Foster Parenting Isolation:: Life Behind Emoji Masks

It was summer when I really noticed it. The crushing sequestration of living our new normal seemingly in secret. That’s the crazy thing about our world being hopelessly infiltrated by technology. Did you know that in 2019 as many as 50 different social channels are floating around us at any given time? You can post images, make GIFs, upload videos, post questions, dispense truckloads of unsolicited advice, schedule meetups, or update the world on every thought that enters your precious little noggin.

But not me. Not a foster parent. We live in a world of faceless children and secret memory-making known only to us and a select few that are involved in our daily routine. In a matter of hours, our world could be filled with strangers—caseworkers, ad litem attorneys, CASA volunteers—yet those closest to us may not know for weeks what “our children” even looked like.

Feeling Separated

Foster Parenting Isolation:: Life Behind Emoji Masks

One definition of isolation is without relation to other people or things; separately. That was me. As I sat there in late June scrolling through the umpteen images of families on vacations and popsicle-coated siblings, I was separated. No one in my immediate circle was traveling the same path we were and couldn’t identify. They were supportive—no doubt about that—but the suddenly accelerated process at which we were becoming a family was unlike anything they had ever experienced. {We hadn’t either if we’re being honest.}

I had similar photos on my phone. Exploring the farmers market, their first trip to the lake, popsicles, and sprinklers in the backyard…but I wasn’t allowed to share them with the outside world. And I grieved. This was one more “mom” moment taken away from me and for a time, I resented it.

This is where some of you may judge me. Perhaps you may choose not to share your family on social media anyway. You find it dangerous. And while you are entitled to whatever stance you choose, I was not given a choice. Here we were navigating this entirely new phase of our life—our first time as parents—and we were unable to share it, even by text in most cases.

Getting Creative

For a moment during July Fourth, I cracked. In true personal fashion {masking hurt with a thick coat of sarcasm}, I posted my slightly awkward version of summer vacation from a foster family perspective.

Foster Parenting Isolation:: Life Behind Emoji Masks

Although it was meant to be more of a valve for my own personal frustration, this image of foster parenting isolation garnered more response than I expected. While most did not see the nature behind it, for a moment our family was “seen,” even if it was behind the shield of a giant, passive-aggressive emoji.

It also gave me a form of permission and pushed me to use the tool I’ve had at my disposal from a young age—my words. I had to get creative in telling our story differently. I couldn’t use their names or their facial expressions so what is shared is extremely selective and stretched my inventiveness.

Time Erased

Foster Parenting Isolation:: Life Behind Emoji Masks

It’s about to get worse. As we climb over the hill of Halloween, coast through Thanksgiving, and sail into Christmas, there will be an onslaught of adorable images cascading through my feed at all times. Sometimes I scroll through my phone and watch videos or look at images and I think, “So-and-so would get a kick out of that one.” But alas.

Most of their photos will live in anonymity on my computer forever. An entire chunk of their lives simply erased due to the fact that they were in care. We print some and add to an album that they will take home and hopefully be allowed to keep. Snapshots of their life with us, experiences they had, and the love they felt. I’ll make my own album to keep here and when my heart heals enough from the space left after they’re gone, I’ll look through it and smile.

I’ll remember the first time he saw his face covered up for privacy and said, “Hey Mom, my face has a big smiley on it!” Which it typically does these days, with or without the emoji. The moment she was brave enough to climb on the back of an inner tube or he finally “swam” with the assistance of floaties. Besides beginning to heal from their trauma, they have experienced many milestones with us and sometimes I wish I could share that with friends and family who don’t happen to live in a 30-mile radius.

Attach to a Community:: The Solution to Foster Parenting Isolation

I realize in the grand scheme of foster care and adoption this is a small inconvenience. There are so many things in our daily lives that drive me positively bonkers. We have had dozens of moments when I feel that their team is not advocating for their best interests. And sometimes I feel like Alice filling her Wonderland with a river of tears. But, I wish we could share this life.

Some days have huge landmark moments that I want to be frozen in HTML code so Timehop can remind me. I wish I could tell people that their number one fear of being involved in foster care and becoming “too attached” will happen. You will become so attached that you will cry with them when they beg not to go to their “regular house.” You jump up and down when they learn to potty in the toilet. When they share that they’ve never really had a birthday party, you will Pin all of the things and do the best you can to make it the biggest deal you can {without breaking the bank}. You will get attached—and you should. Because you are also teaching them to form attachments and how love should feel.

But, you should also find a community to attach to. Find other fosters or adoptive families that “get it.” Find people you can share your frustrations with and have real conversations because mom life is hard no matter how it comes at you. Don’t live in isolation, even if you have to keep your emoji mask on.

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