The only thing predictable about foster care is its UN-predictability!
This week's "Foster Friday" panel topic touches on each of our initial expectations, and the reality of our foster care journeys.
Fostering Hope and Love)
I didn’t come to fostering with any kind of Pollyanna expectations. I knew it wouldn’t be easy, the kids would be traumatized and the system that was supposed to help them often caused them harm. I knew our love couldn’t fix everything, but I also knew that love and stability were a good place to start. I was prepared for most of the day-to-day obstacles that foster care entails. It’s the extremes that have surprised me…the so much. So much more joy, happiness, fun, rewarding, satisfying, healing than I expected. So much more stress, heartache, grief, loss, trauma. So much more complicated.
Our first placement ended badly, with a child neglect allegation against me that was later unfounded by CPS and dismissed by the court. But we did lose the sweet girls, and their case later went to adoption so it often felt as though we lost our daughters and caused them more trauma in the process. I felt so much guilt, and I was forced to rely so much on the support of others, something that does not come easily to me. I was also very confused. I felt called to being a foster parent, but if that was to be the outcome of our very first placement, maybe I had it wrong. So much uncertainty.
With the support of our agency, we stuck it out. I’m so glad we did. Our next placement brought us so much joy. So much healing, both for hubby and myself and for the infant and toddler we were lucky enough to love on for 13 months. And then that placement brought us so much grief. Saying goodbye was, hands down, the hardest thing hubby and I have ever experienced. Going from extreme happiness to extreme sadness was tough, but we were gratified to see that the system could work the way it was supposed to. Kids could be healed through foster care and then be placed in a loving and appropriate family placement. We could form healthy, supportive relationships with bio-families, as we had hoped when we started foster care.
We moved ahead with two new placements, non-sibling. And it was so much harder this time. We struggled to bond with our new foster son, SuperD, and struggled not get too attached to our new foster daughter, Monkey, so much more afraid of having our hearts broken again. We have persevered, forged a bond with SuperD and realized that the idea of not attaching to Monkey was just silly. We’ve learned that every placement, every bond, is different and that there’s no right or wrong. We no longer expect to feel the same about every child we care for.
I consider us to be semi-experienced foster parents at this point. We’ve been through the wringer, and we survived! I don’t know if I would say my expectations were met. Certainly, I didn’t expect the rocky start our journey had. I didn’t expect to fall head over heels in love, though I did know saying goodbye would be difficult (understatement of the year). I didn’t expect to have a hard time bonding with a child or to be afraid to bond. I didn’t expect to never know what to expect! We still have so much to learn and experience as foster parents, so much to look forward to with Monkey, SuperD and whatever or whoever else this journey throws at us!
Cherub Mamma - (Cherub Mamma)
This is NOT what I expected!
I swear…Tammy always seems to need the panel posts right when drama is peaking in my house. But after court on Monday, I can most certainly say that my foster care adventure is NOT what I expected!
When we fostered in Iowa we went in to things with the full intent of just fostering. We wanted to help children and be there for families. When we got the call about Cherub 2 needing a forever home, we were floored. We said yes!! (There was no hesitation!!) They placed him. THEN I asked the caseworker how all this was going to work. I didn’t think we had checked that tiny box that said "adoption" when we did our home study. I was beyond thankful when his caseworker said she’d “take care of things” and fix our paperwork so that we would be eligible to adopt.
Not what I expected!!
Then we had to move. We stopped fostering.
Again…not what I expected.
You see…we had resisted getting in to foster care in Iowa. But when we finally obeyed the call, I knew it was the right thing for our family. When faced with having to stop fostering, I was bothered. God had convicted my heart. I wanted to help more families!! But we moved several times. Most of the moves were short term. When we were finally planted somewhere long enough where we could foster, we lived in a tiny (very tiny) three bedroom duplex. We didn’t have the square-footage to foster!! I remember being frustrated that God had given me a calling and wasn’t letting me do it. (It was a silly argument on my part for sure! The family in the other half of my duplex had a child “from the hurt places”. I helped them. I supported them. I loved on that boy. But at the time, it didn’t feel right. In retrospect, I was fostering! He just didn’t live on my side of the house.)
We moved a couple more times and finally settled in Deep South Texas. We bought a house. God blessed us with a HUGE house. The time to “officially” foster struck again.
But my fostering experience here has again not been what I expected! I thought it would be similar to what it was like in Iowa. Not the adoption part…but the fostering part. I thought we would help families reunify. I thought all sorts of things.
