In case you have ever wondered what foster parenting might be like, or if you're considering becoming a foster parent (right on!), here is the best explanation I can give of what it means to be a foster parent.
1. Foster Parenting is, well, parenting.
Obvious, I know. But in case you were wondering, this is no day care. I worry myself silly when they're sick. I'm up all night with ear infections, tummy bugs, bad dreams, 2 am feedings and wet beds. I rock them to sleep when they're scared, or mad, or just getting a new tooth. I get peed on, puked on, and slobbered on. I love them with a mother's love and just because I know they may not be with me in a week, or a month, or a year, they're here now and there's just no way to love them just a little. In fact, I think I hold them a little tighter knowing full well that each day I have with them could be the last. The truth is, we're never promised tomorrow with the people we love, so we have to make today count.
2. Foster kids are, well, kids.
My case worker told me the other day that people watch too many lifetime movies, and I think she's right. People have crazy ideas about foster children coming in my house and lighting fires and exposing my children to devil worship and rock music. My experience has been that foster kids are just like my kids. Sometimes naughty, sometimes helpful, sometimes loud, sometimes sad, sometimes grumpy, sometimes giggly. You get the idea. They're just trying to grow up and be big and strong and smart and make their way in this wide world, just like every other kid I know.
3. Foster parenting means being the loudest, and sometimes the only cheerleader for a child.
When I had my first child, everyone I knew was over the moon excited for us. They showered us with gifts and visits and well wishes. They celebrated our son's arrival and every milestone in his life. When our second child arrived, there was no less joy or enthusiasm. Even when our third child came along, our church insisted on throwing us a baby shower. I told them that we didn't need a thing, but they would not be dissuaded. They insisted that every baby should be celebrated. It was a blessing and a beautiful way of welcoming our new family member.
Foster children don't come after 9 months of hopeful anticipation. They arrive in the middle of the night. Maybe dirty, hurting, scared, hungry. They don't have beautiful blankets and handmade baby clothes. Everything they have comes in a trash bag.
People don't know what to say. There's a certain sadness that follows foster children. Sadness about what they've been through, what they're going through. Its hard to know how to celebrate them and their arrival. But, I tell you what, they are beautiful, amazing children who deserve to be celebrated. So I will celebrate them every way and for every reason I can think of. I will take their picture 20 times a day and tell everyone how they learned to crawl, walk, eat from a spoon... whatever. Because they deserve it. They deserve to know that they are fearfully and wonderfully made and worth more than they could ever imagine. They deserve birthday parties and monogrammed beach towels and a special spot at the dinner table that no one else is allowed to sit in.
4. This life is hard, and some people just can't handle it.
Or maybe they don't want to, I don't know. I know this, I will be 40 sooner than I'd like to admit. Most of my long time friends are busy with their 2 school age children or their career, or both. They have gotten through the diapers and sleepless nights, the endless ear infections and temper tantrums. They want to go out to dinner and have a peaceful, quiet meal, and who can blame them? I'm not sure I'd invite us either. Our life is messy; our kids are messy; our house is messy. I wouldn't change a thing, but I do have moments when I'm lonely. When I miss those friendships that have had to take a backseat to children who sometimes need every ounce of energy I have.
5. A foster parent's days are never wasted.
What if they have to go back? What if their future holds 10 different foster homes or a biological family that never meets their needs? I hear these questions every day. As if somehow, this will all be for nothing if every day from here on out isn't ideal. I don't know what the future holds, but I know this. Today matters. The time at the park feeding the seagulls, the time reading books and eating around the dinner table, the time laughing at the older children making silly faces and playing chase. It all matters. We are pouring love into children. How could that ever be time wasted? Even if our babies don't remember us when they are grown, they will have been formed by our love and I know it will make a difference in the people they will become.
6. We can't do this alone
My family is wonderful. My husband is amazing and my kids are often selfless and full of love for all of God's children. But we can't do this alone. Luckily, the world is full of kind people who are just waiting for the chance to do God's work. I'm so grateful for all the support we have received, sometimes from the most surprising places. I'm still learning to ask for and accept that help, but when I do, I realize that we as God's people can do so much more together than on our own.
7. My heart will be broken no matter how this ends.
I think this comes as a huge surprise to people. Obviously, my heart will be broken if I have to say goodbye. But my heart will also be broken if these children can never go home to their biological parents, too. For the parents who will have to live their lives without the joy of their children growing up in their home and for the children who will have to grow up knowing that although they are loved, their is something missing in their life. Everyone of us desires that right and healthy relationship with the family we are born into.
8. This is a thankless job
I know it doesn't matter. I know that's not why we do it, but good grief, sometimes when one or two, or five of the children I'm shlepping to the grocery store are being loud, or obnoxious and I'm getting the stink eye from some lady who probably never had the joy of shopping with 5 little helpers, I wish I could shout out, "I'm doing this out of the goodness of my heart! Cut me a break!" Or maybe foster parents could have uniforms like soldiers do, so that when I pull out my WIC card to pay for the 8 cans of formula on the counter, I wouldn't get the look from the cashier that says, "stop having babies if you can't pay for them." Or maybe the craft store could give me a 20% discount on my 17th box of crayons like they do classroom teachers. Okay, so this one's kind of whiney, but it is true.