As an alumnus of the foster care system and now an elementary school teacher, I feel deeply honored when I am the chosen adult for my students. I know, from my experience in care, how difficult it can be to find a connection that truly is safe, healing, and long-lasting.
In care, I knew a few things to be consistent. I knew I would have a foster family, even though I did not know for how long. I knew that I would attend school. These were the places I sought out trusted adults and found a mixed bag of adults, who were on a spectrum of being emotionally available to not at all. What I craved most were adults who were consistent in their ability to act in an emotionally mature way. I was always on the lookout to see if a foster parent could be there for me emotionally. I had caregivers who were able to hold my grief around losing my biological parents and being placed in the foster care system. Ultimately, these adults became the ones I call family today.
These caregivers taught me that vulnerability is allowed and that using fighting words to heal my trauma would only push them away. I learned to be clear and kind when verbalizing grief. Moreover, I never expected perfection from them. What I craved was an explanation when they were unable to be there for me, which helped soothe my hurt inner child and gave me a model for how to verbalize my emotional hardships. I wanted a trusted adult to tell me why they could not be there and explain to me how they would do better next time. This is something my biological parents struggled to do and something I wished I experienced more from any caregiver, social worker, teacher, or foster parent who made a mistake.
Last week at the dinner table with my chosen family, we discussed how difficult my early teenage years had been. I was able to verbalize how previous foster homes had emotionally abused me. They listened and agreed that I never deserved that maltreatment. They allowed me to speak openly and honestly. They reflected on their parenting and their thought process in supporting my healing journey. I remember thinking to myself, “This is healing. This is the type of connection I always deserved from an adult. This is what emotional support feels like from family.”
As an elementary school teacher, I consistently tell my students, “I care about you, I care about what happens to you both at and outside of school. If you need someone to talk to, I can be that person for you.” Every day, I strive to be emotionally available for my students and give the gift my chosen family gave me: the gift of experiencing emotionally mature adults and the healing power that comes with it.