But the rules are different in Texas. The licensing/training process is different. The expectations are different. The court system is different. E.V.E.R.Y.T.H.I.N.G. has been different.
Here in Texas, the rules are much more strict than they were in Iowa!! The training is repetitive and a waste of time. I am expected to care for the children but not really “care”. In fact, I’ve been accused to being too attached to the children in my home. And the court system….oh that court system. Nothing seems to make sense with that to me down here at all!!
Now, after almost two years of caring for Dude & Dolly, I’ve given up on trusting the State to act in their best interests. Up until Monday I never thought I’d be hiring a lawyer. I never expected things to drag out like they have. And since I believe the State is making a grave mistake with their permanency plan, we are going to intervene. I never expected this!!
Dani - When I started this journey, I learned from blogs and message boards that fostering was going to be a lot harder than I thought. So, with that in mind, we finally got certified and two placements. I was expecting a lot more paperwork, a lot more CW involvement, and a lot more hassles.
So far I've been pretty blessed. My second placement went home to daddy after five long months. My third placement went to grandpa after only nine short days. I still have placement one, and now I also have placement number four. Out of all the placements, there has only been one CW that I don't really like. Everyone else at the agency has been wonderful! They're kind, caring, and really seem to want the best for everyone involved. I didn't expect that at all.
Other things that are different than my thoughts about Care:
I hadn't expected to care as much as I have about bios.
I hadn't expected to make some really good friends in other local foster parents.
I expected a lot more sleepless nights with the older kiddos.
I thought I could handle any situation that a foster kid could bring, but I was wrong. (I don't handle RAD well at all!)
I didn't think I'd be so tired after their bed times that I wouldn't want to crochet.
I didn't expect to get a newborn that screamed EVERY SECOND he was awake for five and a half months.
I didn't think I'd learn so much from bios.
I never knew (but learned quickly) how annoyed I'd get at talking kids' toys.
I never knew how much Disney Junior would be on in my house.. or that I'd know all the theme music on it.
I never knew I'd fall so in love with some of my babies that it would physically hurt.
I never thought my house would be over run with baby things, or that I'd put a changing table in my dining room.
I never thought I'd figure out the best way to prop a baby bottle. (I have twins, one that takes two hands to feed.)
I never thought I would have SO MUCH LAUNDRY!
I never thought I would feel this blessed!
Debbie - (Always and Forever Family)
Foster care is everything I thought it would be and more. We thought we would be able to help join families together whether it was by reunification, family placement or adoption would just depend on each case.
Our first placement was the perfect example of this. We were simply that bridge of getting our girls from where they shouldn't be to where they should be. They just needed a little help getting there and we were that help. I can never regret our decision to foster because of the experience we had with those girls.
We were able to speak up for the bio family and walk side by side in getting the girls where they belonged. Knowing that they are safe and well cared for and we had just a tiny part in that is enough to make it through some of the hard days of the next case.
Julie - (Our Thrive Life)
When we decided to foster I think our expectations were high and probably a bit euphoric. We were going to rescue and save all these little ones. Everyone would love us for it because we were helping with something so amazing. Sure, I expected a little negative feedback from birth families - I might feel the same way towards the foster family that had my children. However, I never expected to be working along side CPS professionals who were not at all supportive. Most of my interactions with case mangers and supervisors have been great. There is one case in particular when I had to bite my tongue so hard I thought it might bleed. I was disrespected and told that I was not looking out for the best interest of the child. After the case manager had spent two minutes with my little foster one in a lobby they declared there was no way that this child was developmentally delayed. Despite having a referral from early intervention for the Division of Developmental Disabilities and failed milestones exams by both a Pediatrician and Developmental Psychologist. No, it was me. I wanted to label the child.
Even when cases are going well, regardless of case plan, it is so important to advocate for the child. If you aren't willing to be their advocate then it probably won't get done. Who then will advocate that the child participate in activities, have therapies, get haircuts when the child desires them yet the parents put up road blocks and power struggles? Who will ensure that the child's voice is being heard? That behavior before and after visits is recorded? All of this needs to be done and I had no idea that most of this responsibility would fall on me as a foster parent. I knew we had become foster parents because we loved children, had big hearts, wanted to help and because at some point we wanted to add to our family. The more we became involved in the amazing foster world it became so obvious that while fostering is not for everyone it was for us. I learned just how strong I could be and that even though I have been broken into a million pieces I can be made whole again. Being that 'mama' for little ones and advocating for their best interests and needs became a passion of ours. I wanted to help them put all those pieces back together again too. If I had known how hard it was beforehand to do what we do I probably wouldn't have done it. Honestly, I wouldn't have. HOWEVER, if I had known beforehand how amazing it has helped us grow personally and as a family and the forever littles that would come to us... I'd do it a hundred times over. It's the bitter and the sweet that make it worth it.
