Monday, June 13, 2011
Best part of my day today: I was supervising a visitation for a mother and her three children. I spent an hour and a half having a heart to heart conversation with the 58-year-old grandfather who is dying from throat cancer. He shared with me all of the things that made him who he was, and the regretful decisions he made over the years. He ultimately felt responsible for the fact that his grandchildren were in foster care because of decisions he made as a parent. He was appreciative of the time I have spent thus far making sure his daughter is working on her treatment, and for acting as part of a support system for her. I know this may all sound very depressing (its DSS, what do you expect?) but at the end of our conversation and the visitation, the best part of my day happened: he thanked me for simply listening.
‘What was the best part of my day today?’ is a question I have to ask myself at the end of every day. It’s reassuring to know that no matter how stressful or awful you think your day has been, to always know there had to of been at least one high point. It may take a second or two, but think about it. The best parts of my days can vary greatly. From just seeing my dog shake her butt a million miles a minute when I get home, or having just 15 minutes alone with complete silence, there is always a high point. For example, the best part of my day yesterday was the fact that because I spent about 5 hours in the car driving back and forth from one end of the county to the other, I heard Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” about 4 times on the radio. I love that song, and it made my traveling that much more pleasant.
Some of the most rewarding days are the ones where I’ve been a part of a parent’s success. There is nothing I love more than a parent walking into my office with a smile on their face and a certificate of completion in their hand. Usually these course completions are for drug and alcohol treatment, parenting classes, domestic violence counseling, or anger management classes. Having a parent, who hates my guts for “snatching their child”, tell me “Thank you, Miss Sally” gives me such joy, no matter how many previously awful things they’ve said or yelled at me. I love having a parent call me to tell me they have found a job, or a new and suitable place to live. So really think about, what was the best part of your day? You will find yourself being thankful for even the tiniest things every single day.
Of course I wish that every day I were able to have joyous moments like those of a parent’s success. But in the real world, it’s not. Unfortunately at DSS, moments like these are usually quite rare to be honest. Having a baby can be such a wonderful celebration for family and friends. It’s a great feeling to congratulate someone who is excited to welcome a new member into the world. But imagine having to sit down with someone you’ve become close to, who tells you that they are pregnant, and not being able to congratulate them. I had to look a twenty-year-old mother in the face today, and tell her I was disappointed by her news. This particular mother has no place to live, no income of any kind, no supportive family or friends, oh and not to mention, a child that is already in foster care. While this mother just says “oops” and that she is just as disappointed in herself, I know deep down that she does not feel the way she says she does. Come on, do I have stupid written across my face? I have had to tell (and remind) many of my clients that studying human behavior is my life. If it has been a not-so-great day, sometimes I’ll cut a joke and tell them not to ever pursue acting, or to come back to me when they’ve made up a better story. I’ve even gone as far as telling them that I don’t work off commission, so “thank you, but having another baby isn’t going to raise my salary at all.” Some laugh, and some get pissed. I don’t care. Bottom line, majority of my client’s who have no support system, and move from one abusive man to another, think that another baby is the answer to all their problems. NEWS FLASH PEOPLE: Have fun going through 9 months of hell with probably zero prenatal care, and then just hand your next one right over to us (calmly, please). Appreciate it.
It may sound cynical for me to be so nonchalant, but this is reality. I will admit that at one point in my life when I was young, I thought that every pregnancy was a blessing. The reality is that in the DSS world, there really isn’t much worse news than knowing a parent - who cannot parent - is going to have another child that will just end up living their life in and out of the foster care system. These children will never have a normal childhood, or life for that matter. These children will never understand stability or experience permanency in their lives.
Think back to your own childhood. What was the best part of your summers? Was it swimming all day long at the country club? Tubing on the lake? Spending a week’s vacation with your family and friends in a beachfront home? Or a month away at summer camp? When I was a child, all of the above were the best parts about my summers. It’s pretty sad to think that the children in foster care will not ever experience getting to go away for summer camp, or spend their summers riding their bikes around the neighborhood with friends, or playing spotlight tag until all hours of the night. For a child in foster care, they don’t get to experience these carefree summers – like every child should. They spend their summers worrying about when they will get to see their mom or dad next. They are the ones that worry about whether or not their mom or dad has gotten a job yet. They are the ones that worry about how much longer they have to stay in foster care, and if will they have to switch schools again next year. They worry about when their caseworker will just pop in and tell them that they are moving to a totally new home, with new foster parents, new siblings to try and get along with, new daily routines, new rules, new EVERYTHING. Can YOU imagine?
So as you are spending free time this summer with family and friends relaxing on the beach or beside the pool, take time to think about those children spending their time cooped up in a foster home, group home, or emergency shelter, and constantly worrying about what’s going to happen for them next. Think back and be appreciative for the carefree summers you were so lucky to have as a child. Pick up the phone and call your parents to thank them for sending you away to your favorite camp every summer. Start taking notice to the best part of your day, everyday. You will find yourself being more appreciative of the little things in life. After all, in the end, it is the little things that matter most. That is where true happiness is found.