Being a foster parent is broken up into 2 parts:
1)The Easy part
2)The Hard part
The Easy Part – Callie and I have worked in childcare for a ridiculously lengthy amount of time. She’s been the Director for a childcare center for about 13 years, and I have worked as a preschool teacher on and off for over 10 years. Loving the kids, caring for them, teaching them right from wrong, nurturing them, helping build a positive self image and self worth, those things come effortlessly. We figured fostering would be similar. We were made to have children, to care for these tiny humans. Choosing to foster (foster to adopt actually) was something we both knew was in the cards for our family and something we both felt strongly about. In the past 6 months we have had 2 placements. Our first was a set of 3.6 year old twin girls. We loved them. From day one, we loved them. Our hearts took them in so quickly. We held them at night when they cried for us. We potty trained them and made them feel secure enough to get rid of their pacifiers. We sang songs in the car on the way to daycare. They called us mom. They loved us too. Now we have Mary. She’s our spunky, rambunctious, sassy, quick learning, very expressive 6 and a half year old. She came to us and didn’t know how to read, had horrible manners, and lots of trust and control issues. And again, We loved her, From day one. 4 months later, she’s reading everything her eyes come in contact with (even the super long hard words on the ingredients on the cereal box), she’s drawing pictures of rainbows and butterflies instead of dying flowers and crying and rainy clouds. We rub her back when she’s tired, we put band-aids on boo-boo’s and kiss them better, we give her foot massages while she eats ice cream and the 3 of us cuddle on the couch for Friday Movie Nights. We read bedtime stories with different voices for every character. We teach her to fish and to say please and thank you. To wash her hands after potty and to say her prayers for all things good. Hugs and kisses, hand holding, Loving them, that’s always the easy part.
The Hard Part – When we decided to become foster parents we had to take a 10 week course that trains you for the challenging but rewarding experience that is fostering. You go to a 3 hour class once a week and you touch upon topics like child abuse, gains and loses, managing behaviors, teamwork and partnership with the birth family, and a whole slew of other things. Being well aware of how to handle many of these situations (through many years of mandated training with our childcare jobs), we felt like this class would be sort of boring and redundant. We were pleasantly surprised when we left there with a better understanding of how it all worked, and how many different circumstances lead up to children being removed from their homes and entering the “system”. You never really stop to think that maybe a dad lost his job and became very depressed. That he could have gone out with some friends for a few drinks and ended up with a DUI and mom had to post bail but spent all their bill money. That their 9 year old was hounding them because they promised to take her and 2 friends to the amusement park and now cant afford it. That they went to the ER for 2 separate incidents in a 3 week period because first mom lost it and ran out of the house as their 2 year daughter chases her, tumbling down the stairs and breaking her collar bone and a week and a half later dad pops the 9 year old in her mouth for being fresh about that damn birthday party and she pulls back and splits her head open on a wall corner (true story). Sometimes, they aren’t horrible parents, just a product of circumstance. Taking all of this into consideration, you remember that fostering is only temporary, and our main goal is to support the families and the children and do our best to reunify them. We were ok with that. We were prepared for that. But after you’ve nursed all those boo-boo’s, dried hundreds of tears, cuddled and loved them when they lost everything they had and you became their new everything, you look at it differently. You know that they aren’t yours and that usually (sadly more often then not) they go back to the places that they came from, whether they are half way decent of hardly livable. They go back. They leave you and take a piece of your heart with them. You find a left over sock under the bed, or it falls out of your shirt sleeve where it’s been living since your last load of laundry. You have to let go, and letting go is the hard part.
Mary has been with us since March 28th, 2014. In the short time that she has been with us she has learned so much from us, but we have learned so much more from her. We have learned to communicate effectively not only with Mary but with each other. We try to model appropriate behavior and try our hardest to show her the proper and effective way to communicate your emotions. We use “feeling” words, like “I’m feeling very sad today” and provide explanations for those emotions, “because someone at work hurt my feelings”. We try not to raise our voices. We have sit down dinners every night AT THE TABLE and not in front of the TV. We try and limit the use of electronics when we are doing family things. She’s taught us to see the extraordinary in the every day. Catching fire flies and looking for starfish has never been so fun. We have more open and honest conversations, and we ask more intimate questions. We used to ask, “How was your day?” but now the questions are more along the lines of, “So did you laugh till your belly hurt today?” or “Did someone say something that made you sad today?” or “Did you do something today that made you feel good about yourself?” These are the real questions worth asking.
Mary and her mom have a great relationship. We know most of the details of the placement, but aren’t really sure what mom’s consequences are for her behavior. They don’t really give us much info on moms progress. They did let us know though, that mom put in for an interstate transfer to have Mary moved to an aunt’s house (who she has only seen a handful of times in her life) in CT. When we spoke to Mary about it and asked her how she felt, she said, “My heart is confused. I love you guys and I love the babies, but I love my mom and my family too”. My heart is confused…that’s the kind of stuff we like to hear. We know that so far, in the short amount of time that she has been with us, we have instilled enough confidence, courage, and self worth that she will always do her best to voice what she is feeling and how she is doing. They say it can take anywhere from 2-6 months for the transfer to go through, and it usually does. We asked the case-worker if there is anything we can do to advocate for her. We believe that Mary going back with her mom is the best option for her. Her mother isn’t a horrible person. She isn’t even a bad mother! She’s just someone who made some mistakes and deserves a second chance, provided she comply with everything she was told to do. We aren’t those people that believe sabotaging a reunion could mean an adoption for us. It’s never been about us. It’s always been about the child, but transitioning her to another home is crazy! She’s adjusted so well and made so much progress socially, academically, and emotionally that taking her away would just create more attachment and abandonment issues and probably send her into a place similar to the one she was in when she came home to us. Mom really likes us, a lot actually, but we aren’t family and that’s where her child belongs (even if it will tear her apart). Callie and I have been having dreams that they are gonna remove her from our home, and it’s terrifying. We’re feeling like this day is coming soon, and we’ll have to say our “See you later Coo-Coo”‘s and our “Remember to wash your hands cuz you have all those yucky germs”. For now, we’ll just keep loving her and teaching her and helping her create some of the best memories she’ll ever have. The easy part is over, but the inevitable hard part still awaits.