Sunday, March 25, 2012

When you don't have a family

The list below is not meant to say that everyone with a family has had everything on I've listed.  The list is just a list of what aged out foster children never had and will never have.  I in no way mean that families provide this whole list for normal people.  I don't mean that people from abusive families don't have pain.  I don't mean that normal people have had everything on the list either.  It's just a list of what I never even had the possibility of having, even by really abusive families.  The point is that we've never had anything on the list.    

"But you're an adult now."  I'm often faced with statements like these.  The message behind statements like these is, "You're an adult, you don't need a family. Get over it." They are right.  I AM an adult.  I am independent.  That doesn't change my desire and need to belong to a family.  A lot of people just don't get it.  They do not understand what it means to be disconnected your entire life.  They do not understand what it is like to have absolutely no sense of belonging in life.  They cannot imagine never having a sense of permanency, of never having "home."  They do not understand the pain and stigma that comes with being a foster child and former foster child.  And there definitely IS a stigma.  They do not understand that the very intense desire for family doesn't change just because foster children become adults.  Even those who come from crappy, screwed up families can't/don't get it.  They still grew up connected to other people.  They still grew up belonging somewhere and to someone.  They still grew up with permanency and a sense of home.  I've grown up all by myself in a really scary, neglectful, abusive, traumatizing system.  I have NEVER known what it's like to feel safe.  Foster children grow up alone, scared, angry, traumatized, with an extreme yearning for a home and a family.  Because I have never had a family I've lived my whole life as an outsider and less important than other kids.

Think about how many times you ask people or have people ask you about your family.

"Where is your family from?"
"What did your parents do?"
"What school did you go to as a kid?"
"How many siblings do you have?"
"Did you get X from your mother or father's side of the family?"
"What's your family's ethnic origin?"
"What kinds of traditions do you have in your family?"
"What does your family do/eat for X holiday?"
"What does your family think of that (your career, sexuality, other parts of life)?"

Etc...  I do not have answers for these types of questions and I never will.  I can't answer these questions with the truth because the truth comes with stigma and uncomfortable silence and/or really invasive questions.  The truth also comes with personal stories, negative and positive.  The truth comes with people feeling uncomfortable and not sure what to say.  I was telling a good friend about something that really hurt my feelings that happened to be about the topic of family and her response was, "You can't expect people to walk on eggshells around you."  I have never once made people feel bad about their family stories.  I always listen and ask questions.  I am always interested.  It is my friends who feel like they have to walk on eggshells around me. I talk to my friends about their families ALL the time.  My truth makes people uncomfortable, so I keep it to myself, which leaves me feeling even more alone and isolated.

Because foster children do not have a family, they have never had and will never have:

(not all of these are possible for every family)

