Tag Archives: foster parent

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.

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.

There are Superwoman Days and then there are Wonder Woman Days

Some days I wake up feeling ready to face the day.  Maybe I don’t feel totally rested, and more likely than not, I didn’t get enough sleep, but I feel pretty good.  I take Baby Incredible to daycare and head off to work.  As things come up in my day, which they inevitably do, – being a middle school teacher means being ready for the unexpected – I handle them with confidence and grace and wisdom.  Maybe a kid throws up all over my classroom floor.  Maybe a parent sends a five paragraph letter, addressing some concerns.  Maybe the fire alarm goes off unexpectedly, prompting an unplanned drill.  Or maybe, it’s just a “normal” day with preteens: teaching and redirecting and laughing and disciplining and lesson planning and paper grading and dress code violations.  I end my day at work and get to see Baby Incredible and his heart melting smile.  We go to whatever appointments we may need to attend that day, and then we come home to prepare for the next day.  When I have spent some time with him and then rocked him to sleep, I get a little time to myself before I get some shut eye.  Those are the Superwoman days.  The days where I feel amazed that I have been able to accomplish so much and do it with peace and joy and a seamlessness that can only be attributed to God working.

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And then there are days like today.  The days that may even start out as Superwoman days but end up being Wonder Woman days.  On Wonder Woman Days I end my day feeling as if I was hit by a mac truck.  I wonder how I ever accomplished all of the things I did.  I wonder how I didn’t say something completely inappropriate or mean.  Sometimes I wonder how I let that inappropriate or mean thing fly out of my mouth!  I wonder why on earth I’ve taken on so much.  I wonder when I will get a break.  I wonder how I will make it through tomorrow.  I wonder if I am on candid camera.  I wonder just how much more I can handle, and then I shudder at that thought, thinking it may cause something else catastrophic to happen.  

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On Wonder Woman days, I need to pray with my friends.  I need to cry.  I need my boyfriend to bring me dinner at 8:30 at night because I haven’t been home but a few minutes and have zero energy to make myself anything, even if there were groceries in the house.  I need a hug and to be told that everything is going to be okay and that I’m doing a great job.  I need to be reminded of why I’m doing this and that God is in control of every last detail in Baby Incredible’s life story.  I need people to make me laugh.  Today, I got all of those things after my Wonder Woman day, and I feel truly grateful and blessed.  Thank you to those of you who loved me through my Wonder Woman day.  You know who you are, and you are blessings in my life.  

What I’m Noticing

I don’t really consider myself a writer, although it is one of my dreams/goals/desires to write a memoir.  That is part of the reason I started this blog.  Sometimes I feel like a blog needs to tumble out of me, words cartwheeling and backflipping onto the page.  I feel a strong urge to write and start composing an entry in my brain before I can get to my computer.  Maybe I am more of a writer than I think.  

As I was doing laundry and dishes, tending to Baby Incredible, taking out the trash, and putting things away when I got home this evening, I found myself itching to write a blog.  As much as I wanted to write, I couldn’t stop the momentum I had gained of feeding cats and baby, washing bottles and gathering spit-up covered clothes to wash.  If I kill the momentum of that, it ends…and I can’t really afford for that to happen.  

I finally sat down to eat dinner at 8:30, and I wondered where my day had gone, but I guess driving 40+ miles in traffic and teaching a full day will account for many of your hours.  I could stay up all night tonight and still not accomplish all of the things I “should” do, like sweep my apartment and grade 60 essays and fold the laundry and clean the bathroom and the cat box and clean my room and do some paperwork for the agency…I have a visit tomorrow from the agency social worker, and I know she doesn’t like it when I have “clutter”, but I am too tired and overwhelmed to really care.  

Overwhelmed…that is a word that comes up a lot in my vocabulary lately.  I sometimes think that I may be overusing it, and then I step back and take stock and realize that pretty much anyone in my position would be overwhelmed.  

Things I have noticed this week:

1) Every time I go to the store, I get home and realize that there was one more item I should have purchased and didn’t.

2) There is a never-ending pile of baby laundry and dirty bottles.  Even when I think I’m caught up in the moment, one more bottle or dirty bib or onesie pops up.

3) I forget things…a lot.  Things I forgot this morning: my classroom keys and my flash drive with my grade book on it.  Things I forgot last night: to take my antibiotics, even though I remembered while I was on the phone with my boyfriend.  I forgot by the time we hung up.  