Karen A. - (Nuggets from the Nut House)
For years we begged for another sibling. I don’t think I truly expected another sibling, or that I would have more than one baby sibling to come. Or that they would be “temporary” siblings. As I look back to the days when my siblings and I would meet “secretly” and pray for another baby sibling, reminding each other that “where two or more are gathered…” I had no idea how the Lord would answer those prayers. Looking back, His answers are so totally NOT what I had expected! (They are WAYYY better!)
I didn’t expect that my prayers would come true, first of all.
I didn’t expect that my dad would be so on board and my mom so not-on-board.
I didn’t expect that it would take so long to be approved (it took us almost 3 years from the time we handed in our first application until we opened).
I didn’t expect that there would be such a long wait for placements (2.5 months, 1 month, 3 months).
I didn’t expect that I would feel so immature each time a new baby arrived- 2 years or 20 years, it’s a big transition when you become a big sister.
I didn’t expect that it would be so hard to be away from home and to be at university- hours away from the changes occurring in our family.
I didn’t expect to feel so lonely at school- because few can relate to what it’s like back home.
I didn’t expect to be glared at, congratulated, and asked “Is this your first?” every time I was out in public with my baby brother or sister.
I didn’t expect that it would be so difficult to answer people’s questions.
I didn’t expect to have the urge to baby-proof my dorm ;)
I didn’t expect to stay in contact with our babies families after they left (we still have contact with both kids who left, and our first even came back into care and to us for a bit).
I didn’t expect to feel more like a mother than a baby-sitter.
I didn’t expect to feel so passionate about fighting for these kids.
I didn’t expect that fostering would change my career path from doctor to social worker.
I didn’t expect to feel so angry at the system and workers.
I didn’t expect that I would have so much contact with the bio families of our kids (SO thankful for this!)
I didn’t expect that I would feel that my mom was so powerless.
I didn’t expect that I would attend my registration for university each year with a baby in tow :-)
I didn’t expect that my peers would be worrying about grades and summer jobs and other normal stuff and I would be worrying about all that plus court, visits, meetings, child development, and fighting for the voiceless babies in our home.
I didn’t expect to feel so blessed.
I didn’t expect to be so changed.
Karen C. - (Our Foster Journey)
What did I expect when I decided to foster? I expected to bring a baby home to love on and care for while the parents got their "act" together so the child could go back home. Honestly, other than taking care of a child I really didn't know what to expect. Our 10 weeks of training classes taught us what "could be" brought into the home....behaviors, workers, etc. We were told the "goal" was for the case to be done within 12 months.
Never did I think we would have 23 placements in 3 years. We started with one placement and quickly decided to take a 2nd. Other than our first placement staying for 7 months, our first year was a revolving door of babies. We got the call for our 13th placement on our 1 year anniversary of being licensed. We never had more than 2 foster children in our home at one time. One baby went back home in less than 24 hours all the others went to family. We were also told to be prepared for a case to go longer than 12 months...sometimes it just happens. Well after our first year I never thought we would have a case go that long. Here we are 2 1/2 years later with placement #13 and only a little glimmer of an end in sight. We adopted #12 and #1 came back to us 2 1/2 years later and we just adopted him last month.
Every case is different. We have some great friends who were in training with us and have been licensed the same amount of time. They have had a total of 3 foster children (they've done quite a bit of respite) to our 23. Their 3rd placement went to family. But their first two cases both dragged out for over 2 years (their 2nd one is still going, their 1st they adopted). I just never expected us to embark on the same journey but have such differing paths!
Another thing that I just don't think anyone can honestly prepare for is the emotional roller coaster. Sure they can tell you it will be hard to say goodbye. That's the "excuse" most people give when they tell you why they could never be a foster parent. Sometimes its not just about saying goodbye but "knowing" where they are going to. No one's home will ever be as good as yours. Also, living with the "stuff" that they bring with them. We have only had babies and toddlers but oh have we dealt with some "stuff". They can teach you in training about everything under the sun. Until you live it, though, you honestly have no clue how hard taking care of these kids can be. Even still, its hard to say good bye to those hard cases. You bring them along so far and then they leave.
