Saturday, September 15, 2007

Guilty Confessions of a Foster Child

One of the things I want the blog to do is help people understand something of what it means to care for traumatized children, and sometimes this goal is hampered by my very important duty to protect Frankie's privacy. I try to share my journey in taking care of him, and that often means talking about what he is like and what he is doing, but his past, that I try to keep private.

I shared here that I wondered at Frankie's attitude towards his own past -- the lack of expression of trauma. One of you said that it was probably going to be like the gender identity stuff - no hint and then BAM! Was it Cathy? I think so...or was it Innocent Observer? Whoever you are -- leave a comment and take credit for being right!

Over the past few weeks Frankie would mention something about his past in ways that were surreal. Like talking about how much fun he had during the time he and his dad were homeless.

Yesterday he mentioned something else. It was all in a stream of ADD-generated conversation. Here is the extremely edited version, "I have this feature, because this happened." "How did that happen Frankie?" "Well, xxxx, and xxxxx, but I don't do that anymore. So now I still have this feature, but it isn't as bad as acne. Do you know how to get rid of black heads? I can't make them go away and I really hate them."

And in my brain I am screaming "WTF????" What he is casually sharing is, as far as I know, not in his file. I am not sure that he even understands that it should not have happened. Is this information bubbling to the surface because he feels relaxed with us? Is he testing to see if we can hear this without freaking out? Could it be that this information for him is not more significant that that he likes pizza and hates his blackheads?

Later, after everyone else had gone to bed, and Frankie was more tired than he should have been for this conversation, I asked him if he wanted to tell me more about what he had said earlier. He did, and seemed to notice right away that though I was quiet, I disapproved of his father's part in it all. I wanted to figure out a way to say, "Frankie. That was wrong. Good parents don't do that." And I know on the scale of things that might have happened to him, this is one of the lesser ones. And Frankie wants to convince me that I am wrong.

It sounds bad, but I don't understand. It's like parents who take their children rock climbing. You might think they are exposing their children to danger, but they know what they are doing and they are safe. (Frankie did not use that example, but it works). I see his passionate defense of his father and I cannot argue with him. I cannot tell him his father is was an irresponsible parent.

"You love him very much." I say.

He nods and then the flood pours out. He wants to tell his dad how sorry he is. Everything is his fault. He just wanted attention. He wanted a TV dad, like Hubby, and a cell phone, and things. He just wanted things. So he lied and he manipulated and he got the state's attention. And his father was a good father who was poor, and who had never hurt him. He had hit him, but never hard. Frankie had bruised himself. Frankie had lied about being hungry. He did it because he thought living in a foster home would be better, but it wasn't.

And when they took him away, his father fell apart. He couldn't cope anymore without his son.

There was no end to the guilt that Frankie expressed. His stories about how he manipulated everyone, made everything up, created evidence to back up his story were too fantastical to be believed. Did he ever exaggerate? Probably. Could he have manufactured everything we read in that file? No.

And Frankie, in his innocence, did not realize that the new picture he was painting of his father, a "gentle fool" who needed his son to cope with reality and who was so easily manipulated was not one which would have made the state decide to let him stay.

We did try to convince him that the state did not make their decisions based upon his word alone. We tried to convince him that it is not a child's job to take care of his father. It all kept coming back to the same thing though. If he had never made that first complaint to his teacher. If he hadn't said he couldn't sit down because of bruises he now says he gave himself, he would never have attracted that state's attention. They would have been poor, but they would have been okay.

But he, Frankie, destroyed it all. He manipulated people -- because he wanted a TV dad and a cell phone.

At some point we realized that nothing we were going to say, and no amount of listening, was going to get him off this track. We finally suggested he go to bed. He went.

This morning he is calm -- spending his Saturday budget on WoW before the doing anything else, as usual.

Clearly Frankie is feeling safe enough to start talking. It seems equally obvious that he is bonding deeply to Hubby and feeling very guilty about it. In the beginning of the conversation, before Hubby joined us, Frankie said that Hubby was the sort of dad he had wanted. The kind that helps you with your homework and does things with you.

I wrote his counselor and social worker. Hopefully he can talk about this with the counselor. He has a lot to work out.

And I am amazed with him. I am amazed that living here could trigger this much guilt and he could respond by crying and talking about it. I would expect him to feel he didn't deserve it and act out violently or destructively in order to loose it.

He's a pretty incredible kid.


  1. I know almost exactly, what you mean about how incredible our kids can be.

    Hugs to you all, keeping Frankie in my thoughts and in my hopes.
    Good for you.

  2. First, it wasn't me who predicted the BAM. My thinking is that the trans-gender issue is really tied up in the trauma.

    Second, I really feel for this kid. The emotions he must be feeling are overwhelming to read about, I can't even fathom actually feeling them. He's had a lot of trauma.

    I really commend the way you parent him, listening and being supportive even when you want so badly to make him understand how bad things really were. I was just telling someone the other day that it is one of the most difficult aspects of foster care; wanting to scream "Your parent was a no good (insert adjective here) who hurt you and I can't stand him/her" when what you really need to say is just what you did, "He/she loved you very much!" AUGH!

  3. One of the hardest things in my work is listening to kids talk about their parents. Usually, I know the parents as well as I know the kid, and usually, I can see the strengths and weaknesses of all of them. Kids though usually go to one extreme or the other when talking about their parents--they talk about them as either all bad or all good. For me, hearing the "all bad" point of view is just as difficult as hearing the "all good," because the fact is that the parents DO have strengths as well as weaknesses, and almost always feel love for their children, and don't want things to be the way they are. Especially when you know the parents' own history of trauma, it is difficult to hear the kids talk about them as all bad. But it takes years and years and years for kids to integrate the good and bad, and mostly all we can do is witness the process.

  4. Frankie's dad is definitely in the "mixed" category. I know his challenges, and though I would not leave a child in his care, I also would not condemn him.

  5. i think i said it, sounds like me....but, wow! poor baby, he certainly is a survivor. get ready, it will probably continue to come in spurts like that. the ability of children to rewrite history and justify things in their minds to make things ok for their parents has always amazed me. people talk about the love of a mother for her child, they need to look at the love of these neglected, abused and traumatized children for their parents! i have learned that you can't always depend on mother love, but child love, that's a given. hang in there my friend, it's gonna be a bumpy ride!

  6. I think it might have been me - or maybe Cathy and I had the same idea at the same time. I do think sometimes it's easier to see patterns from a bit of a distance.

    I'm not sure whether to be happy he is able to express his feelings, or sad to see it all come bursting out. He does sound like the type of person who needs to be able to process things out loud - which I relate to because I'm like that myself. I hope he is able to start making sense of all this, but I suspect it may take some time.

  7. sarsmile, it was you! i remember reading it and thinking, oh yes that's how ut's going to be for a long, kong time! yondalla, twern't me, i didn't say it, i just thunk it! frankie and his dad have been on my mind since i read this post. it is just so sad, and so much for a kid to be carrying around. nmo wonder he is ten and his transgender questionings are sort of jumbled up in with all the guilt. if i understand the timeline, he had these thoughts before he want to live with dad. didn't his sister give him some clothes? so it seems to me that the girl quest kind of got lost somewhere in the massive guilt of the kid about his dad. so he decided to hide in a ten year old. am i making sense here?


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