Today I’m posting a guest writer on my blog, a seasoned foster mom! I sent some questions to my friend Mary and she so graciously shared her story and what she has learned. Her story inspires me. They worked with a private agency and told the agency upfront they wanted to adopt. Mary and her husband knew that foster care adoption is not a certainty and the main goal for any foster child is always to be reunited with the biological family. The agency said they’d do their best to place children in their care who were most likely to be adopted. Read on to see how many years and how many children ended up going through their home before their dreams of becoming a dad and mom became a reality. The lessons they learned and the love they continued to give, it encourages me!
1. How many years where you foster parents?
We fostered for 6 yrs before we were finally able to adopt, and finished year 7 with our last adoption. So 7 yrs total.
2. How many children came through your home during those years?
We have had 33 kiddos pass through our home. That includes everything from respite to long term and everything in between.
3. How did you manage the emotions of saying hello and goodbye to the kids?
Emotions- I’m not a super emotional person to begin with, not outwardly anyway. My husband, however, is a giant ball of empathy, so saying goodbye was hard for both of us, but demonstrated in very different ways.
I think the only emotional part of saying hello is just knowing (usually just the basics) of why the kids are in care in the first place. After they get here we kicked into survival mode until we establish a routine (usually 3 wks to 3 months depending…) and then we were good.
4. Any tips for foster parents on how to handle the goodbyes?
The going home was very different. The fear of what awaits them with their biological family, was a HUGE emotion to deal with. And then sending kids home who came into your home with the potential of staying and being adopted. We went the route of fostering with the intention of growing our family with kiddos who were already here and needed a home. When they went home it was always a HUGE sense of loss and disappointment that they weren’t the ones who would make up our forever family. Also knowing that you may never see these kids again and from here on out your only recourse of caring for them was to pray…daunting, to say the least.More practically, my husband and I would take turns caring for the rest of the family and grieving. We would set time limits, as we usually still had other little ones to care for. IE: husband gets home from work and I ask if i can go to my room for an hour, or go on a walk to cry/pray/process/grieve. I go, set the alarm, do what grieving I can, when alarm goes off we trade out and its his turn to go to a private room, take a walk, run to the store alone, whatever helps in that moment. Also Cheesecake eaten in secret late at night helped too.
5. What God has taught you thru your years of foster parenting?
I think the biggest lessons I learned through fostering were these…
a) God is sovereign. He knows the future of these little ones. He LOVES them so completely, and so much more that I, in my humanness ever could. He ALWAYS has their best interest at heart, and I can (must) trust him to care for those that come and go. Thinking I can do better for them than the infinite God that created them and adores them beyond measure, is my human foolishness.
b) Grace is a definite MUST HAVE for a foster parent. Grace for biological families (who REALLY knows where they have come from, what they are dealing with, why they have made the choices they have?), grace for caseworkers (these folks almost always get into this career to help kids, to find out after they have been working a bit that their power to do anything concrete is so limited. They work all hours and are on the front lines for the frustration felt by all parties in the foster care process, they burn out quickly…they NEED lots of grace, and coffee), The officials making decisions: ie, Judges, CASA’s, GAL’s, etc, who knows what they have seen in their career’s, what motivated them to get involved with the foster care system, what the case before yours looked like, these are HARD jobs! And finally grace for these little people, they are being pushed and pulled in all directions with absolutely no say in what is happening to them. I think in their same circumstances I might have a meltdown or two as well. I’d need someone to BE the calm and stability FOR me when my world is careening out if control.
c.) God’s plan is always best and always perfect. When we started this journey we had no idea how long we would have to wait for our forever family. Had we known in advance I’m quite certain we would have opted for a puppy instead. We had no idea how many kids would come and go and challenge our perspectives. We had so many kids and personalities that we we got tons of practice at parenting all ages and personalities (that I consider invaluable experience! Does it make us perfect parents who never make mistakes?..almost…haha…no, not really, not at all. But it really did give us a leg up and for that I’m soooo grateful!)We were able to love on and pray for and be a part of families being reunified and made whole. What a tremendous thing to be a part of. Such a blessing.
