This past summer, my husband and I were extremely excited about the fact that his two children would be moving into the same city as us after living about 30 minutes away over the last several years. We were most excited because we would be able to attend school functions easier, my son and his step-siblings would be able to attend schools in the same district, and eventually the same high school. Then we had the coveted and most desired visit schedule all divorced fathers will say they would want – every other week we get to keep the kids.
With all moves, starts the worrying about how the kids would handle it. We thought for sure my husband’s oldest son, who was at the time 15 years old, would be the most adaptable. His daughter seemed a bit more anxious about things, so we kept a close eye on her.
But just as it always seems, the reverse was true, and my husband and I were looking at one another wondering how we got it wrong. The first week of school was quiet enough, but when we got to the second week, the week the kids were to be with us, there was a slight issue. My step-son didn’t want to go to school. He had a tummy ache. We had heard from his mother he had also stayed home from school with a tummy ache the week before, so we knew we had a ‘faker’ on our hands.
It’s my responsibility to get the kids to school in the morning. My husband and his ex-wife work in the morning, so here I am about to face down a ‘cough, cough, I am sick, cough, cough’ teenager. Being the Social Worker I am, I take the approach to relate a bit with him. My step-son is sitting on a barstool as I am doing a load of dishes, and I strike up conversation, by saying,
‘Sometimes, when I get stressed out, my stomach gets nauseous too.’
At this point he is still sitting there staring at me, so I keep going thinking maybe I am on to something, so I hit him with the empathy card, and I am thinking to myself ‘do they give out step-parent awards’?
I continued, ‘I am sure it’s overwhelming and stressful to make new friends, and meet new teachers, and have a new schedule. It would make me feel sick, too.’
‘Are your classes too difficult, perhaps? Do you need any help getting organized, or more school supplies? You can let me know.’
I am running out of things to say when his response to me was, ‘I don’t have trouble making new friends, the teachers are fine.’
Then I decide to ask him point blank what I could do to make this easier on him. He didn’t really have much to offer up as far as solutions until finally he said the most important thing. Something I didn’t even think about.
‘I just don’t want to be forgotten.’
Once those words were spoken, my heart just sank, and I could feel the sadness he had been holding on to those last couple of weeks. Like all teenagers, he is on social media, and can see all his friends at his old school, having their first day, and reuniting with one another after a long summer, and he was missing that. All he wanted was re-assurance that he wouldn’t be forgotten.
But isn’t that true for all of us? As we get older we worry about legacies, and how we will be remembered, the idea of being forgotten by our friends and family members would be quite the burden to carry around with you. My step-son values the relationships he made from his past, and cherishes the memories he made, but had to learn that sometimes moving forward means that relationships change. He has parents (in his case three parents) to help him through that.
I wonder about teenagers who are yearning for that same guidance, who want a safe place to hold on to old memories and be able to move forward to make new ones. I wonder all the time what type of parent would be courageous enough to listen to a child when they are at their worst, to help them be their best. I spoke to a friend of mine who adopted a teenager several years ago, and I asked her what the best thing about becoming a mom to a teenager? She told me it gave her purpose, and a new outlook on life. And then we chuckled a little bit because we knew the kind of challenges she had faced with her daughter, but this mom holds faith that the seeds she plants for all her kids will grow and flourish in the future.
I wonder about those parents out there who aren’t sure they could care for children in the foster care system. I am very hopeful that perhaps, with a little bit of support and a lot of listening that more families will realize they have the ability to help foster children in their community to be REMEMBERED, and will seriously start contemplating how they might help!