I'm still new at the foster care thing, so a lot of experiences are new for me, both the good and the bad. Here's another new one that has popped up recently:
It's not a nice thing. It's not fun to experience. I believe it's wrong for me to indulge it or allow it to grow. But right now, I want to talk about it anyway, even though it's an ugly thing. I want to be honest about this journey. I want to be able to relate to other foster parents, and if anyone else is struggling with this, I want us to both know we aren't alone.
Josh and I love Baby S's one involved birth parent. We encourage them to be as involved as possible and we do what we can to help create extra opportunities for them to be involved. We get along really well. We're doing everything we can to be part of a win, even though a win for birth parent means losing our son.
I want Baby S to love his birth parents. I want him to love them as much as he loves us, and, if and when he goes back, to easily shift the bulk of his parental love to them.
But honestly? It's often hard to share my role. Baby S is seven months old now. He knows the people who are most involved in his life. He chooses when to smile and laugh and he wears his love and happiness on the outside.
I want him to smile when he sees me. And, because I'm his mama, sometimes I selfishly want him to smile most at me. Honestly, I was Big Brother A's favorite as a baby - his food source, sure, but also his source of comfort. I was the one he wanted to snuggle; in fact, my hair was his comfort object. He was sweet and dependent and snuggly and he wanted me.
Baby S is a different baby right from the start. He's not a snuggler - not by a long shot! In those sad or sick moments when I want to hold him tight, he arches and pulls away. That's who he is. His pediatrician labeled him a "mover and a shaker", and I think that pretty much sums it up. The snuggly moments are rare and precious.
And when those moments happen for someone else, my heart hurts a little bit. Because I'm the one who spent the morning wiping the runny nose, and changing diapers, and cleaning the blowouts, and feeding and playing and singing him to sleep. I'm the one getting up at night, and Josh and I are making most of the decisions for him. I'm the one who finally got him to sleep RIGHT before the van showed up to drive him to his visit. I'm the one getting the confused looks and sad whimpers as I take him out of his cozy little sleep sack and pack him up tight in his carseat to send him away. And then, when he gets woken up after finally falling asleep again on the way to the visit... I am not the one getting the sleepy baby snuggles. (Although I will get the wound-up tired baby after.)
And now that he's getting older, Baby S knows he loves to play. He loves to play, and he wants a grown-up to play with him. In my home, there are dishes to do. His bottles must be cleaned regularly, and with good old Dr. Brown's, that is time consuming. I'm taking care of him, and taking care of his big brother, and doing the majority of the errands and cleaning so that our family time doesn't have to go to chores. You get the idea. There is a home to run and a lot of chores to do. I love and appreciate all of the sweet sentiment that says that we can put aside housework until the babies are grown. But guys, I have monthly case worker visits saying I can't. And anyway, we have to eat, and we have to have something to eat off of (until they create paper-based bottles and then, seriously, we might make the total switch to paper and plastic and just repent and plant a forest when the kids get big), and we have to have clothes to wear, and we do, in fact, have to clean ourselves and our children regularly.
And Baby is smart enough to realize that Parent plays with him when they are together. They watch TV, and do peek-a-boo, and practice tummy time and sitting, and do all sorts of things that can't or won't come in one-or-two-hour chunks at home. There are no chores to do during visits. Baby is sent clean and dressed. Bottles are clean and pre-measured. His schedule is as close to lined up with the visit as possible with shifting visit times, so that he leaves after napping and comes back tired and not ready to play. Parent is supposed to cancel when they are sick, and we cancel if Baby is sick. Visits need to be focused on positive interaction and maintaining a strong bond. This is good, and this works toward the goal.
But in those tough moments after long days when the note says Baby smiled and played when he's been miserable at home, I get a little jealous. I get jealous that I spent all day working toward a calm afternoon and then didn't get to be there to enjoy it. I get jealous that Parent will be the fun one and I will be the one who has to enforce rules and do the not-fun things that are a critical part of life. I get jealous that I'm up at night with the baby, trying to soothe our anti-snuggler when he is teething and sick, spending all day trying to get him to eat a few ounces when he is on a bottle strike. And then the good times often happen somewhere else. It's kind of like daycare except knowing that your child actually will go with the teacher they accidentally called Mom some day, even though you have been raising them and loving them and pouring into them.
I am sure the jealous moments can go both ways. It can't be easy to miss these moments either.
I don't think it is okay to stay in jealousy. Jealousy brings competition. Competition is not good or healthy for any of us. This is going to be confusing enough for Baby to figure out already. And we are all on the same team, for the good of Baby and Birth Parent.
So I'm not trying to make jealousy okay. But I do want to say that I think it is normal. And if you are feeling it too, I get it. And I've cried with you. We love our babies and we will do what is best for them, and that means watching and encouraging as they love someone else more than us.
As with all of foster care, sometimes, it is just hard.