In my previous post I shared my own trauma history and experiences in foster care. Throughout this entire ordeal my support system was my foster parents, my church, and my boyfriend, Tim. We maintained an almost entirely long-distance relationship for three and a half years. We married a month after my high school graduation.
Marriage is not just marrying another person, but also they’re whole family. It is the blending and meshing of each of your values, traditions and experiences to create your unique family. Much of my experiences had not been positive and a lot of what our family has become was modeled after Tim’s parents and grandparents. Tim’s family did everything together. I was quickly introduced to weekend yard-saling with his mother and grandmother, often cramming the most insanely huge find into his mother’s tiny hatchback and trying to unload it all before his dad got home from work. So many weekends were spent setting up campers and tents at our favorite campground or having breakfast at our favorite family restaurant where every waitress knew our name and our spot. There were countless Sunday mornings around his grandparents table having coffee and donuts or in the evenings playing aggravation. There was constant laughter, inside family jokes, sarcastic banter and just enjoyment in spending time with one another. Something that was very much in short supply in my original family.
In this family people could get mad, but they didn’t get ugly with one another. What great examples we had to model our own family after! Still, those first years were difficult to learn that we could disagree and argue and it would not lead to violence. When I would feel anger and frustration I would completely shut down, often locking myself in a room and refusing to speak at all. My lovely husband, always the “fixer” would end up apologizing for everything just to be done with whatever the problem was. It would take nearly twenty years before we recognized how unproductive this was and found a much better way to communicate. Despite these shortfalls our family was being built much different than my past experiences.
In the first two years of our marriage God gifted us with two beautiful daughters. Much of my own healing came through parenting. From the second they were born Tim transformed into this super-dad. I often say that everything I ever wished for in a dad, my girls were blessed with. Parenthood “fit” us and we poured ourselves into it.
Tim’s sister and I were pregnant with our first children at the same time. However, she was also a full blown heroin addict. I now had a front row seat to how this family would handle this crisis. They pulled together closer and adopted their newborn granddaughter. Tim’s mother also never gave up hope for her daughter’s recovery and relentlessly pursued her at all costs. His mother was often sick and sometimes faced life threatening issues with her illness. If we thought parenting a newborn alongside two teenagers still at home would slow her down we were mistaken. If anything she was more determined and energized. She often spoke of two things keeping her going-wanting to see this baby girl grow to adulthood and to see her daughter find freedom from her addiction.
Many times and for many years that hope seemed impossible. This addiction proved to be a relentless beast. Tim’s sister gave birth to a son who quickly went to live with his other grandmother. She spiraled into more dangerous situations, and in and out of jail and near death experiences.
When our girls’ were ten and eleven we had our son. We also began to hear that my sister-in-law had gotten her son back, but was about to lose him to the foster care system. We all agreed that this could not be an option and we offered our home as an alternative. We may not have had any idea what we were in for but we jumped in with both feet. This was our first experience of being on the parenting side of trauma. Our nine year old nephew acclimated well to our family. We did see night terrors, lying, stealing, food issues, hypervigilience, but in many ways he was really just looking for somewhere to fit in and be loved. That we could do. Connection came easily. I could recognize his suffering as somewhere I, too, had been. If nothing else I could just sit with him in his pain. We all fiercely loved this boy. He held out so much hope for his mama. So every single night we would gather in my bed and pray for her recovery and for their reunification.
On her end, there was never any doubt that she loved her son, but she was still a long way from recovery. We had no legal rights to him but as we became increasingly concerned about keeping him safe that became an issue. Unfortunately she felt that we were threatening to take her son away-never our intention- and she removed him from our home. He had been with us over a year and had made so many gains. My heart still hurts for how much of a loss this was to us and to him. He continued to get shuffled around to various people, and still not with his mom. It really put us at odds for the first time ever with Tim’s parents and it took years to get things right with Tim’s sister. I am happy to say that after many years my sister-in-law gained her freedom and her sobriety. My nephew got his mom back, my mother-in-law got her daughter back, and those relationships were restored. My nephew grew to be a handsome, talented, and ambitious young adult that we are so very proud of. This experience led us onto an entirely new path and we opened our hearts to foster care and adoption. That, of course, is a story for another time…