Foster care. For some, the term elicits a desire to buy a bus and fill it with as many children as possible. For others, a desire to board a bus a drive far far away.
For most, we find ourselves caught up somewhere in the middle. We want to help see the most vulnerable members of our society in a safe and loving space, but we also wonder if we have what it takes to be the person who becomes home.
So what is foster care like, really?
There is so much speculation surrounding what is foster care like that it can be hard to wade through the many different narratives. After years of having children in and out of our home as placements and adopting two children who have been ours for almost four years I can say that foster care is just like any other thing in life that is worth doing.
Foster care is beautiful, messy, exhausting, exhilarating, and every other emotion in between. It teaches you to live in the moment, to love hard, to invest in today knowing that tomorrow is not guaranteed, and to celebrate every victory because no win is too small.
The Power of Love and Stability
When we first got licensed I wanted so badly to take in every child who needed a home and be the family that they needed. I remember wondering how I could cope with having to say goodbye to someone I loved knowing I may never see them again.
Through our training we learned about the power of love and stability. We were asked to look at things differently, viewing our time as foster parents as a time to make investments that may outlast the time we spend with a child.
We were told that allowing a child to feel love, safety and stability changes who they are. That even when a child is reunified, they go home as a different person than they were before because of what they experience in our home.
Learning What Foster Care is Like
We learned to shift our focus from elements that are out of our control (i.e. placement, adoption, family contact, etc) and instead, committed to providing the home they needed, trusting that to transform the situation from the inside out.
As foster parents we have decided to offer our family to a child. I read once that foster care and adoption are not so much about bringing a child into your family as it is about offering your family to a child.
We learned quickly about the hard love that foster care requires. There are so many elements that are out of our control, but the way in which we walk our broken roads is always a choice we get to make.
I learned quickly that I can’t fix everything but I can make an effort everyday to embody love. If love is patient and kind, not self seeking, proud, or rude then I could choose to be those things for our foster kids and their biological families.
As I moved my focus from the “fixing” to the “loving” I found that the details and worries that I felt I might drown in would fade to the background. Our kids come to us with big emotions to sort through and we come to them hoping, that by offering our calm to their chaos, they can thrive and grow through their trauma.
Foster Care Changes You
Because of foster care we have become connected with families in our city that we never would have met otherwise. I have had the privilege of taking family photos for a sibling set and was able to share them with their mother when she got out of jail. It was a small way to help her keep some of the time she missed while she was away from her children.
I have watched as parents worked so incredibly hard to become healthy and stable for their children. I have stayed up late talking on the phone with bio parents about parenting; celebrating the highs of parenting strategies that were working and understanding the struggles that come along with raising a child.
I have met biological family members who have become like family to us after adopting our youngest two. People who come to birthday parties and share stories and pictures of times with my babies before they made it to my arms.
I have had children come into my home scared of every little noise and leery of anyone new who turned into different people as they gained confidence in their stability. I have heard doctors say that they never thought a child could recover from all that they have been through and seeing their progress over the years is nothing short of miraculous.
I have packed bags and shed tears over goodbyes I wasn’t ready for. I have laid in hospital beds, snuggled sick babies, and cried myself to sleep wondering how different things would be if only the biological parents had some love and stability for themselves as a child.
And, I don’t mean to brag but, I bought a minivan.
We Set Out To Change The World
When I reflect on the question of “What is foster care like?” I think back on all that we have experienced as foster parents.
The biggest thing I see is that we began this lifestyle setting out to change our little section of the world, when in reality, the biggest change we have seen is within ourselves.
We have learned hard love; love that sets aside feelings, pride and judgement and says I am going to stand here with you because you matter.
This is a love that says I won’t give up on you even when you have given up on yourself. Love that sees a person as more than just a collection of choices we may not understand but a tapestry woven together of the good, the bad, and and ugly that life has to offer. There is beauty in those spaces, even though we may not see it at first glance.
So What is Foster Care like?
Foster care is changing the world one hug, phone call, visitation, med-log, runny nose, storybook, and warm bath at a time. It breaks you because sometimes the only way to feel true love, humility, and grace is to feel the hurt that lies on the other side of freedom.
It’s like running a race only to discover that some of it is flat, other areas muddy, and some a steep incline. But when you catch some stunning views, you know that you can keep going just a little farther because it is true what they say…some of the toughest roads lead to the most beautiful destinations.
It’s knowing that circumstances don’t have to change to make a change. Sometimes the person we become through it all is the whole point anyway.
I wish I could tell you it won’t hurt, because it will. But it would hurt more to never know the beauty that lives right around the corner from you.
In a family, waiting for someone just like you to come alongside of them and say, “You can do this. And for all the moments you can’t, I will do my best to love you in between.” Then one day you may say yes to a call and realize that a caseworker just placed a piece of your heart into your hands that you never even knew was missing.
And as time takes its course and destiny plays itself out you may be sitting in a courtroom saying “I love you” in the best way you know how, by giving a child your last name – a name they desperately needed in a time when they were the most vulnerable.
And everyone will say how lucky they are to have you but you will know the truth – that you are, in fact, the lucky one.
Foster care is the great adventure. A beautiful disaster. And even on the hardest days, it’s absolutely worth it.