Category Archives: Foster Parent

I don’t know how to say this…

I don’t know how to say this, and I know I need to just say it. I have wanted to get back here to write about my experiences as a first time mama of my very own baby, but I have not been able to bring myself to do it because I feel I have to close out the last chapter of my mommy-hood as a foster mama. Even though I have already somewhat written about my feelings and experiences of closure with the fostering part of my life, something new has come up.

Shortly after I gave birth to my son, I learned some news of my first foster baby, Little Dude. He tragically passed away at the age of two, likely due to parental neglect. Without revealing details, his mom and dad both broke some rules, knew they were breaking rules, and when Little Dude had an accident, they did not take him to the hospital as they should have since they were worried that all of their children would be taken away from them. When they finally took him several days later, it was too late.

I feel sad, mad, and afraid since hearing this news. I have not wanted to address those feelings or spend time grieving this loss because I am putting so much time and energy into my new role as a mom and all of the love, joy, hard work, tears, and anxieties that come with it.

I feel mad that the foster system failed Little Dude and his brothers. I feel mad that the decisions being made about his brothers are still not in their best interest. I feel mad that the parents did not make their childrens’ safety more important than their need to hold onto their children. I feel so sad that this sweet baby had to senselessly die because the adults in his life did not protect him. I feel sad that his brothers are having to deal with the grief of losing their little brother and the grief of being shifted from place to place to place with no sense of safety or home or family. I wonder if they worry that what has happened to Little Dude could happen to them. I worry that they are not getting what they need, especially since they all have some kind of a special need or medical need.

Part of me feels like my time with Little Dude, all of the love and care I put into him were for nothing. I know that is not true in my head. I know that the seven weeks he spent with me at the beginning of his life were so important, that he got invaluable love and security from my care, but my heart feels heavy that he is gone. I feel grateful that he is now in heaven where he can no longer feel pain. I continue to pray that his brothers will be reunited with the family that should be allowed to adopt them so that they can be together with a familiar and loving family that will take care of all of their special needs.

So You Want to be a Foster Parent…

From time to time, people ask me about being a foster parent. Whether they have been considering it for years or have just recently thought about it, they always have questions. Most people don’t know anyone who has been a foster parent in real life and don’t have much of an idea what being a foster parent looks like day to day. Since different people have asked me to share what being a foster parent is like, I thought I would share my thoughts here.

I am no expert. I fostered two different babies. One was a preemie right out of the hospital. I had him for 7 weeks before he went to extended family members. After about 6 months, sadly, he went back into the system. The other was several months old when he came to live with me, and I had him for about 8 months before he went home to his birthparents. Unfortunately, about six months later he went back into the system as well. Cumulatively, I was a foster parent for less than a year. My experience was incredibly wonderful and incredibly challenging at the same time.

One of the first things I would recommend to anyone who is considering becoming a foster parent is to read “The Middle Mom” by Christie Erwin. She and her husband have made fostering their life’s work, and she has some great advice and experiences to share. One of my favorite lines in her book says, “God can only bless a heart that is willing to be broken.” If you do it right, foster care is heartbreaking work.

The single most important part of being a foster parent is to love completely, recklessly, without abandon, fully knowing that you will eventually be physically separated from that child. So many foster children become adults without having ever experienced loving attachment, which is essential for development. If you don’t know anything about attachment, please read up on it so that you can understand how vital it is for all children to experience. A lack of attachment has far reaching negative effects throughout a lifetime. Essentially, by making a commitment to love and attach to a child in the foster care system, you are selflessly allowing yourself to hurt so that they don’t have to hurt later on. At the very least, there will have been one adult in their young life with whom they have experienced attachment. Even if they leave you when they are very young like my babies did, and will not remember you consciously, their unconscious mind will remember. That experience will be embedded in their psyche forever, and will be vitally helpful to them as they grow into adulthood. They will remember that feeling of love and comfort, and it will help them to become more resilient teens and adults.

Being a foster parent is not like being a regular parent. If you are “all in” as a foster parent, you will feel every bit that child’s parent, even though you didn’t give birth to them. In addition to all of the responsibilities of being a parent, you also have extra duties. At the very least, there will be meetings with social workers, regular visits with birthparents, and paperwork. You must document everything you do with your foster child, including visits to doctors or specialists, visits with birthparents, medications you give, and bumps, falls, or illnesses they have. There are also periodic evaluations, phone calls with the child’s lawyer, occasional court dates, and team meetings. You are not a solo parent. You are a “team” who’s collective job it is to work towards reunification of the child with his/her biological parents. If this is not possible, then the goal of the team becomes to find a placement in a permanent home for the child to be adopted. It takes a lot of time for parental rights to be terminated, so the process is easily dragged out. I don’t know what the statistics are, but it is sad to say that from my experience and the experiences of others alongside of whom I have taken this journey, many times kids are reunified with biological parents too soon or without enough support and sadly end up back in the system, a trend that you are powerless to fight against, as you have few to no rights as a foster parent. Oftentimes it feels as if you are a glorified babysitter, although I urge all foster parents to fight that feeling and act like a true parent, no matter how you are treated.

