The following is a guest post by Cindy Cramer, foster mother for 24 years, adoptive mother of six and our Family Support Coordinator. While it is written about fostering, the lessons that Cindy mentions and the values her friend instilled are applicable to adoptive families as well.
The other day, after a conversation with some foster and adoptive families, I began to reflect on my own experience when I was in their shoes. As I look back on my years of fostering and adopting children, I cannot begin to express my appreciation to the friends I met along the way.
Barb Freeman was one of the first foster parents I met on my journey. She was kind, loving and accepting of me in all of my inexperience. She listened as I sorted my thoughts and supported me without judgment. She was a truest example of the ideal foster parent. Everything Barb did was “in the best interest of the kids.” She and her husband were co-presidents of the Foster Parent Association. She truly understood the need to develop a community with purpose, and she instilled her values to the entire group. We had support groups, pitch-ins, Christmas parties for the kids, a swim party every summer, and even sponsored an appreciation lunch for the caseworkers in the spring.
Fostering was different then. We often supervised the visits ourselves or at least took the kids to the visits. Barb got to know birth parents and helped them develop relationships with their kids. She asked about their struggles, and provided them with pictures of their children. She taught all of us that birth parents are real people, who most likely didn’t get their needs met when they were children, and so were unable to meet their own children’s needs. Barb often became the birth parent’s surrogate parent during that time – and this was when when about 90% of foster children returned home.
Barb was also a strong supporter of the FCMs. She understood that they had a very difficult job and supported them during the tough times. All the events she helped organize included the foster parents and the FCMs. Barb understood something that all foster and adoptive parents should learn: No one does this job alone. Community happens when you laugh together and occasionally cry together. She knew that everyone grieved the same when the court ruled for the children to return home to potentially unsafe situations. But she also knew it was never okay to take a stance of “us vs. them.” We were a team. She was a true peacemaker.
In honor of Barb and all she taught me, I’m sharing one of her favorite recipes with you: Congo Squares. (Click here to download a PDF of this recipe.) She brought these to every event, and her family even had the recipe etched on her tombstone when she passed away. May you find joy in baking them, and in carrying the torch of her joyful mission.