“I am just not sure my heart can handle the journey of foster care.”
This is the comment I hear often, regarding foster care. That is the dilemma, does the good that comes from that role, can it possibly outweigh the ache of that same role? For some, the answer is “yes,” others are brokenhearted leading them to respond with a heavy “no.”
Each experience is different, sometimes it is just the fact that a child is not a good match for your family or you lack the skills the child needs. Other times, it’s the reality that this system is broken and often the rulings and decisions are confusing. Each foster family can tell you a story or two that will cause your heart to question the worth of it all.
Here is the one constant truth I know and have seen, the system is broken. That is no one person’s fault, it is the reality, children are not created to be foster children, but to be raised in homes with their parents. When brokenness creeps in, the child is removed for a long road of reunification efforts. Often those efforts are confusing and unfortunately seem to go against what we have deemed in our hearts and minds as “best.’’
I want to share from my experience with foster parenting, to tell you about the moments I would have answered that questions with a bold yes, and the other times I am left heartbroken and don’t think I can keep going.
The moments when you see the child before you blossoming, the small daily victories. The wins and those sweet moments that bring happy tears to your eyes. Those seconds that all of the hurt and ache melt away, left is the joy of being their parent. Those moments show up in the quietest ways, the day to day moments.
The moments spent fighting for 9 months of therapy to get your girl to give you eye contact, resulting in the fact she finally “knows” you as her mama, not by name alone but in her heart. Realizing her three years of life have been confusing and over that time she has had 12 parental figures, who all at some point leave her.
The moment you are able to walk down to the car and get groceries without the screams of a melting down child, afraid you are not coming back. Which has now grown into the fact that I can leave on a trip and she knows I am coming back, no question.
The sweet moment when your son sleeps without his shirt on and covers crammed up to his neck, knowing he finally feels safe.
The nights gone by without nightmares, the days gone by without trauma triggers, the behaviors changed and coping skills used. The moments you see that your child’s brain is literally rewiring and new pathways are being created. You celebrate it all, those seemingly small victories and insignificant moments, that is what keeps you going. Parenting trauma kids is not harder that raising birth children, it is however, different. We not only wear the hat of mom/dad but also, detective, constantly looking past the behavior to the hurt behind it all.
Then are the moments that are much harder, they make you question everything.
The moments that leave you drained and crying outside the door of a child having another nuclear meltdown. Those moments that you question, what you are doing and wonder if it even matters or if the change will ever happen?
The moments you take one step forward towards healing, then for some unknown reason, three steps back. Where you are trying to figure what triggered the response and what is the best path towards healing.
The moments you are dealing with the unrealistic expectations, accusations and parenting advice by birth parents, state workers and strangers.
Years of court hearings with a verdict resulting in giving birth parents more time to try. When enough is enough, and the kids are the ones being affected. Watching your kids be put in situations, so everyone can see “how birth parents handle it.” Then watching the emotional toll that has on them.
The moments spent buckling your baby in her car seat while you say goodbye to her for second time and arms extended crying for you.
The system is broken and will forever be, don’t get me wrong improvements will happen over time. So, I have found my peace and joy in foster care from within my passion. I make a huge effort to notice the small things and wins in the day to day, they help me navigate the difficult days and moments and help me keep grounded in my purpose.
I have discovered when I am grounded in my purpose and passion, it helps me stay the course through the very real and very big ups and downs. Early on, in my journey, I remember the feeling of everyday riding the emotional roller coaster of the ups and downs. A worker’s phone call, something the birth parents promised they would do, the court hearings, would send me to cloud 9 or to the depths, it was exhausting.
Going back and forth between the crashing waves of information, I had to stay anchored, in order to stay the course. I had to focus literally on the fact that we had “today” one day, that is all we are ever given. Our life is lived one day at a time, knowing that tomorrow’s phone call could change it all.
When people share the phrase with me, “I am just not sure my heart can handle the journey of foster care.” I totally get that and over the years my response was “yes, that is the hard part.” More recently my answer has changed, it comes from a place of experience and perspective. A place that makes me realize, that is exactly the reason why we should do foster care. You see these kids need someone who cares enough to get their hearts involved. Many of these children are treated as disposable and insignificant, their thoughts and opinions are rarely considered. Choices constantly made for them, my oldest constantly cries to the fact that she never gets a choice in it all.
Stepping into this world is not an easy one, it is often cruel, beyond broken, lonely and heavy. Moments that you never thought could happen, do. You see and hear things that change you. I can’t look into the face of these babies and choose to not get involved. I can’t say that it may hurt me too much or that it will be too costly. These kids don’t get a say, they are thrown into the war, wounded and without the proper tools. Survival at all costs becomes their mantra, it’s messy and at times ugly.
Even on the battlefield the flowers bloom and grasses grow. The sun does rise after the long nights of battle and we are standing there given another day, one day. No one person or perspective can answer the question if it is worth it, that is putting a price-tag on their stories. The good will always outweigh the bad, it is just sometimes a lot harder to see. It is there, in the moments that give you hope, found in their smiles and peaceful sleeping faces.
Our hearts are far more capable than we give them credit for. These kiddos hearts heal and change in staggering ways. Our hearts can handle the ups and downs and aches of this journey, if no other reason than for the sake of them.