Becoming a foster parent is an arduous process. It should be. I was taking care of children.
There should be extensive background checks to undergo and extensive training to undertake and extensive rules to follow. And I did it all. I answered all the questions and submitted to all the interviews. I went to all the classes in privilege and child development and crisis management.
And I checked off every rule. I had a landline phone. I locked the medicine away and stored the cleaning products in high cabinets. I always asked permission before haircuts and church services. And I never posted a picture. In fact, confidentiality was so key that most of my out-of-town friends still don’t know that I was ever a foster parent.
But those weren’t the most important rules. The most important rule of foster parenting is to never make a promise you can’t keep.
Children in the system have already gone through so much, and they will go through so much more; being placed in even the most amazing foster home is still a traumatic life event. Love them, but don’t say you’ll always be there because it’s possible you won’t be. Love them, but don’t say you’ll always be there because the day may come that you’re not allowed to be. Don’t retraumatize them. Love them — present tense.
America is built on promise.
Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
In order to form a more perfect union.
Give me your tired.
These are promises that have not been kept, promises the American government has broken because of white supremacy and racism, patriarchy and misogyny, nativism and ignorance, homophobia and transphobia. Promises broken by hatred and fear, the latest iteration of which is currently taking the form of concentration camps for children separated from their parents at the border. The cruelty is the point. And this isn’t the first time. The American government enshrined slavery in the Constitution, gave us the Trail of Tears, protected a husband’s right to beat his wife, and sanctioned the death of thousands under Reagan’s lack of an AIDS policy. The list, of course, goes on.
But to many in this world, America still promises a safer life.
I don’t know what it’s like to flee my country due to horrific violence and trek half a continent and cross rivers and deserts with a baby on my back only to have them ripped from my arms at the border of a country that holds such promise.
I do know what it’s like to never see the child you love again. I can say I love my former foster children and that I love these children I don’t even know in present tense because it’s a promise I can keep even if I’m doing it alone. They will never know my name or remember my face, but I can still love them with a broken heart.
It’s not the same experience. But it rhymes. It rhymes with the way my heart breaks at the photos of babies and toddlers and children and youth in cages. It rhymes with the way my heart breaks at the sounds of these parents’ tears if/when they are ever reunified with their children. It rhymes with the way my heart breaks at the knowledge that it is my American government that is being this cruel.
Don’t retraumatize these children, these parents, these families, and this country anymore. The American government has made and broken so many promises. It’s up to the American people to keep them now. We the people must do everything we can to love these families.
I am not a lawyer, so I cannot defend them in a court of law. I am not a rich person, so I cannot donate towards their bail. I am a voter, so I can exercise my office as a citizen and petition my government for a redress of grievances. Because I am aggrieved. I am a broken-hearted former foster mom, and I can love these children — present and future tense.