My Lost Decade

Reflections on Ten Years in Foster Care and my life since.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

How do you define family?

To anyone reading this, Happy New Year! I think it is going to be an interesting one. I am starting 2006 with a lot already going on.

For starters, I am doing my first foster care related work on Tuesday, when I talk to a group of teens in care who are part of a speaker's bureau. Their facilitator asked me about six weeks ago if I would come talk to them some time and then I got an e-mail from her the other day and some time became Tuesday. I am going to talk to them about speaking out, including how opportunities present themselves, knowing your audience and tips to sounding prepared. I am really excited about talking to this group. As corny as it may sound, I believe that children are our future and an investment in someone younger than me who has aspirations is the best way to use my time.

Also, my best friend is expecting her first baby around my first wedding anniversary. I am SO excited. I called dibs on the shower as soon as I heard and have already been working on it. I feel as though this baby will be like a little niece or nephew to me. It never occurred to me that perhaps my friend did not view this exactly as I do.

We were talking on the phone recently when she commented that she and her husband have decided that they need to make a will, now that they are expecting, and decide who they would want to care for their child, (God forbid) should anything ever happen to them. She has a brother and so does he. They would seem like the first logical choices, but neither of them are presently in a situation to care for children. The next step in her mind and mine was to think about the grandparents, but that also did not yield an acceptable answer. To me, the next step after that was each of their closest friends and family who they are really close to. This was where my friend and I disagreed and what led me to the title of this post. She told me, "We would want to keep the baby in the family." I will not lie, this stung, since she has no sisters and has always called me her sister, but I tried to understand her point of view. My friend defines family as the people related to you biologically. She was raised in a traditional nuclear family with a mom, a dad, two kids, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins and this is what she pictures when she thinks of the word family.

Because I was raised in foster care, my view of family is a little different from hers. To me, a family is the group of people who you choose to have as your support network, who are closer than your outer rings of friends. For me, my family includes my birth mom, my foster parents, my foster sister, my foster grandfather, my two best friends and their families, my husband, his mother, his brother, my mentor and her family. They are the people my husband and I count on when the chips are down and the ones we would think of if we were having a child and wanted to plan for a guardian for them. I am predisposed to define family this way, as I lack functional biological connections people like my friend have and I have set about to fill up the slots with other people who love me and who I love.

So, clearly, there is a difference in definition because of a difference in perspective. We are both right for our given situation. I feel bad because I tried to change my friend's mind and convince her that my husband and I should be the ones they choose, even after she said they want to keep the baby with blood relatives if anything were to happen. I feel that everyone has the right to define family as their heart tells them, and yet I tried to infringe on my best friend's right to do this. I am going to give her a call and let her know that I will support whatever choice they make and that I do not expect her to change, since she would not expect me to change.

It still hurts a little though, to know how high up on my list she is and to know that I am not equally high on hers. This has been a problem I have encountered most of my life, so you would think I would be past it by now, but I am not. I have always wanted to be as important to people as they are to me, but with few rare exceptions, it has not happened that way. Perhaps this is something everyone deals with and I am just more sensitive to it because I grew up in foster care and know how easily people throw eachother away. Perhaps I cherish my connections mroe than most people because I have fewer of them. Either way, it is an icky feeling that I hope I will some day find a way to deal with.


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