4) I am so grateful that I live so close to work that I can make an emergency trip when I forget my flash drive and keys.

5) I have less and less patience for time wasters.  (example: A parent who wants to have a meeting because her child won’t do his/her work.  The child is capable and has shown that s/he can do the work.)

6) It can be really stressful to have people scrutinizing every little thing you say and do.  Students. Parents of students.  Social workers.  Birth parents.  Agency workers.  At the end of the day, I’m doing my best, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to hear any complaints or suggestions or criticisms.  

7) I am addicted to this baby’s smile.  He has the most amazing smile ever, and he uses it a lot.  I am in love.  

8) My cats miss me.  Yes, I am here and they are here, but they get significantly less attention than they used to.  When I began fostering, they were kicked out of my bedroom.  Last night, Cecily broke into my room, and I found her this morning curled up and nestled right next to me, her body heat the first giveaway that she was there.  She didn’t destroy anything or bother anything.  She just wanted to sleep next to me.  

9) Baby Incredible has quite the fan club.  Between my family, my church, and my workplace, he is LOVED something fierce.  

10) Mondays used to always be my least favorite day of the week, but now they are my favorite, because they are my only evening at home.  

11) I am learning that I don’t like asking for help.  I don’t want to bother people.  I don’t want to put them in the position of feeling weird about saying “no”.  I don’t want to put people out.  I don’t want to be “too much”.

12) I have to ask for help because there is no way I could do this on my own.  I am doing the job of two people…at least.  

13) I miss exercise.  

14) I have no idea what the future will bring with Baby Incredible, but I know God has amazing plans and that He is in control.  (And by the future I mean like tomorrow and the next day and the next…and also further down the line.  Everything is such a mystery, a completely unpredictable mystery.) 

Don’t Lose Sight of the Blessings…Obey and Surrender

For nearly all of my life, I have wanted to be a wife and mom.  For at least ten years, I have waited sometimes with hope, sometimes completely without hope, and sometimes somewhere in between for these desires of my heart to be met.  I tried dating services, some free, some more expensive than I’d care to remember, friends set me up on blind dates, family members set me up on blind dates, I stopped going out on dates, I started going out on dates again.  I cried on friends shoulders, I lost all hope, I prayed, I kept myself so busy that I didn’t have to think about it.  

I watched friends and old roommates get married and have one baby, then two, some even three.  I watched my sister get married and have her first baby, my beautiful niece, whom I adore.  I buried myself in my work.  I devoted my life to God and fought for surrender to his plan for my life.   I got connected with families with babies so I could be an involved auntie.  I developed friendships with some amazing people, without whom I would not still be faithful.  A husband and children were still very much desires of my heart.  I waited. 

I have a good friend who always told me, when I was feeling hopeless, that God could change anything in a second.  In my melancholy, I always argued that He wouldn’t do that for me.  I believed that it could happen for other people, but not for myself.  Now I chuckle at the prophesy of her words.  God DID change everything in “a second”.  In May 2012 I decided I wanted to be a foster mom.  In July 2012 I was certified, and days later I had my first foster baby.  Three weeks later, I had an amazing boyfriend.  What a whirlwind of blessings!

I teach a personal development class at school, and one of the concepts we focus on is “change”.  One of the things that I’ve learned about change, through research and experience is that good or bad, planned or unplanned, self initiated or not, all change can be stressful, and usually is.  Being a new mom is stressful.  It’s beautiful and amazing and wonderful and such a gift, but it is stressful.  I don’t think I know a new mom who would disagree with that.  

Being a new single mom to an infant (who is not my own and comes with a “team” of adults we both have to connect with) while teaching full time and nurturing a new relationship is incredibly challenging.  I have another friend who describes the above circumstances, my circumstances, as “a pressure cooker”.  It really kind of is.  It’s the perfect storm.  So why do it?  Because babies have been my heart since I was a child.  There is something about their innocence and their complete vulnerability and newness that I am so attracted to and always have been.  I love babies.  I’ve often wished that there was a job where I could hold babies all day long.  Babies are important to me, especially these babies, the ones who are born into circumstances that they did not ask for, circumstances that range from less than ideal to horrific.  That’s why I started this journey back in June.  What a gift to be able to give as a single woman who is passionate about these precious little souls.  What I was not expecting God to do was to give me an incredible boyfriend right as this journey started.

