Hoping and Hypothesizing

November 10, 2009

I just got home from work. The last family of the day is struggling with the decision to adopt their foster kids. Then, just this morning, the foster mother found out that the younger foster child sexually offended against one of her younger family members.

These foster parents are really great — totally capable, with infinite patience and empathy, but they keep explaining that they just want to understand what is going on in the childrens’ heads: “Why wont they just talk?” I tried to explain that, developmentally, talking about trauma is not an appropriate expectation to have for a ten year old with his kind of history. I find myself making suggestions about ways that they might play with their foster child in order to gain the information or insight that they are looking for, even though it’s not clear to me exactly what they are trying to understand about their kids. But is it “appropriate” to put the foster parents in a situation where they might not be prepared to handle what comes out?

And I’m wondering, where is the line between parent and therapist? Will I be able to find it with my own children? With my own foster children? Do all parents wear multiple hats, with therapist being just one? But, that there is sometimes a line — with both biological and foster children — a certain point at which the child’s functioning is so impaired that the two roles must be embodied by different people because it’s just too much work for one? Because, at the end of the day, a parent has to discipline, in addition to listen? Because some parents just dont have specialized training?

I mean, what if you are a foster parent with a foster child that sexually offends, but your day job is as a counselor for adolescent sex offenders. At what point do you say, “This child needs a therapist.” (Assuming they dont already have one.)

I guess the question isnt as complicated as I’m making it out to be. Everyone, no matter what degree they have, tries everything they can to fix a problem on their own first, then reaches out for professional help. Not to mention, behaviorally involved foster kids come with a bevy of allied service professionals and it wont really be up to me which services they do or dont receive. But, I do worry sometimes that, in my own future life, I will deprive my kids and foster kids the outlets they need because I will think I can do it all or that I will somehow step on their providers’ toes because I’m a helping professional. And, I’m worried that sometimes I ask parents — foster and otherwise — to do things that “therapists” should be doing. But really, what is a parent if not a therapist — someone who listens, cares and helps you change? Me suggesting that they turn off the gaming system and get down on the floor with some action figures — I mean, it’s not like I’m suggesting that they perform brain surgery.

I wonder if there are special support groups for foster parents who are also helping professionals? Does it get as complicated in real life as it does in my mind? More importantly, which bar is my wife at and when is she coming home?

She is out having some much needed fun, otherwise, we would be down here together, in the basement, changing into our PJs, brushing our teeth and batting these questions around like two kittens. We love every minute we spend hypothesizing about and hoping for this future we are trying to create.

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