what i want you to know: foster parenting is hard

What I Want You to Know is a series of reader submissions. It is an attempt to allow people to tell their personal stories, in the hopes of bringing greater compassion to the unique issues each of us face. If you would like to submit a story to this series, click here. Today’s guest posts is by anonymous reader.

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Wait, you already knew that. You are probably one of the people who has said to me, "I've always wanted to be a foster parent, but it would be so hard to get attached and then have to give them back." I'm not saying you're predictable, just that almost everyone responds that way when they find out I'm a foster parent. Really. Almost every single one. The thing is, for me that isn't why it's hard. Now, I'm not trying to speak for the foster parent masses. You should meet them - what a quirky, crazy bunch! (You should go to a foster parent training just for kicks sometime). Just speaking for my own quirky, crazy self.

It is so hard to get a phone call at 2 am in the morning. Get myself unbleary and unrattled (there's always that 2 am worry that it's bad news about my momma or my husband's parents). Listen to a short yet horrific story about why the sheriff needs to drop off the baby and her big sister at this insane hour. Rushing to get formula or diapers, set up a crib, get a bed together and put on something that won't embarrass me, the sheriff and the children before they get there isn't the hard part. That's sheer adrenaline. The hard part is finding a place to tuck the story in my brain so that when the children walk in I don't smother them with unwanted affection and pity. That I don't scoop them up and try to save them from this world that is treating them so unfairly. That when they get out of the sheriff's squad car I can just say hi and take them to meet the hamster. Friendly and open but also acting like this is a regular gig at our place at this hour. "Hey, we were just hanging out. Glad you could show up to keep us company."

The hard part is getting the sheriff to stop giving me so much information. Social services has told me all me need to know. This part is hard because I like reality shows. I like People Magazine. I WANT to know the dirt. The details. Not my place. Not my place.

The hard part is going from a flowing, calm and efficient schedule the likes of those only read about on mommy blogs, to chaos. I could add flowery and powerful adjectives, but chaos is chaos. Throw a child or baby or some combo of both unexpectedly into my regular mix, and flowing, calm and efficient jump ship. It becomes survivor mode for everyone.

The hard part is when the biological mom calls. She is mad at the world, mad at social services, mad at herself (probably - either for messing up or getting caught), and mad at me. I know enough of the story that all of my righteous anger is directled  solely towards her, but that is not my place. That's the second time "my place" has come up. There is a place. The place is one of safety and love for the child(ren). No righteous anger allowed. No judgement. No writing the future of "a better life for the children" in my mind. Safety and love. Safety and love. So I try to find the honest words and honest ways to build a bridge. That probably means few words, but kind words. It is one mom talking to another mom. I tell her that her children are beautiful, because they so are. I tell her I don't know much about her story (I don't) and I don't need to (I don't) but I will keep her babies safe and well taken care of. I tell her those babies, no matter how small, need to hear their mama's voice and can she call once a day? I set the boundaries and get on the same team with her as far as the children. The team that is going to do whatever is best (not easiest) to make this time for her children as smooth and safe and filled with love as possible.

The hard part is waking up for the millionth time in the night with the baby. No matter how adorable that baby is in the light of day, in the middle of the long long night, that baby is someone else's baby, and I daydream of the time that I will once again sleep solidly.

It's not hard to fall in love. Every time I fall in love. I don't hold back because they'll leave. If it's obvious everyone in the family is falling in love (hurray!), I remind them, "Don't forget we'll be saying goodbye." It's a fact of our family. Our three children (one biological, two adopted from foster care) know that they are sticking around forever. They know that the other children coming into our home are not. That we are providing a family for them until their family can take care of them again.

It's not hard to say goodbye. Not always anyway. If the parent has advocated for her children and done what she needs to do to prove they are coming home to a safe place, then I want them to go to that home. I want them to be with their mom. The attachment and love that the foster children feel from us isn't a hard thing that needs to be avoided, it's a beautiful thing that they'll take with them in some small measure for their whole lives. They are loveable. They were loved. That love will exist forever.

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