Our newest little guy arrived at 9:00 p.m. with a message emblazoned across his chest. His mom got him dressed and ready to be discharged from the hospital. She chose the clothes he would be wearing when he arrived at my home. I found half a dozen outfits in his diaper bag, and it was clear this outfit had been chosen on purpose:
“I love Mommy.”
I read the words, and a smile spread across my face. This little boy’s mommy was sending a message loud and clear. All of a sudden, I couldn’t wait to meet her. I couldn’t wait to assure her. As long as he lives in my home, this little boy will know she is his mommy. He’ll be shown how to love her and care for her. He’ll hear all the best things about her, and he’ll only be told the difficult things if and when it’s absolutely necessary. He will be safe in our home, and she will be protected.
You see, words matter. Names matter. Labels matter.
Each of the children in my home has a mother. Some of them even have two mothers, but none of my children are orphans.
The vast majority of children in foster care have living parents, and a significant portion of those parents are actively involved in their children’s lives. They are working hard in order to reunite their family: taking classes, participating in therapy, and attempting to prove their ability to provide their child with safety and security. The parents who aren’t working on their service plans are facing significant trials and challenges. It is rarely a lack of love that tears these families apart.
Before I became a foster parent, I didn’t know this side of foster care. I heard about the abused and neglected children, but I didn’t hear about the disadvantaged and challenged parents. I assumed that parents who became involved with the foster care system were bad people who had made terrible decisions. I didn’t hear about the economic and societal factors that played into their circumstances. I didn’t know about the neglect and abuse many of them had faced in their own childhoods. I didn’t understand the sheer power of poverty and addiction. That knowledge radically changed my attitude toward parents who become involved with the foster care system.
I wanted to foster a healthy relationship with the biological parents of the children in my care. I wanted to show them love and bring them joy. I wanted to relieve some small part of their burden, and I knew it started with caring for them through my language.
One of the keys to a good relationship with our kids’ parents is the ability to speak with compassion and understanding. There are words and phrases that are extremely detrimental to a parent’s self-worth and internal motivation. We have a responsibility to assess the way we talk to our kids’ parents and to assess the ways we talk about our kids’ parents. Are we speaking with love? Are we encouraging hope? Are we showing them the proper respect? Are we being honest? Are we inspiring them toward greater things?
In the world of foster care, our words matter: both what we say and how we say it. Thinking about the way we speak is an investment that will pay great dividends in our relationships along the way.
Our newest little guy wears a shirt that proclaims “I love Mommy!” I want to live and speak in a manner that affirms this truth:
I love her, too.