When all of this began to unfold in August, I kept sharing with people that God’s plans are always so much better than our own and that I never would have written my story this way, but that I am so grateful the God is a better writer than me.  I am holding onto that now, because some of my desires and plans are being delayed due to God’s plans for my life and for His plans for this baby’s life.  It is easy to get discouraged about this because it feels like I’m so close to receiving the desires of my heart, yet I’m so far.  

When I get discouraged, I am remembering that I am commanded to obey God and surrender to His plans for my life.  Surrender doesn’t just mean that I give in to God’s will for my life; it means that I am TRUSTING Him.  That I am trusting that He is going to take care of me in a wonderful way.  (Jeremiah 29:11)  In that obedience and surrender, I am also hanging on to my gratitude, remembering that God has been answering my prayers and giving me the desires of my heart, to be a mom, and to be in a relationship.  I am called to be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer (Romans 12:12), and how interesting that even in the blessings that I feel pain as well.  But I know that this discipline from God is going to produce a harvest of righteousness and peace if I allow myself to be trained by it.  (Hebrews 12:11)

As I wait on God to reveal His plans for me, my boyfriend, and Baby Incredible, I hang on to this: “Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God’s will.  Then you will receive all that he has promised.” Hebrews 10:36 NLT

Joshua 1:9…A Story of Fear

For the past several years, I have been focusing on living by faith instead of by fear.  This is not an easy feat for someone who has spent most of her life living totally by fear.  I go back to Philippians 4:4-7 often.  It’s one of the first scriptures I memorized when I began my walk with God.  The promise of peace that transcends all understanding is incredible, and God does give me that when I follow the command to pray and humbly present my requests to Him.  Since becoming a foster mom, I have been tempted many times to live by fear instead of by faith.

As a foster parent, you are a part of a team.  This team is in place to make sure the child’s best interest is being served.  It is made up of many people including social workers, lawyers, judges, doctors, psychologists, birth parents, etc.  Often, the member of the team that knows the most about the child is the foster parent, especially if the child is a baby and has been picked up from the hospital by the foster parent.  The other members of the team know the baby mostly “on paper”.  They may meet with the child for as much as an hour per week, but the rest of what they know comes from information that the foster parent provides about schedule adjustment, likes, dislikes, progress, etc.

I am a new foster mom, new to fostering completely, new to the agency through which I was certified.  They are getting to know me, and I am getting to know them.  In this process, I have found that the agency is motivated largely by fear.  Pretty much everything they do, every decision they make, is in an effort to cover themselves legally.

At first, I was having a difficult time figuring out why I felt so crazy when I had conversations with people from the agency, why I was left feeling so anxious after each conversation.  Then I realized that their fear was trickling down to me.  More than trickling down, it was being poured from their cup into mine.  Since I am an important part of the team, I do have to learn how to work with my teammates, but that doesn’t mean that I have to accept their way of life.

My new challenge is to learn how to hear what my team members are communicating, respond to them in a godly and professional way, and most importantly remember that I do not need to fear like they do because God is always with me, always taking care of me.  He did not open all of the doors for me to foster so that I could return to my old fearful way of life.  Perfect love drives out fear, and God’s love for me is perfect.  (1 John 4:18)

Laughing at Myself…A Story of Sleep Deprivation

My friends have been telling me that how I’m feeling and acting is “normal” and consistent with any new mom they’ve ever talked to.  I appreciate the reassurance because sometimes I feel crazy.  I may not have all of the hormones of a mom who physically gave birth, but I still have everything else a new mom would have, sleep deprivation being one of those things.

Last night Little Dude slept a lot better than he did the two nights before that.  His startle reflex has made it nearly impossible for me to get him to go down in his crib.  This is not a problem during the day because I hold him all day long as he sleeps.  I was just given some great swaddle blankets, so last night was the first night of swaddling.  What a difference!  He doesn’t startle himself when he’s swaddled!  This meant that last night, he slept for almost four hours at a time!

The first time he woke me up to feed him, I was still very groggy from such a long period of glorious sleep.  When I got up to get him, somehow, I picked up a stuffed animal that was laying next to my bed, convinced that it was Little Dude.  I went about preparing for his feeding, and it took me about a full two minutes to realize that what I was holding was, indeed, a stuffed animal and not Little Dude, who was still safely in his crib.  I laughed so hard.  Typical new mom moment.