Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Family Math

I have always wanted what modern Americans count as a "big" family.  I grew up as one of four siblings and loved having that number of playmates and companions built into my life.  I used to joke that Husband wanted three kids, and I wanted four, so we were compromising with three and a half, rounded up, of course.

With the plan of four children firmly in my mind, I asked a lot of women with bigger families for their perspectives and experiences on raising four or more kids.  Each and every one agreed that the first child completely changed her life.  Probably 75% said the second child required another huge rearranging of family life, and the third child fit right into the new normal without much transition at all.  The remaining 25% said adding the second child wasn't much different from just having one, and the third child resulted in major upheaval.  Each and every one agreed, however, that after three children, her family's patterns were firmly established, and each new baby fit right into how they were already doing things without disrupting the general enterprise of family life.

I counted on that math all the way up until last month.  G and B went home the week of Christmas, and after I took a few days to breathe, I realized foster families don't add up the same way.

In retrospect, it seems silly to me that I never considered that my assumptions based on families with only biological kids might not apply to families with foster kids.  Moreover, how nearsighted that I didn't think to ask any foster parents in my initial conversations.

Of course I wouldn't change my decision to have my biological children.  I adore Z, V, and L, and am so glad to be blessed with each of them.  I also know that we will foster parent again.  It's such important work, and the fact that it's difficult only underscores for me how well equipped we are to handle it.

Clearly, we are still going to have a "big" family.  However, I have to make this just as clear: the words I have been saying for eight years now about family size are utterly wrong.

In a family with only bio-kids, three is the same as four is the same as seven is the same as twelve.  After you have three biological children, you might as well keep going.  In a family with foster kids, though, each set of children gets added separately.  Parenting G and B along with Z, V, and L was not like parenting five kids.  It was like parenting two kids and three kids.  G and B never fit right into how we were already doing things.  Because of their pre-existing patterns, needs, and behaviors, and because of the requirements of the state surrounding kids in foster care, G and B required a complete re-engineering of the general enterprise of family life.  So much of what required change, too, wasn't accountable for in advance, so there's no good way to plan ahead for the next set of kids to join our family.

In the end, though, I suppose I'm only surprised about how surprised I was that the math is just different for foster families.

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