When a Child’s Village Is Missing
I consider myself a pretty good mom. My parenting style employs a mix of nurture and benign neglect. I offer advice when asked and no-nonsense truth when needed. I encourage independence and enforce personal responsibility, while being available for snuggles on demand. I try to foster my two sons’ innate creativity and accept them for who they are as individuals.
But I’m no martyr. Once you can pour milk without spilling it, you’re on your own for breakfast. If you run out of clean clothes, you really should have done your laundry sooner. I don’t cook nightly dinners, unless you count boxed macaroni and cheese or chicken nuggets. I value sleep more than anything.
So it may have come as a shock to some who know me when, on the eve of 2023, almost seven years after I had last changed a diaper and five years since I had taught my boys to fold their laundry, my husband, Gabriel, and I welcomed a foster baby into our home.
Though we had a mere 24 hours’ notice of Baby’s T arrival, this was a process nearly two years in the making. It had not been a decision we made lightly. We went through many hours of training, deeply personal interviews and a comprehensive home assessment to obtain licensing through the state of New Jersey, where we live.
Why did we do it?
There is nothing quite like having children to highlight one’s privileges. When my husband and I needed help to pay for day care when Ezra and Asher were younger, there were numerous people in our lives we could turn to. When we ached for a weekend away to recharge and refocus, there were trusted family and friends who would happily step in. Between gifts and hand-me-downs, it was years before we bought most of the clothing for our kids.
The old adage that “it takes a village to raise a child” really is true. Yet, many people don’t have a village.
In New Jersey alone, there are 6,000 children in the foster care system every year. Children are removed from homes where they experience abuse and neglect, but they are also removed from homes that may be filled with love yet where adults are unable to provide basic needs like heating and running water. All these children deserve to be cared for while they await a fate beyond their control.
Baby T was just under four weeks old when she arrived at our home. And with her came the 3 a.m. feedings I swore I would never do again. I am 10 years older than the last time I did this, and I am exhausted. My brain is foggy, my muscles are sore, my back aches. Yet my heart is bursting.
As I rock Baby T back to sleep in the dark hours of the night, it’s hard to imagine someday saying goodbye to this precious little girl. We don’t know if she will be with us for a few months or a few years. Essentially, the goal of fostering is reunification with a parent, or if that isn’t possible, adoption, preferably by a family member. Chances are, sooner or later, we will have to say goodbye, and I have fallen in love in a way I didn’t expect.
While I cannot share personal details about Baby T, what I will tell you is that it will break my heart when she leaves. What I will tell you is that she needed us; her village was missing. What I will tell you is that we had the capacity to help. And I will tell you that Baby T is loved by everyone who knows her, even those unable to care for her.
Above all, I know that we will care for her as long as she needs, and then we will continue caring, because whatever happens next, we are now a part of her village.
Talia Liben Yarmush is the former digital editor for Hadassah Magazine and won a Simon Rockower Award for the essay “The Blessings and Trauma of IVF” that she wrote for the magazine. She and her husband are part of YATOM: The Jewish Foster & Adoption Network. You can read more about Talia on her website.