People ask a lot of questions about foster care, but the question we’re asked most often is, “What is it like?” Our answer? Foster care is a lot of things.
Foster care is assembling a crib at 10 pm and realizing that you’re missing parts to the crib because of all the times that it’s been taken apart and put back together. Assembled for a placement that didn’t end up in our home. Taken apart to make room for a kiddo who sleeps in a big kid bed. Assembled for a respite. Taken apart to make room for a second bed for a child who couldn’t bear to sleep in a room without his sibling for fear that he’d wake up and his brother would be gone.
It’s knowing the walk-through checklist by heart after multiple DCF/caseworker inspections - the usual things like outlet plugs and baby locks, but also locks on the basement door, and storing medicines, knives, candles, lighters, and laundry supplies six feet off the ground (not an ideal height for a couple who stand 5’3” and 5’8” respectively).
Foster care is reading a child’s “red book” (the binders that follow a foster child from home to home holding court orders, medication logs, and legal documents), finding the page that details why they were placed in care, and reading stories of brokenness - broken families, broken parents, broken hearts. It’s reading the stories of the parents and wondering simultaneously how this could ever have happened to them while also realizing we’re one completely failed support system away from being those parents ourselves.
Foster care is checking our kiddos into church kid-care and stumbling over easy questions like: “How do you spell their last name?” (Oh shoot. Just put them under our last name.) And, “When is their birthday?” (I read it in their red book last night but I can’t remember the month. Or the day. Or the year. What’s 2018-5?)
Foster care is having your parenting judged at all times and having to be 100% ok with it. It’s rules and suggestions and LOTS of Googling and treading very, very carefully because it’s not just parenting - it’s parenting traumatized children. Every single child in foster care is traumatized - not always from abuse, but certainly from loss and grief and things their little minds don’t even know they’re feeling. It’s realizing that sometimes those feelings come out in anger bigger than their little bodies can hold. It's hating when people say, "You guys are good people!" because we know that we aren't and we've struggled a LOT behind closed doors.
It’s hearing that a child who struggled massively with tantrums in our home had no problems at another home, and feeling like absolute failures as parents and human beings. Did it help that there were other children there? That the other foster mom had almost more years of experience than I’ve been living? Or was it our problem - a failure of us to give grace, love, peace, and protection to the children who need it the most?
Foster care is having your people-pleasing self broken over and over by trying to be perfect in a very imperfect system. It’s wondering if our caseworker secretly thinks we’re the worst foster parents who have ever been in her files, because we make mistakes (like every other parent) but many of our mistakes come with a paper trail. Foster care is being a “mom”, but not REALLY being a mother. It’s slowly learning to throw all of the expectations we have for our future children out the window because these are our now children, and their needs are vastly different.
Foster care is refusing to open the door to the kid’s room after the abrupt departure of the kiddo we bonded most closely to - our “success” in a sea of failures. It’s knowing that his bed was still unmade and the Harry Potter book he’d been reading on his own (in addition to the one we’d been reading to him) still lay on the floor beside it. It’s realizing his bookmark (a carefully folded tissue) was still in the pages, and crying when Ethan pulled it out as we prepped the room for another kiddo. They come. They go.
We’re not experienced foster parents. We’re still so new to this - all combined we’ve only had about two and a half months with placements in our home. We’re taking this slowly (partially because our respective work/school schedules aren’t exactly kid friendly right now), but mostly because when we do this, we want to do it right. Which is hard to say, because there’s nothing right about foster care.
Foster care is (also) rocking a fussy baby to sleep while whispering worship music over him. It’s playing with a giggling toddler as she asks you over and over and over to pick her up and throw her. It’s reading Harry Potter out loud and realizing we’ve read 30 minutes past bedtime, but nobody wants to move. It’s celebrating when a kiddo who has struggled with tantrums has a really good day. It’s seeing the wall of anger and loss crumple when you ask him, “Do you need a hug?”
Foster care is (also) seeing our littles welcomed without hesitation by friends and family. It’s seeing our church family accept them without a blink. It’s texting parent friends in desperation and getting not only encouragement and advice, but offers of toys, materials, and meals. It’s knowing that our support system is the only reason we could do this, and feeling grateful for our people every dang day.
Foster care is (also) when a little one says, “My Mom says that hiccups makes you grow taller!” with such a happy smile on his face at the thought of her that you know he is so, so, so loved by a Momma who just needed some help to get back on her feet. It’s knowing that contrary to popular belief, not all parents whose children are in foster care are bad parents - they’re just regular parents caught in bad decisions, bad situations, and sometimes just bad luck. It’s knowing that we’ll never know where any of them end up, but that they’re all so bright, so beautiful, and so full of worth that wherever they go, they’ll change the world.
Foster care is (also) realizing that being a part of any of this process is a humbling and precious gift. We’re wholly unqualified, but so were the shepherd boy, the ark builder, the prostitute, the girl turned queen who saved her people. We’re unqualified, but we’re still here. We’re here for the “foster care is” and the “foster care is also”. We’re here for it whether we have one placement a year or ten. We’re here as the parents and the “not parents”, when we know exactly what we're doing (never) and when we think we have it figured out (also never). We’re here (and we’re grateful you are, too).