Five months ago, my husband and I got a call that would completely change the dynamic of our family. A month or so before, my niece had been taken into CPS custody, and the person with whom she was staying was moving and could not take her with them. We got a call from a family member asking if we would be willing to take in my niece, and we only had hours to decide. If we chose not to, she would be placed in foster care instead of with a relative.
We knew from the beginning it would be difficult. With four children of our own, including a then-9-month-old, and already struggling financially, we weren’t naïve about the impact this would have on us all. But the well-being of our 18-month-old niece trumped our fears–plus, we knew we’d have the support and help of our family and parish family–and so we made the necessary preparations, and took her in.
Five months later, resentment has taken up a stronghold in my heart. The resentment is not towards my niece, but rather towards this situation, and honestly, towards a particular family member, and sometimes, towards other people.
You see, caring for my niece has not been easy. Not that I expected it would be; having four of my own, I’m pretty well versed in the difficulties of parenting. But, my niece struggles with things most other children do not. From the time she was born, she has not had much stability. Place to place, person to person, my niece was forced to adapt to a constantly changing environment and constantly being around strangers. Because of this, she is abnormally comfortable around new people. No, this is not a good thing. Where most children feel guarded and cautious, she’ll walk up to any Joe-Schmo and asked to be held, and even go with them. Our pediatrician says this is typical of young children with abandonment issues.
She is far behind in certain developmental aspects, especially speech. Because of this, her primary method of communication is pointing and screaming, which, as you can imagine, can cause quite a headache.
I don’t say these things to be down on my niece, but rather to show that she’s had a hard life, and because of that, she’s been strongly affected emotionally and psychologically. And we’re the ones left to stitch her childhood back together.
As I said, this is not a resentment toward my niece, but rather toward the person who put her in this situation.
You see, the person who began all of this does not see how much this has taken time and attention away from my own children. They don’t see–or care to see–how much more stressful life has become for us, for our children, and for my niece (who now has to adapt to yet another new environment). They didn’t see all the red tape and hoops of fire we had to jump through just to get my niece’s PCP changed so that she could see a doctor and a speech pathologist.
They don’t see the blood, sweat, and tears we have poured into giving this little girl a stable, loving, and comfortable home for once. They don’t see the grocery bill, the gas bill from us taking her back-and-forth to visitations an hour away that they don’t even come to.
They fail to understand that children are not an accessory. They are not something you wave around on Facebook or Snapchat to make yourself look like a caring, doting parent. You can’t love children only when it’s convenient; you can’t care about them only when it’s convenient to your lifestyle.
As for my resentment towards other people, allow me my own selfish moment to say this: my niece is not the only one for whom this has been difficult. I know that people mean well. They look at my niece, they hear the background, and they flock to her with oo’s and ah’s and all the poor thing‘s and bless her heart‘s they can muster. Yes, she’s had a hard life, and yes, she’s in a heartbreaking situation, but she’s not the only one who needs the affection.
There are four other children who have also been emotionally displaced by this. And yes, it makes me bitter, jealous, and angry when I see so much attention and pity taken on my niece, while nothing goes to my own children. It hasn’t been easy for them either. They aren’t old enough yet to fully understand why we’ve taken in my niece. All they see is this other child who requires a major amount of attention, affection, and redirection. All they see is this other child who receives so many passes from other people for temper-tantrums and outbursts and violence, while they get none.
(Not that I believe ANY of them should get passes on these things; I treat them all equally. They are both punished and praised for the same things. Differences in age taken into account, of course.)
It sounds petty, but it’s the truth. These are the thoughts and feelings I’ve been struggling with for some time now. I try not to feel this way, I really do. And I’m not looking for answers, or for apologies from a certain person because they aren’t really owed to me, anyways. I really just needed to get this off my chest before it ate me alive.
But at the end of the day, I know that these struggles, these trials, are totally worth it. Cliché as it may sound. To know that our niece is in a safe, loving, and stable environment trumps the stress. To know that she has a better shot at life with us than she would anywhere else right now, makes it easier to get through the tough moments when she’s screaming at the top of her lungs and our other children are losing their heads and making demands.
The first time our niece successfully picked up a spoon and fed herself was an awesome feeling. When she finally began to play independently, imaginatively, we were ecstatic. There’s still a long road ahead. We’re still trying to get her talking, or at least using sign language to communicate, but we’ll get there. It’ll take time, and a hell of a lot of effort, but we’ll get there. Eventually I’ll get over all my resentment and negative feels, until then, I continue to tread on, fighting the good fight.