These days I am questioning everything. It’s amazing to me how in a moment everything we thought we knew isn’t at all what we thought to be true. For me, it usually comes with struggle. When our world is turned on it’s side we are forced to see it differently.
My husband and I made a life decision to become foster parents two years ago. We had relations with the child we would invite to join our family, it was decided in a time of need. She was 16 at the time and a friend of our daughter’s, she had moved away after finishing middle school and would now move back to live with us for High School. We were so joyous in our decision to help her, to accept her as our own into our family. My faith is so deep, I often make decisions quickly with my heart knowing full well if I gave it too much time, my head and my intellect would see reasons for not acting. I act quickly and often blindly when helping others.
Well, here I am today, our relations with this young girl have been severed. She lives down the street and we barely have contact. She turned 18 in November and things began to get harder. I believe both her mindset, as well as my own (and my husband’s) began to change when she reached this mark. She moved out and got her own place a month ago. It was a mutual decision.
I am guilty of feeling like I needed to teach her everything in the time we had left after she turned 18 (something I also felt I did when our oldest son was moving out to go to college). I am also guilty of going into this relationship feeling like I had a “window of time” to reach her and help her see the world clearly and know how to successfully move about it. What I question now is do I know how to successfully move about it? Who’s to say my way is the right way? What I see clearly now is that when I would try to “mirror her behaviors”, like her therapist advised me to, I was slowly pushing her away. Slowly pointing out all that was “wrong with her” (as she once stated it). I was acting on the feeling that you can’t fix what you don’t acknowledge. I felt like she needed to own her behaviors and face them as she was on the brink of adulthood. I had turned my parenting style into one of tough love, teaching lessons from mistakes made and teaching that you shouldn’t make the same mistake twice because then it’s a choice. I am very supportive and loving and my husband and I thrive on respect. We are giving with the up most respect and feel we deserve it in return. This method of parenting has worked for us. We have three children, ages 16, 18, and 21. The difference is that we have taught them right from wrong since the moment they were born… We have built a strong foundation with them. I have always found pride in myself with my efforts and my abilities to be a good parent. This entire situation has made me question the very thing that I’ve always felt good about.
I have no idea how to deal with this. I am questioning everything! I am soul searching and trying to find empathy and understanding. For two years I was the mediator between my family and this young girl. Cheerleading for her and trying to get both sides to see the other. Time and time again I was disregarded and disrespected for my efforts by her with lies, manipulation and deceit. I felt I was beginning to lose face in the eyes of my own children, my husband had lost steam and I was holding on by a thread. I threw out life lines to counselors and social workers. I began to draw at straws, I was hoping to teach some life lessons in respecting the people in your life who are trying to help you. My ultimate goal was to help her be successful in having a genuine relationships. I was putting forth my entire self for this mission while also trying to be sensitive to my own children’s needs and feelings, and being open to my husband’s opinions and observations of the situation.
Negative thoughts led to negative behaviors for her. Turning blame elsewhere for mistakes she made. It came into view for me that the harder I tried the further I would push her away. We were deep in the college process with both her and my oldest daughter choosing schools and making future life plans. We had application forms, scholarship forms, tax forms, life discussions, money talk, you name it we were in the thick of it. At the beginning of their senior year I had reached out for help, knowing full well from when my oldest son went through it that I would become stressed and overwhelmed with the process. I had a feeling focusing on two very different girls with different hopes and dreams would prove to be a challenge. I was proactive and asked for help. The State assigned her a mentor to help her with these tasks. I believe this may have been the first step in her feeling as though I wasn’t “there for her”. I can guess that she felt pushed aside while I helped my daughter through her paperwork. I did help her with any part of it I could, getting her essay done when she just couldn’t, she felt accomplished and good about it in the end. When she would share her confusion in the college process I would discuss it with her, I would create spreadsheets with what different schools she was looking at would look like, financially and otherwise. I would share my frustration with her when she would begin the “poor me” spiral downward. I worked very hard to keep her positive and find what was good in a situation, she had a difficult time with me not joining in her negativity. Stating at points along the way to my husband and I, “you just don’t understand.”