Lastly, when we started out our biological girls were 5 and 7. Watching these girls give love generously is just amazing. They have never once asked us to stop. They don't complain about having all these little ones around. They are so excited to share a new placement or announce to the world that we are adopting. Foster Care has been so much more rewarding than we could ever have expected.
During the summer of 2000, leading up to the months before our first placement, I was seven years old and the youngest of four girls. My parents attended their PRIDE training classes every week, and on those nights I got to stay home with my big sisters and watch Star Wars and eat pizza. To my young, maturing mind the weekly pizza was a highlight; that was enough to make whatever we were about to go through completely worth it. The only thing I really knew about this whole process, and even about foster care in general, was that our empty bedroom now had a crib. I knew that for some reason there were parents in the world who couldn’t take care of the children, for whatever reason, and so my family would do that.
I really liked baby dolls and had big plans that my 8th birthday would be a baby shower, where all of my friends would give me clothes for my new Lee Middleton baby doll. We had planned out lots of baby shower games that fit it perfectly with my daydream to one day have lots and lots of babies. The night was so much fun, and the pictures from that birthday party still make me smile.
What I didn’t know during all of that birthday party planning was that there would be a real baby in our home during that time, a 3-month-old little girl with 12 fractured bones. I didn’t know that my mom would spend the evening of my party upstairs with this baby, trying to ease her pain, as her ribs popped every time she took a breath.
For an 8-year-old who was the baby of the family and had always had a lot of attention, my world changed drastically when we began fostering. I suddenly had to share my mom with lots of other kids, and acknowledge that I no longer had her undivided attention.
Looking back on our 10 years of foster care, absolutely nothing could have prepared me for the things we would experience (and continue to experience with the adoptions of my 4 younger siblings) as a family. It hasn’t all been pretty. In fact, a lot of it has been really ugly and nasty. Foster care has changed me and molded me (and is the reason I am sitting here frantically studying for my social work policy final!).
The trials are real, and sometimes the trenches seem too deep to climb out of. I look back to those early days of foster care and am thankful that the 8-year-old me didn’t know what all was coming. Not because it was, or is, bad, but because if my family had known the trials that were coming our way, we might have let fear hold us back. The greatest tragedy I can think of is missing out on the blessing of all of my siblings, both the ones that stayed forever and the ones that left. They are so worth it.
Tammy (aka. "Mimi") - (I Must Be Trippin')
When I attended my first orientation nearly five years ago, my expectations going into care were high. I hoped to become a mom. I knew that chances were I would say "goodbye" to little ones before I had the opportunity to adopt, but our trainer assured us throughout the course of the following six weeks, "Most families get to adopt within the first three placements." That was so NOT my reality, and to be honest...
I couldn't be happier!!!
I didn't expect to feel so much compassion for some of my little ones' birth families.
I didn't expect to want them to succeed, because their success would mean losing my chance to adopt.
I didn't expect to fall madly, deeply in love with baby boys with only two teeth. (I swear, there's just something about those two teeth... ;-)
I didn't expect that the pain of saying "goodbye" to my children would lead to the immense joy of saying "hello" to more.
I didn't expect to feel a mother's love for a teenage girl who I never even fostered.
I didn't expect to be co-parenting one of my little guys with his single daddy over a year after he got out of care.
I didn't expect that I would become "Mommy, Mom, Mimi, Mama" to so many little ones and their families, and would continue to be that years after CPS was no longer in the picture.
I didn't expect that my family holidays would include a house filled with all of my current and former foster sons, my honorary daughters, my honorary son-in-law, my honorary granddaughter, nieces and nephews, an awesome sister and brother-in-law, and the best Nana and Papa any child could ever hope for.
I didn't expect to look at my life nearly five years after that first orientation and know without a doubt that this is exactly where I am meant to be.
I expected to be a "forever" mom...
I just never expected the way it would happen. I am a "forever" mom. I have an amazing family with "forever" sons and daughters ranging in age from seven months to 20 years old. I have a son-in-law who does everything any other good son-in-law would do for his wife's mom. I have a granddaughter who loves her Mimi like crazy and who I get to spoil rotten and send back home like any good Mimi would do. :-) I have a grown daughter who I cherish more than she'll ever know, a 2-year-old who is my heart in human form, and a baby whose smile lights up my world.
My "reality" is SO MUCH BETTER than my expectations ever were!