I am not the best father, not a better father, and only on a good day am I a good one. I need to work on being better, but I don’t feel like it. I’m worn out! Yet, boy… I sure wish I had worked on it when my kids act out – especially when they thwart me, rebel, and say they hate me. They need a good one.
I don’t really know what to do. I wasn’t born just knowing what to do; I don’t really have the time and energy to read all the books and zines. And anyway, I’d still have to evaluate which ones have good advice.
Well, sometimes I seem to know. But not always. More often than not, I feel lost, frustrated, tired, and sometimes angry too. And while having those feelings is not a straight up bad thing in and of itself, stewing in them and failing to move through them to a better place definitely is.
Taking stock of myself (and my kids), I think how when I first considered becoming a foster parent, the idea seemed so lofty. Special work for special people who know how to sacrifice. Admirable people. In fact, though veterans get a holiday and a few other perks, AND a grateful public instructed to “thank a vet,” as a foster parent, I have received that dutiful gratitude on a few occasions myself. (I think of the ER doc who, upon learning my relationship to the child being examined, made a point to thank me for my service and waxed eloquent about how important and underappreciated it is.)
Yeah. When I was still on the outside looking in, I thought it was a job for saints and not sinners, and I didn’t feel particularly worthy. And while the expression of gratitude is nice, and really does put pep in my step, it doesn’t sustain in the long haul.
The way I gathered up the courage to rise to this challenge was by seeing how dire a need there is (well, that and a lot of encouragement from Mrs. Agent X too), since so very many little children in this country go either horribly neglected (Want a society of sociopaths?) or terribly abused and damaged sometimes sadistically. Once you look at that, really look, you see that even a wire monkey with a bit of carpet stretched over it is a better parent, and with the bar set that low, I couldn’t find a reason not to jump in and help. The bar is not set that high to “make a difference.”
On my absolute worst day as a parent, I will be better at it than some of those bio-donors are on their very best day! In that light, I practically owe it them and to God to step up.
You know what?
That is all true. You have to be a really, really, really bad parent before you aren’t improving lives. And my sorry butt comes along and alleviates so much! The bar is set low, and I get to be a saint! A savior! A legend in my own mind!
And there’s more than a grain of truth in all of that. But it hides a lot too. A lot of failure. A lot of discouragement.
I am by far not the worst parent, not even particularly bad – though I have moments! I mean, we are good in this house about feeding, bathing, clothing, and hugging kids. Those basics, we got. Yet, sometimes I lose my cool too. I never hit or shake a baby, but I get short with people, I snap and say ugly things. I fume and lecture, walk away mad. And then when I hear my words played back like a tape recorder coming out of a four- or five-year-old, they convict me.
It’s then I see clearly that in addition to all the challenges these young people come into life with, nine months (if they get that long) of shriveled up umbilical cord, constrained by cigarette smoke, crack, meth, alcohol, and other dangerous chemicals, along with whatever challenges their DNA brings, they wind up in my care, which is a relief in the big picture to a degree, but they also suffer my deficiencies now too.
And this work is holy! I really need to be sanctified before entering this holy place! I really must take off my shoes to stand here, because this is God’s work, and I am not worthy.
There are times I realize that I lose my sense of fun and adventure. My composure suffers. I need to read to the kids more. I need to get down on the floor and play build a railroad. My four-year-old began preparing imaginary food for me to eat in her play kitchen the other day, and it took me five minutes to realize what she was doing or that I should pretend with her and enjoy it.
I was too busy with me to attend to her. I was tired, and didn’t care. I am sorry, I really blew it. The face of God in all her innocence asked me to love her, and I was too busy!
I miss my church.
It’s amazing how much better a parent I am when my church is here with me. As helpful and nice as an occasional “thank you” from outside observers are, I am blown away by the amount of patience I find in myself when my Christian brothers and sisters are in and out of my house participating in our life! It seems automatic. Just their mere presence brings, not some oppressive accountability (though that is there to be had too), but a boost in my parental imagination and my sense of strength for the tasks, and more desire to do well too.
Is that making sense?
But between the pandemic and the fact that my church shuns me, that easy fix is obliterated. I am left more to my own weaknesses – to work them out alone in prayer. And that certainly feels weak.
But it is my confession.
It also causes me to wonder about those original birth parents too. What if they had the presence of the church in their lives? How much would that change? I wonder how my church might seek relevance in today’s world by considering the influence we might find right there.