Being a foster parent will stretch you in ways that you do not anticipate. In addition to being a loving, caring, safe, and educational place for a child that you know will eventually be leaving you, you also have to be prepared to work with all of the adults involved. This means working with people you may not agree with or get along with, remembering that this is one of the ways you can try your hardest to do good for the child who is in your care. At a minimum you will work with a social worker, or two if you decide to foster through an agency rather than through the county (I had two.), the birthparents, sometimes having visits separately if the parents can’t get along or there has been a history of domestic violence, and the child’s lawyer. It can be frustrating to say the least because often it can feel like the social workers and the parents do not understand what is best for the child. You feel like you know better since you are with them all the time, and often your ideas and pleas are listened to but not regarded. It is essential to be able to handle conflict with respect and grace, knowing that ultimately, the social workers and birth parents have more pull than you do. The best way to make a difference is to be a positive presence even when you disagree. It is important to speak up and voice your concerns AND to do it in a respectful way. When I went through hard times with this, I had to pray and pray and pray that God would fill in the gaps. And there were such obvious gaps that I SO wanted to fill but was not allowed to. I had to trust God to fill them in and to fill in my own that I sometimes couldn’t even see.

Also, realize that most often, as the foster parent, you will be responsible for monitoring the visits with the birthparents. Often birthparents have some kind of substance abuse issue or some trauma in their lives that stunt them emotionally. Many times you can be dealing with a birthparent who is physically in their twenties or thirties but emotionally is still a teenager. You have to have so much patience. Making the birthparents your enemy will cause so many problems. Work to love them and have compassion towards them. If you have children rather than babies, make sure you don’t speak negatively about their birthparents to them. Many times you will have to be the adult and hold your tongue. Remember that you are dealing with people who are hurting, and they feel jealous that you get to have so much time with their children. It can be hard for them to see a way out of their situation, even if it is easy for you to see what they “just need to do” to get it together. They are overwhelmed and need your help. I’m not talking about enabling. I’m talking about having a compassionate heart, an open line of communication, and healthy boundaries. This may be the very first time they have experienced anything like the relationship you could have with them. You could change their lives by your presence in it. Be deliberate.

If you are going to foster, you need a support system. I fostered as a single woman, and while I am so grateful for my experience, I would not necessarily recommend going down this road as a single mom. It is hard. Painfully hard. I had a great support system in close family and friends, but it was still hard. If you are planning on fostering as a married couple, be on the same page as much as possible. If one person is passionate about being a foster parent and the other agrees because they see how important it is to their spouse, things will begin to go south quickly. Pray and research and pray and plan and pray. Trust the Holy Spirit to guide you. Trust that God will lead you to what is right for you.

Musings

I was just speaking with a couple of co-workers about the progress of some shared students, and one of them mentioned that the two of them were both moms. I didn’t catch it at first, but then the other one spoke up and said, “and so is she,” pointing at me. Her comment made me happy to be included, but more than that, it made me remember that, yes, I still am a mom. I am grateful for the reminder.

Goodbyes

I am getting ready to say goodbye to Baby Incredible. He will leave me in just a few short hours after spending the last 8 months or so with me. Even though I say I am getting ready for him to leave me, I can never actually be ready.

Although I did not give birth to him, I have been his mom, in every sense of the word, over the last eight months. Leaving him today feels like I am abandoning my own child. He is going to wonder where I am and why I’m not coming back for him…I keep telling him that I love him and that I don’t want to let him go. He may not understand, but I hope he feels my message.

Heartbroken is the adjective that comes to mind. Foster parents volunteer to get their hearts broken. They know going in that this is not forever, but they choose to put their heart “all in” to that baby anyway, to bond with them, and to attach to them, and to love them as if they were their own.

No words can fix such heartbreak, but God can. The most comforting words I have heard are these: “God can only bless a heart that is willing to be broken.” and “God loves this baby more than you love this baby.” Amen

Five Months

It’s been five months.  It’s been 22 weeks.  It’s been 154 days.  That’s how long I’ve had Baby Incredible.  I expected to only have him for one or two months, although I knew there was a possibility it would be longer.  I don’t know for how much longer I will have him.  And that feels strange to say.  I’ve had him since he was so little that it feels like he is mine.  In many ways he is, which is what makes it so hard to think about him leaving me.  

Some think I’m crazy or even masochistic for doing this knowing that this is only a temporary situation…and an indefinite one at that.  Sometimes I think I’m crazy or masochistic for the very same reasons. I keep going back to the book “Middle Mom: How to Grow Your Heart by Giving it Away” by Christie Erwin. One of the things she wrote that really stuck with me was that people always ask her how she does it. How she takes in children and loves them as her own, only to ultimately give them up. They often say that they could never do something like that. I have had people ask me the very same thing. I have had people tell me the very same thing.  What has stayed with me is her response. Christie says that if you are a person who says you could never do it, you are precisely the kind of person who is needed. She goes on to explain that in order to be a good foster parent, you have to give your whole heart to the baby or child, even though you know you are eventually going to be faced with the pain of loss. Talk about sacrifice. Being a foster parent is the closest I’ve ever come to loving like Jesus. And I certainly couldn’t do it without God. He is the one who led me to foster, and I have to keep reminding myself to go to Him when I am feeling the strain of being a single working foster mom. This is God’s plan, so I know He has my back.

