multiple moves, visits, changes - or at least we don't let that influence our decisions around these kids lives to the extent these effect the kids' lives. We consider how best to help parents - we set up services, visits, appointments that we implore parents to participate in. We give parents time and resources to meet their goals. We move children home and hold our breath, hoping that that time, those resources, that service, etc will be enough of a foundation to support this family - a family that admittedly faces challenges many of us can only imagine. We do all we can to make parents comfortable. Kids so often seem an afterthought.
But that's the best we can do. Kids need parents who can keep them safe. And the best we know how to do is support parents to keep kids safe. So we encourage parents to parent by not taking that baby back who is reaching for the "momma" that they know day-in-and-day-out. We pass off the children we're raising to strangers-to-us in a place we'd never bring our kids in the normal course of life. We hold our breath and hope for the best. And we tell ourselves that this makes a difference. Even when sometimes it feels like it doesn't.


Ash said...

As hard as it is to see this, and it is hard when the child is distressed, learning to be with the bio mom is in the best interest of the child when the goal is reunification. Her sadness is hard to witness but it does not mean you're not still acting in her best interest by walking away. Her attachment to you is such an important thing because it shows she is capable of making attachments. It is important that she learn to develop attachments to her bio mom especially while she's still young. It will make the reunification transition a little easier if/when it happens down the road. You are awesome and these girls are so lucky to be a part of your world!!!

erinn said...

Ash, I have to disagree. What I have learned from raising a child, now 11, who was my foster child from birth with visits 3 x per week for 17 months is that there is damage that happens each time you leave the child like that. We are in fact breaking their attachment cycle each time. We are causing distrust and anxiety. It is an injustice to break this cycle. A solid or secure attachment can be transferred and is healthy. An ambivalent or insecure attachment especially when transferred is challenging and painful for all sides; child, siblings, and parents. If a child is to return to their family of origin we MUST give them the best chance of success. A secure attachment to transfer is the best we can offer. These children deserve healthy, secure, trusting attachments. When I walked away from my daughter while she screamed and wailed for me I broke her sacred trust. She was fragile with so much loss and hurt already. She needed that one person she could count on. She learned she couldn't always trust me. By breaking my attachment with her I certainly wasn't causing her to, in that moment, miraculously trust her birth mother and cling to her for comfort. No, she learned to distrust all, just a little... Just enough insecurity and distrust to lay just under the surface and make social interactions with friends and family challenging. So here we are 11 years later still working to rebuild that trust from early life.
What would have helped and been healthy - what I did with my next placement whom we had from 5 weeks until 30 months of age before she moved to her father - was co-parenting. She learned to trust them by seeing us interact with them. They learned about her from watching her interact with us. I supervised a large percentage of visits. Then it was more like 2 friends doing visits together. Both sides had to drop their jealously, distrust, insecurities. We are the adults, we have to have or make the ability. They are the children. We should make the concessions so they don't have to... When we got close to transition they came to our house, 3 x per wk then every night. They provided her plate to her and washed her face and hands at our dinner table. They got her in her pjs from her dresser and read her stories from her book shelf in her rocking chair. They put her to bed in our house in her bed; in the only bed with the only blankets she had known. She snuggled in safely to her favorite spot in her crib with her favorite blankie, watching the lights from her nightlight dance on the ceiling like she had for the last 875 nights before. All while her birth dad rubbed her back and hummed. All while we sat with the rest of the kids in the house in our living room just down the hall, reading stories or playing games like it was normal and expected. We built and transferred a healthy attachment. Now 3 1/2 years later she still comes to visit Auntie and Uncle 4 - 8 days/ nights per month.
The system needs to evolve to be more like this model. It NEEDS to be about the kids and THEIR best interest.

Ash said...

Ah if only it was a perfect world. Then you wouldn't need social workers like me. Maybe one day, but in the meantime I'm going to keep reassuring my sister that she's doing an awesome job and is doing the best she can. These visits won't break the baby's attachments in and of themselves. It might not be as good as it could be but it's the best that it can be.

erinn said...

Trauma comes in many forms. My only point is we need the system to change the way they define our roles and understand the impact on the children. Yes, of course she is doing a great job and the best she can but her instincts are spot on. Hopefully some time in time the system will see the effect IT has on the kids.

ash said...

It might help to think of it as if you were leaving your child with a babysitter. Kids cry at that all the time and it doesn't destroy their attachment. Im pretty protective of the system because these are people working an emotionally brutal job and they get beaten on both sides..