  • A family history
  • A family tree
  • A family reunion
  • Family traditions
  • parents (a mom and/or a dad).
  • Grandparents for my children
  • grandparents for me
  • a mom
  • Unconditional love
  • A place to go for holidays
  • A place to go during college breaks
  • a place to do laundry and raid the kitchen when I was a poor college students
  • Someone who cares about the decisions I made/make in life
  • inheritance
  • Family at my wedding and/or someone to walk me down the aisle
  • I will never have a partner "meet the parents."
  • Someone to witness and document childhood milestones.
  • No one knows or cares about my first words.  
  • No one knows or cares when I took my first steps.
  • No one knows or cares about my accomplishments, then and now.
  • I do not have any school photos except for one set from 9th grade and my senior portrait, both which I paid for myself.
  • I will never be a photo on someone's wall.
  • Heirlooms
  • A sense of belonging
  • answers to basic life questions
  • a childhood bedroom
  • a childhood bed and bedding
  • mom's cooking
  • family stories
  • an unbreakable bond
  • someone at "parent-teacher conferences."
  • Someone at school performances and award ceremonies
  • embarrassing baby/childhood stories
  • a home
  • family recipes
  • family vacations
  • someone to bring my problems to
  • someone to call for help
  • someone who has to love me even when I'm an asshole
  • someone to raise me
  • someone who cares/ed how I turned out
  • someone to take photos of my childhood
  • The ability to say, "Omg, my mom/dad does that too."
  • "You're just like your mom/dad."
  • someone who embarrassed me as a kid
  • bedtime stories
  • hugs and kisses and cuddles on a regular bases
  • someone's bed to sneak into when I had a nightmare
  • someone to rock me to sleep
  • someone to teach me healthy habits
  • someone to kiss my "boo boos."
  • someone to teach me how to ride a bike (I learned on my own).
  • sleepovers
  • family photos
  • someone to teach me how to manage money
  • someone to co-sign things for me
  • security and stability
  • someone to teach me about investing, IRA's, retirement funds, and 401k's
  • someone to teach me how to open a bank account, save money, and budget
  • someone who cared how I dressed 
  • someone to make sure I practiced good hygiene (brush my teeth, wash my face, wear clean clothes, change my undies). 
  • someone to teach me how to cook
  • someone to fight for me
  • someone who cared what kind of people I hung around
  • someone to protect me
  • someone to take care of me
  • family beliefs (religion, politics, world views).
  • someone to put my drawings on their fridge
  • someone to brag about me
  • someone to give mother's day and father's day gifts I made at school
  • a place to put my "honor student" bumper stickers
  • a name to write for parent/s on forms and documents
  • someone to help me pay or find money for college
  • someone who cared if I went to college
  • someone's footsteps to follow or not follow
  • someone who told me, "you could be anything you want to be."
  • Things to pass down to my children (heirlooms, traditions, history)
  • Childhood furniture (that was mine as a little girl, now I'm giving it to you).
  • Someone to blame my bad habits on
  • "you're just like your mom/dad."
  • Being a daddy's girl or a mommy's girl
  • someone to call when I need/ed money
  • guidance
  • Moving out of the parent's house
  • someone who sent me cookies/care packages at camp and/or college
  • Moving back in with the parents as an adult
  • embarrassing childhood photos
  • feeling connected
  • a college fund
  • people to attend "family only" visits (hospital, prison, rehab, government quarantine, whatever)
  • a next of kin
  • an example (good or bad) on how to live or not live my life
  • someone to teach me how to self soothe
  • someone to teach me skills (life and crafts)
  • knowing someone cares about me and feeling cared about
  • someone to take for-granted
  • trust
  • safety 
  • learning and knowing how to attach to people 
  • learning how to tell the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships
  • a healthy sense of entitlement
  • self esteem and self respect
  • feeling wanted 
  • not knowing what it's like to feel unwanted
  • Not having to be grateful for EVERYTHING you are ever given, including basic needs
  • knowing where you will live next week, month, year, etc..
  • someone who taught me how to make friends and manage relationships
  • someone to teach me right from wrong
  • emotional, social, and financial support
  • people who love me just because I exist.
People who grew up in a family, even an abusive one, do not understand what it's like to grow up in foster care, a really fucked up institution, where only your basic needs are met, like shelter, food, clothing, with no safety or permanency.  They do not understand what it's like to grow up not knowing when someone is going to kick you out, to never have a home.  Feeling afraid that you can and will be abandoned if you do something wrong.  Not knowing how long you are going to live in a certain place.  Never knowing how to attach.  They do not know what it's like to be the "new kid" at home and at school.  Even people who have bad relationships with their families still have those connections that foster children will never have.  They don't know what it's like to grow up without your own bed and bedding, without your own pillow.  They don't know what it's like to grow up without a bedroom and their own toys.  Most people are able to take many things we don't have forgranted because they have no idea what it's like or that it's even possible to miss something so basic in your life.  I am an adult today but I still need that bond, belonging, and connection in life.  I still need family.  I needed a family then, now, and later.  Normal people just don't get it.  God, I need a family and that will never change.