Rise, New York
During my first visit with my daughter, I felt like a father again. Her eyes lit up and I felt she remembered me. I held her in my arms and swung her around, listening to her giggle and laugh. The visit lasted an hour but felt like five minutes. I had not seen my daughter in more than a year, because I had been locked up.
After the visit, I had a meeting with my caseworker, who explained that I needed to attend different programs – parenting skills classes and a domestic violence batterer program – before I could get custody. I agreed to do whatever it took to get my daughter back.
Soon I met my daughter’s foster mother, Mary, and was pleased to see she was a realistic and mature woman who cared about children. I grew up in foster care myself and I knew that not all foster parents care about the children. Seeing the way she cared for my daughter made me feel relieved and comforted.
After visiting my daughter at the agency for some time, I was allowed to visit at Mary’s house. That was beautiful for us. Mary and I developed a relationship over time like a grandson and grandmother.
But when my daughter was 2½, she was removed from Mary’s home, after she’d been living there for two years.
I was also upset that, once my daughter moved, we had to visit at the agency again. I thought to myself, “Why do I have to spend time with her in a crowded playroom, filled with screaming children and broken toys?”
I was also unhappy that my daughter’s new foster mother seemed a little too “ghetto.” But after speaking with her, I realized that we both grew up in the same neighborhoods and I warmed up to her a little.
Soon I asked to visit my daughter in the foster home. The new foster mother granted my request. I was so relieved. Instead of visiting for a couple hours each week, my daughter and I spent every Saturday together. We played with toys and I taught her numbers and letters. I loved watching her learn new things.
Before I knew it, the workers agreed that we had a strong bond and she was ready to come home. I thought the transition would be easy. But it’s an understatement to say that I found it rough living with my daughter full-time.
Through all of our visits, my daughter never had temper tantrums or showed stubbornness. Suddenly, whenever my daughter didn’t get her way, she would start by putting on a disappointed face and then, hours later, explode.
I didn’t know what to do. I loved my daughter dearly and didn’t want to see her crying and unhappy. But I wasn’t going to give in to a 5-year-old’s demand to have everything her way.
I tried sending her to her room when she threw her fits, but she would break things. Eventually I had removed everything from her room but her bed and dresser. I was at my wit’s end when I walked into her room one day and saw she that she’d written on her white dresser with a marker. I had to leave the room before I lost control. I didn’t want to hit my daughter.
Finally, I told the agency worker about my daughter’s behavior. I asked, “Is she too used to getting her way?”
“It’s good you’re setting rules and limits, but you should explain the reasons for your rules to your daughter,” she suggested. “She’s getting used to a new parent and new rules and needs help to adjust.”
After that, rather than tell her a simple, “No,” I’d say, “No, because …” or “Not now …” and then the reason. As time passed, my daughter and I learned to not only respect one another but to love each other even more.
I feel blessed that my daughter lived with two foster parents who made it easier for me to develop a strong relationship with her. During our visits, I wasn’t able to learn everything I needed to know about taking care of my daughter, but we built a strong bond of love. I needed those good times as reminders that we could make it through the rough months after she came home.
© 2009 Rise, a magazine by parents affected by the child welfare system. http://www.risemagazine.org.