The other day I got to revisit a classic story that I remembered from my childhood. I was fuzzy on the details but with the help of two kids who love hearing stories, I have been able to revisit many of these stories. One of those stories is about a baby bird.
The story begins with a mother bird leaving the egg in the nest to find food for the baby that is about to hatch. As the mother leaves, the baby bird fights his way out of his shell. In the hustle and bustle, he falls out of the nest. The baby bird is in a new world and understands nothing around him. But he knows one thing: he has a mother somewhere. The problem is, he has no idea what she looks like.
The baby bird starts asking everyone he meets, “are you my mother?” To which all the animals respond, ” no, I’m not your mother.” Some also respond by saying “I’m a cow.” or, “I can’t be your mother, I’m a dog.” It seems everyone in the story sees that it is basic knowledge to know who your mother is- or at least who a bird’s mother is not. Everyone knows except the baby bird.
It is interesting how much depth and insight a child’s story can have on real life. I doubt P. D. Eastman had any idea that his children’s story could actually be close to the real life of a child. We have two children in our home who are looking for their parents. Some people in the past looked like parents, and acted like parents, but they were not. Now we have two kids who aren’t sure who their parents are. Little C and big C call us mom and dad- not because they want us to be their parents, but because that is our role. We are mom and dad just like their last moms and dads were. But they are still in their own ways asking, “are you my mother?” And they are not just asking us this question.
What makes someone a parent to a child? Is it their constant care for their kids? Is it the fact that a parent provides for all of the constant needs of their child? Is it because they feed them every day or clean up their messes? Is it because a parent holds their child when they are scared? Or cares for them when they are sick? Or is it someone who has fun with a child? What makes a parent a parent? If you can say yes to any number of those, then you are describing most of the other foster homes our kids have been in. That means all of the things that would make up a parent just looks like another temporary place for little C and big C.
Our kids don’t feel more drawn to us because we make them dinner. They don’t feel connected with us because we make them shower and brush their teeth. Their trust is not built in us because we make them go to school, or do their homework, or go to bed. That is what all of their other “parents” did. They find no value in having a caregiver. They have had many of those.
Every new adult that enter into little C and big C’s life can easily turn into an “are you my mother?” moment. They will seek more of what they feel is best for them. that equates to attention in the mind of a child. If someone lavishes them with attention, then they think that person will be a better parent to them. This makes any social outing difficult. Ryann and I end up being the bad guys. We end up being the ones that make them do all the things they don’t like. And somehow, everyone else seems to be the people who let them have fun and are nice to them. Many times we have heard phrases like “I want to go home with them,” and “I wish we could live with them.” Every day Ryann and I have to work twice as hard to get those precious moments with our kids that they will freely give to a complete stranger.
Not only do we have to compete with all the complete strangers, but also with all of the parents of the past that they miss. We hear daily about their loss. The different parents they were not able to stay with. We hear them almost daily talk about missing someone or something. We are being compared to every parent they have had and every new person they meet.
A child should know who their parents are. It should be innate. It should be the basic building block of understanding for a child to help interpret the world around them. But if a child has spent a large part of their life in and out of different homes with different parents, then they are robbed of the most basic securities every person holds dear.
At times it may seem like Ryann and I are being bossy, or controlling or even distant. We may seem overbearing or overly protective. We honestly may not even be that fun to be around sometimes. But we are trying to teach two kids who their parents are. We are trying to teach them what healthy trust is so that one day they won’t associate love with who gives them the most attention.
A side note to whom it may concern: I am grateful for the many people who have been open to listen, Attentive to learn, and willing to help. I am thankful for the friends and family who have endured some awkward conversations and social interactions. I am thankful for your understanding, patience, and your love. I have been blessed to witness and see the humanity that has surfaced from all who have been a part of our journey in this process. God bless you all!