Just Don't Commit Felonies: Foster Families Have Weird Rules

Once a month ChicagoNow has a writing challenge where we have one hour to write about a specific prompt. I do not participate monthly, usually because I’m asleep. Because I’m a tired old mom of sixteen gazillion children. But tonight I’m up and I liked the prompt, so here you go:

Write about something you find beautiful that you feel others may not understand.

I sat in a support group session with my teenage foster daughter. I was younger than the other parents in the room by at least ten years. I could see them watching us, trying to figure us out. We didn’t have the same disdain for each other that most teenagers and their parents seem to have for each other. When she rolled her eyes at me it wasn’t out of disgust and impatience – it was jovial and teasing. As the other kids and parents told their stories and shared their struggles, she rested her head on my shoulder. She called me mom. I called her sweetheart. I’m sure to the others we seemed like mother and daughter. And yet, also, not quite.

But this sweet girl of mine, she needs to be the bad ass. Always. So every opportunity that arose for her to establish herself as the bad ass of the group, she took it, proudly pointing out all of the less-than-stellar choices she’s made in life. And I stayed quiet. Because it’s an awkward situation to attend a support group with your foster daughter. Her story is not mine to tell – even there. So I sat, quietly, wondering what the other parents must think of me, the too-young, too-lenient mom whose daughter seems to have gotten herself into some interesting situations.

And then the icing on the cake. As we were discussing household rules my darling daughter proudly proclaimed “We only have two rules in our house: I can’t commit felonies, and I can’t have any warrants out for my arrest.” I wanted to die.

But you know what? She was telling the complete and honest truth. Those are our rules for this particular child. What could I say? There was no correcting her, because what she said wasn’t wrong. And there was no explaining it, because even if I wanted to, how could I have even started to explain to strangers the journey that she and I have been on to get to this point, with this set of rules?

So instead, I smiled at her. And she gave me the biggest grin, because she knew that I was stuck. And I rolled my eyes – jovial and teasing.

I would have loved to have overheard the conversations on the drive home that night in some of the other cars. I’m sure there were more than a few judgmental comments made. But it’s ok, because they simply didn’t see the beauty of that moment. No one else knew that I have fumbled my way through parenting a child who is a stranger with a history all her own, and somehow I have fallen upon these two rules that actually WORK FOR US. That, with the help of these rules, she’s doing better than she has in a long, long, long time. They don’t know that the week beforehand she told me (sincerely) that I should write a parenting book, and it should be titled “Just Don’t Commit Felonies.” They don’t realize that this kid, who pushes everyone away, used that moment to invite me into our own private joke.

It was beautiful. I know it. She knows it. And that’s all that matters.

Jasmine is foster parent in the Chicago ‘burbs. She and her husband currently have six kids living at home (and one off at college) including their biological, adopted, and foster children. Follow Jasmine on Facebook.

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