20 Mar The Initial Adjustment
I will not lie. The initial adjustment did not come as easily and readily as I had anticipated. Sure, it was incredibly joyful and exciting to welcome a little baby into our family. There was so much that I missed about that stage and reveled in – the cuddles, the noises, the bottle-induced sleepiness, the sweet infant smell (diapers and gas notwithstanding). And, of course, I enjoyed wrapping him up like a little burrito.
Yet, in the five years since my son was born I had become accustomed to increasing levels of independence from him and the extremities of round-the-clock baby care. Bringing Sweet Baby Boy home was a big shock to my system both in terms of exhaustion and free time (or simply getting-things-done time). I was once again surprised at how challenging it was to maintain myself, our household, and my relationships while caring for an infant. Those initial months were surely a lesson in practicing flexibility and lowering my standards – letting the little things go! – with varying levels of success.
Of course, parenthood is all about figuring things out as-you-go. With foster parenting we had the added element of many unanswered questions about what life was like for our little one prior to arriving in our home. For me, such questions frequently revolved around sleep, as I soon realized we had a 30 minute cat-napper on our hands. Did he ever take proper naps? Was he always on-the-go? When was bed-time? Did he have a regular bedtime or any semblance of a schedule? These questions plagued me as I strived for consistency in our days and nights.
A related tendency was to attribute anything that seemed “unusual” in his behavior (including the catnaps) to what he had been through – at a minimum the trauma of being removed from his parents’ care and everything familiar. For instance, he was alert. Very alert. And he hated the sound of “normal baby things”, like a rattle. It seemed his most common facial expression was one of wide-eyed alarm.
So, my inner monologue would go something like: Is this alertness a sign of intelligence? A personality trait? Or an indication of trauma and distress… is it possible for a baby to be too alert? Of course, the truth probably lies somewhere in between nature and nurture, but never-the-less my mind raced with speculation (on the nurture side) using the little information we had about his case.
Soon enough, perspective took hold and I stopped dwelling heavily on such questions. Really, the answers do not much matter. What does matter is consistent, loving care while he is in our home.That is within our control and what deserves our full attention.
Although I am considered the “primary care giver” and as such tend to focus on my experiences, I would be remiss if I did not include some words about what the adjustment was like for Supportive Husband and my son, “Proud Foster Bro”.
True to his fun-loving nature, Proud Foster Bro was excited, curious and surprised by Sweet Baby Boy. As a very social, outgoing being, the “only child” thing has never really been his style. He had long advocated for a sibling. So when we explained our decision to foster he heard one thing: PLAYMATE! Never mind the wane in attention and other such realities – he at long last would have a live-in compadre, partner in crime, and cure for boredom. So went his logic.
He soon learned the truth about little babies: they don’t actually PLAY. (At least, not in the way school age children do.) However, Proud Foster Bro did not skip a beat. He eagerly stepped up as a big brother, helper, and a suddenly more capable version of himself. He learned how to toast his own waffle, pour his own cereal and many other tasks that I couldn’t so readily help with anymore.
While Proud Foster Bro never complained about having to assume such responsibilities or the sudden drop in attention, we noticed one main change in his behavior that we could link to fostering: he began hiding a lot. Hiding, as in “come try to find me and give me some attention, OK?!?” In our home that was fine – even cute – but in public it was another matter. The stay-in-my-sight-always rule was repeated often. Luckily, that phase was short-lived and as Sweet Baby Boy became more and more interactive, Proud Foster Bro reveled in getting smiles and giggles from him. He gained a new target for his attention-getting. I am SO PROUD of him and how well he has embraced his new role.
Proud Foster Bro surely inherited his roll-with-the-punches manner from Supportive Husband. I am always amazed by how easily Supportive Husband seems to adjust to whatever life throws our way – or whatever we choose to bring our way, in this case. He has always been an extremely capable and active father, giving me ample “me time” or “away time”, both of which I need in large doses. His easy-going, spontaneous style is often an antidote to my urge to plan and control everything. And vice versa.
I should mention here that prior to becoming foster parents, both of us worked full time. So, my adjustment to fostering coincided with becoming a stay-at-home mom. Through all of these big changes, Supportive Husband has been there to give me time off, contribute to the housework, provide encouragement and support whenever I’ve felt overwhelmed, and in general pick up the slack – while assuming the ‘breadwinner’ roll no less. Thus, his adjustment was two-fold: adjusting to being a foster father AND adjusting to a wife in transition (i.e. tolerating and absorbing my brand of crazy). No. Small. Feat.
I like to think of myself as the manager of our household; Supportive Husband is surely our rock. I amSO lucky.