Tag Archives: foster care

On Family and Fostering: A Category of Other


Let’s be honest, my FMF posts are never five minutes, but are rather serve as a prompt for me to think and articulate in raw, unfiltered ways. FMF is a way that my voice is heard, because in my world, I don’t have much a voice yet. But I am finding it. And learning and loving and healing in the process. So here’s my FMF:Alone

“I feel different. I don’t fit in any neat group or category. It’s hard to live in a no mans land. It feels invalidating. I feel like an invalid..I feel alone in a world I don’t understand.”

It’s what I wrote on August 18th, 2015 as I lay in bed trying to process more than my little heart knew how to. Processing the feeling of being “other”.

There’s no category for “other”. But I am an “other”. There’s no place for me to check off. I was not a state foster child, but I had many non relatives and a couple of relatives foster me through my child and young adult life, as my biological parents were unable to. I am not legally adopted, but I feel like I’ve been adopted into some sort of family-like situation. But I also feel the difference. And I feel invalid.

I still have my name. I did not get a new inheritance, a legal one, a new name. I am still the same. Still the same identity. I didn’t get to change my name, and sometimes, that’s hard. I don’t want it.

I don’t qualify for much aid that foster and some adoptees do.  In fact, one semester of my college I had my financial aid revoked because I couldn’t come up with the information on my biological relatives that they needed. I didn’t know how to get financial information from someone I hadn’t seen in 4 years, from someone who was unsafe.

I was vulnerable. I didn’t know who to call when my car broke down. I was anxious for months before each holiday wondering where I could live or stay during the colder months, and then, in college, if anyone was going out of town and would allow me to “house sit”. I didn’t dare expect to be welcomed into a holiday. Growing up I learned holidays were for families. And I didn’t belong to one. So holidays weren’t for me.

I didn’t know how to make a doctor’s appointment. I didn’t know how to open a checking account. I didn’t know how to use makeup or even a tampon.

When my car broke down 6 hours away from my college, I panicked. I knew no one in Pennsylvania. I had orientation for a job that night and was driving to start the school year off with this new job. I was 6 hours from where I grew up and still 6 hours from where I was heading. I NEEDED this job to make it through college. Because when you’re famililess, you have to make it financially on your own. If my car broke down, I’d miss orientation. If I missed orientation, I’d lose my job. If I lost my job, I couldn’t pay for college. If I couldn’t pay for college, I couldn’t live at college. If I couldn’t live at college, I would be homeless, again. 19 years old and homeless. Not to mention figuring out what to do with a broken down car in a state you don’t know.. oh yea and no cell phone, because I couldn’t afford one.

You see, friends, those of us that have been famililess as young people can’t call home and rely on parents to come through in emergency situations. I wanted to leave my state and go to college in another state. I even left full in state college scholarship behind because I felt so unsafe in the state I grew up in. I just wanted to move on in my life, to move past the pain and grief and fear. I wanted to feel safe. I wanted to thrive.

Family is everything

But it doesn’t work that way. Whether it’s a broken down car or a holiday break, I was always reminded I was alone in life. Sure I had some people who cared, but I was always, always at the mercy of others’ “hospitality” and generosity. I did not have the privilege of growing in a safe world where people can be relied on. People always had the opportunity to say “no” to me. I couldn’t expect to have a home for the holidays or that so and so would even answer the phone in an emergency. After all, aren’t we taught, “family first”, even in our churches? And people are full to the brim with their own family dynamics. They needn’t need mine. They didn’t want me.

I come across it daily whether directly or in another indirect way, “family is everything”.

Love does not divide or diminish when it is shared among a family, it increases.

But what about when your family is unsafe? What about when you need a family, but you don’t fit the typical model of family… you’re too old, too sick, too independent, to much work, not pretty, etc. etc. Where does someone who needs family, who needs a constant, stable place to belong, to be cherished and loved, to be encouraged, to mourn, to be taught, to cry, where does someone like that, someone like me belong in a world where “family is everything”?

To this day, when I have to fill out my medical paperwork, work paperwork, any official kind of paperwork, and it asks who my emergency contact is, I don’t know. I scribble down someone that I think loves me and cares about me, but truth be told, I wish I could write down someone that felt proud and confident in being my emergency contact, someone who knows me. My emergency contacts change from season to season. I long for some stability. Long to be known, in a family.

I don’t quite know if I’m allowed to refer to a non biological person as family… But I do, and I’m not sure if it’s okay. I am “other”. There’s not much written about people like me, the others. The ones who the foster system failed, who fell through the cracks. Through the concern of a few people willing to sacrifice a little bit of space in their life, gave me somewhat of a sense of stability and normalcy. But I feel family less in a lot of ways. Traditions, foods, words, heritage, memories are not with my biological relatives, but I have to have an attachment to them.

“What you say to people during death or loss matters. If you don’t know what to say, silence is OK. Hugs are usually great. “I don’t know what to say,” expresses a known truth for a horrible reality, or “I’m sorry for your loss.” Your job is to acknowledge the enormity of the loss to the individual or family, not diminish it. Be sensitive, take your cues from them, be slow to speak. L.O.V.E.”

So I have questions. Lots of questions and so few answers. I have grief. I have sorrow. And I have joy. I yearn for a place to call home. To be able to call someone on the phone and think, “I’m calling home”. I love Jesus. I love the Church. I really, really love people. And many, many good people have been a part of my journey in life. I do not mean to diminish that. I am grateful for the many temporary families I have had over the course of my short life and the ways that I’ve learned much through them and my time with them. I recognize that family doesn’t always mean forever. But my longing for unchanging family is there. And I am waiting, waiting on something I am not sure will be available to me. And I do believe God put it there and has protected it so delicately and purely.

So I am sitting here and I am trusting God to bring about something I am unsure of. I am waiting in the questions I am not sure will get answered. I grieve a loss and hope for joy in the process. And one day, not too long from now, I want to be a foster parent. And I want to be the kind of person who learns to speak LOVE, even when it hurts.