With the college process and the many discussions of “real life” on the forefront for all of us, it put a strain on the relationship. Prior to having to focus on college issues, life had revolved around what this young girl needed. I didn’t necessarily notice what the rest of my family was seeing, as I was in the full throttle mode of trying to build a loving trusting relationship with the newest member of our family. Traveling to Boston for doctors appointments, schoolwork, jobs, work study, IEP meetings, getting her license, the list goes on. My family was completely on board, they would ‘hear me’ and learn to find empathy for the reasons behind her behaviors. They supported me fully in my efforts to mentor her. This became more and more trying as time went on, the empathy and understanding can only last so long when behaviors continue and others are being hurt by words and actions. We were very open with each other and stayed strong as a family while learning how to include another. My husband and I would attend therapy sessions and use the time to vent and ask advice for how to handle what this was feeling like for our children. I believe at this point our foster daughter began to feel the division amongst the family. What I had attempted to create (a strong family unity) when this began was beginning to unravel as we learned to figure out how to help and support our foster daughter while also learning to nurture our own family needs. We rarely shared any of our hardship with our friends and family. I had read once when preparing to be a good foster parent that you should always shed a positive light upon the child so that they have the opportunity to form relationships and become close with others in the family. We honored this and asked our children to do the same, we kept our struggles amongst ourselves, along with the therapist and the social worker. Looking back I know now this was not best. It may have been in her best interest, but it was not in ours. She would use this to her advantage in the way that she would tell lies and share things with others that were untrue. As time went on this became very unsettling and began to dishonor our family. Most disturbing was a meeting I had with her basketball coach, the meeting was to address an issue that had happened in the locker room after a game. I went to bat to protect her and in that meeting I was told that she (the coach) had information of “reportable things happening in our home”. I had never been so flabbergasted, I felt dazed and honestly afraid of what she was capable of in hurting our family to protect herself. I immediately turned to our social worker and asked for help with this. After confronting our foster daughter, the confusion I believe now she tried to created had indeed been created. She denied having said anything turning our thoughts to the coach using those words as a threat to protect herself. The confusion and accusations were never resolved after months of requesting getting to the bottom of it, we got no support from the social workers or counselors. It was swept under the rug and her manipulation tactics were allowed to proceed. Our relationship was damaged then and no one helped us to restore it. She continues to tell untruths even today. I believe now that we may have fallen prey to this manipulation when we opened our doors and our hearts to her. My husband I do not believe many (or any) of the stories she told before her moving in with us or after. This has been so damaging and discouraging.
The most difficult part now is knowing her struggle continues, that I wasn’t able to help her, and now having struggles of our own. We were continually disrespected despite all of our efforts. I had worked diligently to teach her not to hurt the people who love her, to find it within yourself to show respect and honor relationships. She had relations with much of her blood family, I attempted many times to encourage their time together. I worked hard to find ways of helping to mediate those relationships. I believe now that her perception of this was me pushing her away. We have found out in recent times that she told friends we were “trying to get rid of her for Christmas because we didn’t want to buy her presents”. (this was the second Christmas she was with us and the last.) There is nothing further from the truth. We had planned family time for the weekend after the holiday without her because of all the stress and pressure at home with things not going well. Her grandmother had invited her to come there and I was working to make that happen, she did not want to go, and now claims that we left her alone with nowhere to be for the holiday. The twisting and turning of that story is only one of the many many times she did that to earn sympathy for herself and claim “poor me”. My intentions have always been with her best interests at heart while also nurturing my own family. I have the wisdom to know that she would need her family in her future, that the more relationships and connections she had going forward would only benefit her. I attempted that with not much help from her social worker. I pray that one day she can see my side of things.
I now question everything. We don’t currently speak to one another. She and my children still attend the same high school and the relationships are terribly strained. There is no resolve. I have always been the type of person to meet things head on… never sweep anything under the rug… tell others how you feel… be open and honest… find understanding. All of this is so different. I don’t see how I can apply any of those beliefs to this situation? I have been told maybe there is no resolve? She feels the way she feels and I feel the way I feel and neither one of us can truly know how the other feels. I know that I have an understanding of her hurt and her pain, her struggles, I have tried to alleviate those and help her see ways of mending her heart over the last two years…. What I’m not sure she understands is that my heart is now broken. I pray that one day when she is a mother and has a family that she may see my side of things.
My heart and my intellect intersect here and that’s the hardest part. My heart knows that I gave her my whole self, I shared my home and my family, with her very best interests at the heart of it all. I put my two children ~ strong, smart, honest, empathetic children~ on hold for two years to build something that was gone in a day. My heart feels betrayed while my intellect knows that she has done it in defense mechanism, to protect herself. I have read all the articles, I have full intellectual understanding for what she’s doing. But HOW… How do I go about protecting me and my heart, me and my family, me and my marriage, when she continually says hurtful things about us and cannot see what we attempted to do for her for what it really is? I have written her letter after letter since she left. Most of them, after writing and reading them back, I realize I was writing to the 40 year old version of her, words and feelings that the 18 year old version would never understand. I don’t feel like my words are productive to her right now. I have no words, there is no understanding.
I fight the feeling of being a failure to her daily, I am trying to heal. I want to be available to her, I do not want her to feel abandoned by me, but I don’t want to be artificial either. I love her, I care about her, I want what is best for her. I am hurt, my family is hurt. I cannot make sense of this for myself therefore I have no way of teaching my children how to deal with all the emotions that this has surfaced. I do not feel that any message would get through to her no matter how it was stated at this time. I have shared a lot of words and conversations with her over the last two years and she perceives them in her own way and twists them into something different. I feel like silence is best for now. I guess I believe that because I’ve used so many words in the past that maybe my silence will speak volumes this time.
My attempt at getting through this is to continue to look inward. I know that placing blame for all that went wrong along the way will not help me heal, I will steer my thoughts away from blame every time it creeps into my mind. I will pray for her strength, as well as my own. I will try to live by my own advice. I will continue to stay focused on my Blessings and live life with an open heart and an open mind. I feel changed through this part of my life, but my understanding is that this is how we grow as people. I guess we often have to question everything.