What if we could really change places with another human being and actually walk in their shoes? What if we could experience what another person’s life is really like? I remember reading Black Like Me as a young girl and being fascinated by the lessons the author shared. Now I wonder, what if children of privilege had a chance to become their peers in poverty and adults had a chance to become children in the public foster care system. What kind of transformation might take place?
Transformation happens when we broaden the dimension of our experience. Widening the scope of our personal lens leads us beyond our immediate comfort zone. It brings us into contact with a larger extended family of human beings and gives us a richer sense of connection and belonging.
Being a foster/adoptive parent has definitely expanded the dimension of my experience. My old notions of family have been replaced. What I once thought of as my family has broadened to embrace our daughter’s entire first family – parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins as well as great aunts and uncles. We have tweaked the definition of family and re-designed our framework for connection. Family ties mean something new and different.
We experience a larger embrace. One that feels honorable and right. I remember one evening when my daughter and I spent time with her birthmother and little sister. That night as she sat between her mother’s legs on a pink ball, having her hair braided, I sat on the couch with my feet on the coffee table. Her 4 year old sister was painting my toenails. Everyone was happy: the two mothers who both deeply love their daughter and two young sisters who were laughing and watching Dora the Explorer.
As I watched my toes being painted with what looked like a customized silver, pink, and purple concoction, I felt immense gratitude for this new family of mine. If someone had told me ten years ago that my daughter and her relatives were going to be in my life, I would have thought you were mistaken. Now, I can’t imagine it any other way. It’s healthy for my daughter to know us all together as a unit of caring family members, each with a place of honor and a different role and responsibility. It enhances her well-being. It gives her strength. Making friends with the reality of our complex blended family gives us all strength.
I’ll never forget the day she came home from school and said, “Mama, today one of my teachers asked me who my closest living relative is. I told her Mommy. She said, “No. I mean your adoptive parents.” I told her my tummy mommy is my closest living relative. She didn’t understand.” “That’s OK,” I responded. “You are teaching your teacher something new. She probably didn’t know that first families and adoptive families often share their lives. I’m really proud of you for teaching her that because Mommy is your closest living relative.” How empowering for a second grader who knows whose who in her family orchard!
Stretching past our immediate circle of people, knowledge, and experiences. Opening our arms to offer a larger embrace. We all benefit. We all rise.