“What is REAL?” asked the toy rabbit one day.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the children’s book classic The Velveteen Rabbit, in which a stuffed bunny continuously compares himself to those around him in a quest to legitimize its status as authentic. The rabbit believes it is not as acceptable as the other toys because it does not have “things that buzz inside and a stick-out handle.” It is also aware of the rabbits out in the garden who are capable of accomplishing things beyond its capacity.
Each season of our foster care journey, I found myself questioning if we were “real” foster parents yet. We’ve been foster parents for less than ten years to less than twenty children. No child has stolen from us, or run away, or set a fire, or been over the age of four.
For example, the first child who came to our home was removed from his mother in the hospital, so did not experience the types of abuse or neglect beyond birth that other children had. Yet I had a limited understanding of the impact of trauma in utero, as well as the consequences of a separation at birth.
Then there was the little girl whom we loved as a daughter for a year until it was time for her to return to her dad. It was the hardest goodbye I had ever experienced, but once her father welcomed us to be a part of his and her life, I considered this a much lesser “hard” than those whose stories end differently.
And we are currently caring for a child with surgeries and medical complexity, but no feeding tube or serious mortality risk from his health conditions. We are fostering a sibling set, but only two of them—not all six. And we are all sleeping through the night. No matter the challenge before us, I can always find a foster parent to compare myself to that I perceive as doing something harder and better.
But my comparisons can also surface in the opposite direction.
For instance, when we were providing emergency foster care and signed up for the overnight shift. We took a certain pride in being willing to receive a child at two in the morning as opposed to two in the afternoon. I had a chance to pat myself on the back for doing hard things… but I missed an opportunity to acknowledge that a child needs the door opened just as much during the day.
However, our Creator does not compare us, as we do to one another. In fact, I believe it grieves our God when we get distracted by sizing ourselves up alongside others. We read in Isaiah 45 verse 9, “Does the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you making?’ Does your work say, ‘The potter has no hands?.’” As God intentionally made each of us to have various gifts, and has brought different people into our lives, it is not surprising that each of us will have distinct stories. The Apostle Paul instructs us in Romans 12 that through grace we have been given individual gifts to be lived out diligently with generosity.
Hebrews 12 encourages us that the way not to grow weary or lose heart is to run our race by fixing our eyes only on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. As caregivers, may we focus on providing comfort to the child in front of us, instead of comparing ourselves to those who were not asked to do the same.
The Velveteen Rabbit asks the oldest toy in the playroom about being real and is told, “once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.” From the moment a child experiencing foster care enters your home, no matter what they have lived prior or how long they stay, you are a real foster parent. Ultimately, the toy comes to understand, which I hope you and I can understand better as well, that what matters most is the comfort it is able to provide to the child to which it has been given.
Liz and her husband, Josh, are TFI Advocates in Quincy, MA and are passionate about raising awareness about foster care. Liz also is an Advocate Coach here at The Forgotten Initiative. They have two children and are currently foster parents. They love traveling and visiting new places, as well as getting together with their fellow TFI Advocates!
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