Looking ahead, anticipating when Baby Incredible might go, worrying about what problems may arise between now and then (because this time around it seems that there is a “crisis” every time I turn around), wondering how this is going to play out, is only hurting me. It’s causing me to take my eyes off of God, to lose my hope and my faith and my trust in Him. God has an amazing plan for Baby Incredible’s life and an amazing plan for my life. My prayers need to be centered on those truths. I need to cherish the moments that I have now, for where I am right now is exactly where God wants me to be, even though I don’t understand it. He wants me to basque in every smile and giggle and coo. He wants me to enjoy every moment: every bottle I make, every cry I soothe, every diaper I change, every smile I induce, every song I sing, every time I rock him to sleep. I know that when he is gone, I will miss everything…even the sleepless nights and long commutes and things that I can’t do because I am providing love and care for a little baby who is so very special.

Is it going to hurt when he goes? Absolutely. Will I always wonder how he is doing or if he is in pain or what he is learning in school or who he is becoming? Yes. He has left an indelible mark on my heart. And for that, I am honored and grateful.

Trust Your Role

I was sitting here rocking Baby Incredible to sleep, thinking about all that has transpires today. Thinking about how I should be less defensive and less reactive in my heart, how I should be more loving and compassionate towards the birthparents and social workers. I was feeling down and sad about the reality of this situation and wishing I could do more, wishing that I could be more in the situation that I have been given.

This is when I heard God say to me: “Trust your role.” I didn’t hear him say it like an audible voice in the room but like a thought he placed in my head. I know it was from him because it is not something I would say to myself. It is full of grace and love and compassion like only God can give, and it was exactly what I needed to hear right in the moment. Trust your role. Keep doing what you’re doing, and God is handling the rest. Amen

Dreams

At four in the morning, when you’ve had to change your pajamas twice from being spit up on, and you will soon come to the realization that you are not going back to sleep before your 5:30 am wake up time, it is hard to say you’re living the dream. I am living the dream…God’s dream for my life. The cool thing about God’s dream for my life is that it addresses the desires of my heart. The inexplicable thing about God’s dream for my life is that the way in which he chooses to fulfill the desires of my heart are completely different than the way I dreamed they would be and prayed they would be.

Jeremiah 33:3 (NLT)
“Ask me and I will tell you remarkable secrets you do not know about things to come.”

God has always known that his plan for my life would be for me to begin fostering and then to begin dating the love of my life. He knew the challenges that would come from dating in a godly way while being a single foster mom and working full time as a teacher. He is with me every step of the way as I walk through this challenging but dream fulfilling time. He brings me joy and peace and patience and just enough understanding to get through moment by moment…if I let him…if I go to him and do this life he’s given me on his strength instead of my own. God is in my past, my present, and my future. He knows what will happen next with Baby Incredible and with my relationship with my boyfriend. He’s already there. He’s got it covered.

One year ago, I did not have any idea I’d be fostering. I didn’t even have any idea I wanted to foster. One year ago, I had absolutely no idea I’d be in love. I didn’t see it coming at all! God knew. He knows our future, and he will reveal it to us in his own time, which actually ends up being perfect timing for our own good. God gives us what we need, not necessarily exactly what we want, to the specifications that we want it. He fulfills the desires of our hearts according to his glory and purpose, not according to what we want and would be most comfortable with.

It seems like many people who are around my age (late twenties to mid thirties) are striving to discover their dreams. Some of them are believers and some of them are not. Either way, it seems that this age group brings with it a re-evaluative stage. Some people never really got settled into a career. Others did, but they discovered that career was not really for them.

Watching this in my peers makes me so incredibly grateful that I have been living my dream for the past ten years. Sometimes I lost sight of the fact that I was because there were more desires of my heart that had not yet been fulfilled. The truth is, God allowed me to know ahead of time, like from the time I was in elementary school, that teaching was the profession for me. He allowed me to achieve that goal in my early twenties and live out that goal for the past ten years. It is not lost on me what an incredible gift that is. I know so many people who changed majors in college at least a handful of times, trying to figure out what direction they wanted their lives to take.

In looking back on the last ten years, I do feel a little bit of regret that I sometimes didn’t fully appreciate what a gift I’d been given because it brought me so much sadness that my desire to get married and have a family of my own was not yet being fulfilled. Now that I am seeing more of God’s plan for my life unfold, things are starting to make a little more sense than they once did.

It is my prayer for myself and for my peers that I dream big for my life but that I allow God’s dreams for my life to be my driving force, even when I don’t like them or understand them, even when I don’t think the dreams God has for my life are big enough or noble enough, even when I think the dreams God has for my life are too daunting to consider taking on. God tailor makes our dreams for us. We need to trust him with them. He loves us more than we can fathom.