Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Mom or Aunt?

My relationship with the foster kids who have come into my life has changed over the years.

Everything was clear with Carl. He had never known his father and his mother died from emphysema when he was 14. When he came to me at 16 he had had time to mourn her and he wanted to feel loved again. He wanted a mother as much as I wanted to be his mother.

I had to go through some rigorous testing before he felt safe. He only called me "mom" after the first year -- after he pissed me off so much that he really thought I was going to kick him out -- and didn't.

I think now that my relationship with David was what it was because I felt obligated to develop the same relationship with him as I had with Carl. When I thought he was testing my affection he was really trying to get me to back off to a level where he felt safe. He had been abandoned by his mother and abused by two foster fathers. What he needed was a low-intensity affection and safety. He needed to know that he was accepted and liked and not that he was expected to "pay" for his room and board by feeling something he did not feel or want to feel.

Things are simple with Evan: he is not my son and I am not his mother. I am his aunt.

This is working very well for both of us. He had to change schools and telling people that he is here because he moved in with his aunt is simple, normal, and does not raise questions he is not ready to answer. We both understood the value that after the first day of school. One of the teachers saw that he had transferred from the highest ranking high school in the state. (The local school is good, but we do not have a three-year waiting list of out-of-district kids wanting to enroll). Without thinking that it might be a sensitive question he asked Evan in front of everyone why in the world would he transfer out of there? Evan said that he moved in with his aunt and uncle because he wasn't getting along with his mother. That's true, but if he said that he was in foster care everyone would wonder what the interesting dirty details were. He would have to lie, refuse to answer the question, or reveal intimate and painful details about himself to people he did not yet know and trust.

The whole aunt/uncle/nephew thing is also a better way to conceptualize our relationship. He and I have exactly the sort of relationship that someone would have if they moved in with their aunt and uncle for their senior year of high school. I like him and I insist that he respect us. He likes us and is willing to follow the house rules. I hope that he will stay in contact after he moves, and the longer he lives here the more he trusts me and the more he shares. None of us feel pressure to develop a more intimate relationship. Our relationship is developing more naturally.

There of course is the added advantage that I am clearly not getting in the way of any relationship he wants to have with his mother.

I know that the kids vary -- but I suspect that I will continue to be "aunt" to the kids who come into my home. It would be different if I took younger kids, but I envision quite a few more 15-17 year old boys.

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