We will start to wrap up this post with some stories Mary has of her foster children…
Our first placement was an 8 yr old girl and her 22 month old brother.
The little guy we were sure had to be on the autism spectrum when he came. He never made eye contact and just busied himself lining things up. He never spoke except variations of the word “Da”. A happy pleasant “dadadadada” when he was happy and a loud angry “”DADADADAD!!!!” When he was upset or frustrated. We soon came to figure out that he had just not been engaged at all.
Around us we saw him blossom and bloom into a little boy who LOVED Thomas and to “run real fast”.
When he first arrived he would bring us a can from the pantry when he was hungry, eventually he learned the word “apple”. It was his first and only word for a while and it was a long time before WE figured out that “apple” meant “food, not just apples” That kid ate so many apples the first 6 months with us. Haha. He eventually grew into an independent, loving, sweet, nixie 3 yr old and went home about 6 months before he turned 4. By time he went home he had quite a routine. He would wake up in the middle of the night (we tried to catch him and never did), turn on a Thomas video, go down stairs, get himself a yogurt and a spoon or some goldfish and have a movie and a snack. We would find him sound asleep with Thomas still playing in the VCR, goldfish scattered in his bed or an empty yogurt cup with a spoon in it toppled over.
I miss him. He was such a sweet boy, and he made so much progress with us.
He had a super close relationship with my husband, and to this day, my husband still gets choked up and tears well up in his eyes when he talks about the last time he saw our little guy. He would have turned 9 last March. He is out there somewhere, we still pray for him, love him and wish him the absolute best life has to offer him.
How about some words of advice..
What NOT to say to people who are foster parents…
“Oh, you are sad they went home? Well it’s not like you didn’t know that could happen, it IS foster care…”
This is by far the most hurtful thing I’ve heard as I grieve the loss of the little people who lived in my home, who I considered my children as long as they lived here, (Yes, I am fully aware that the main goal if for them TO return home)the little people whose tears I dried, who’s behaviors I dealt with and eventually got somewhat regulated, who’s joys I was privileged to witness, whose questions I tried so hard to answer, whose fears I shared….sounds like real life parenting, huh? It was. And having kids go home to a less than ideal situation, knowing I would probably never see them again was a loss unique to any other. I liken this phrase to a parent who has lost a child (in any capacity, through loss of custody, miscarriage, even death). You wouldn’t tell someone you care about “Oh man, your kid died, well that happens sometimes, huh?”
Those who foster and are willing to put their heart on the line, over and over, they are sad and grieve the loss of these little ones and are the very people who SHOULD be fostering. We need some “all in” folks, for sure.
And when you have a friend who is fostering and their kids go home, have some empathy, understand that those people were the ones who DIDN’T say “I can’t foster, I’d get too attached” They are the ones that DID foster even though they knew it would utterly break their heart.
And lastly, lets end on a laugh…
When I think of funny kids, my first thought goes to our boy twin. He had some what of a speech issue as a result he sounded a bit like Mushmouth from Fat Albert. When he started telling someone something they inevitably looked at me to translate. The first thing he ever said to me is “look at me do the stanky leg!” And he began to dance…
He was ornery, never intentionally unkind, but he got in a fair amount of trouble on occasion. He always knew when he was in trouble and before I could give him a “stern talking to” he would say “WAIT!! I have something to say!” He would smile big and say “I like ya hair! You look pretty today…” I’d say ” Thank you, but you are still in trouble…” That kid never ceased to brighten my day! He was always good for a laugh and a big hug!
Another funny moment is we were all sitting around the kitchen table (8 of us) in our tiny kitchen and we were getting ready to eat dinner and one of the children began to spontaneously cry when I placed her plate in front of her. She had had a good day so I looked at her, puzzled and asked “What’s wrong?” To which she replied ” Do we have to have vegetables for EVERY meal? My Mom and Dad NEVER made me eat this many vegetables!”
There are always random things that make me think of all if the precious kiddos who have come through our house. The make me smile and bring tears to my eyes.
Interested in reading more about foster care and adoption? Click here to read some tips for new foster parents.
Thank you SO much Mary for sharing parts of your story with us!