Wednesday, February 14, 2007

"Foster Aunt" not "Foster Mom"

It worked out really well for me to be Evan's aunt, not mother. It helped him in changing schools. It meant that he was able to answer questions about why he was there in a natural way. He could give just a little, true information about himself and then give more as he got to know people. Telling people that he was living with his aunt and uncle because he was not getting along with his mother or because his mother's boyfriend was a jerk was true. As people got to know him better he could tell them more. He never found himself in an awkward situation where he had to explain why the mother of one story was not the mother in another story.

Of course when he did tell people that he was in foster care they invariably thought he was lucky to have an aunt who worked in the system so that he did not have to go live with strangers. He was always fine with that.

It did help also with his mother's acceptance of where he was and of me. Knowing that I was claiming the position of "aunt" meant that I was not replacing her. She was still the mother. She thanked me more than once for taking care of him for her, and I don't know that she would have been able to do that if she thought that I was trying to take her place.

Increasingly I am becoming uncomfortable with the general practice of identifying foster carers (to use a neutral term) as parents.

Mothers and fathers are supposed to be forever. Of course the children in our care have already had that promise broken once, but does that excuse us doing it again? As long as we are not in the position to promise these children that we will be there forever, should we be telling them that we are their parents?

Some of us will be adopting the children in our care, but even those of us who are on the foster-to-adopt track will care for children whom we do not keep. Do we confuse these children when we call ourselves their parents, and then later say goodbye to them? Do we get in the way of trusting that their adoptive parents, should they be adopted, really are forever parents?

How does a five-year-old conceptualize "I will be your mother for a while"?

The more I think about it, the less comfortable I am with the general practice of foster carers being called "mom" or "dad." There are undoubtedly good reasons for doing it in some particular case or other, but should it be the default position?

I'm not really certain about this, just wondering.

What do you think?


  1. I've found that very young children in a foster home will call the adults "mom" and "dad" regardless of how the adults identify themselves to the children (especially if there are bios in the home calling mom "mom" and dad "dad.") Older children usually prefer not to call foster parents "mom" and "dad," but sometimes refer to them that way for convenience. I agree with you though that it would be helpful for the practice to change, for the children to somehow conceptualize it as like being in an extended day care-like situation, or, as you did with Evan, like staying with an aunt.

  2. I always introduce myself as "Baggage". My young guys are calling me Mom, and the oldest calls me "Baggage". If she is talking to someone else about me, she might say "my foster mom" and "my real mom" referring to her bio mom. I'm not sure if I like the "mom" thing, but I'm not sure what other title we could go by. I think younger kids just identify with the concept of parents as people who are supposed to take care of you, even if their bios didn't. I know that if I was a mom who had kids in foster care, it would hurt me to hear my kids call someone else mom. Well maybe. It doesn't hurt me that Bug has another mom. Hmm. I don't know.

  3. For older kids, who have a strong relationship with their parents - it might help them to feel like they aren't betraying their parents by calling you by a different name. But younger children I think generally feel more comfortable going with 'mom' and 'dad', especially if there are other kids in the house calling you that.

  4. I have only had one placement who was old enough to call me anything, and she began calling me mom very quickly - like the morning after she was dropped off at our house. We introduced ourselves by first name and I reminded her of my first name for a few days, but she kept going with mom, and I didn't have the heart to insist she call me Amanda. It's weird because there aren't any other kids in our house and Jacob and I definitely didn't encourage it, but it still happened.

    It was only a big deal when she called me that in front of biomom a couple of times - that made me cringe.

    My other placement was an infant, and we did refer to ourselves as his mom and dad. My rationale for that was that they are really just learning the concept of mom and dad and they don't attach it to specific people so I didn't see the harm in it.

    I would never ask or tell a kid to call me mom though. In our preservice they just kind of told us to go with whatever the kid tended to do.

  5. We tell our kids to call us by our first names, or they have the option to call us "Abba" and "Eema" which are the Hebrew words for father and mother. So far, all our kids have opted to use first names.

    "Danielle" has experimented with calling me mom sometimes when she's fooling around. I told her not to call me that, as I think it's disrespectful to her mom, and because she does it to hurt FosterEema. FosterEema is definitely the femme of the two of us, and she would enjoy that title much more than I.


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