Someone recently asked me which one has been harder for me: an infant or a pre-teen in foster care.
It’s all just so different. Plus, it’s nearly impossible to compare since I now have two biological children instead of one.
Anytime a family adds a new person to the family there is going to be some chaos. There is going to be some adjustment, some upheaval and some challenging times. There is going to be a new sibling dynamic as well as much additional laughter and personality and joy. It doesn’t matter if this addition is biological, adopted or a complete surprise on your doorstep.
I mean…I am parenting a child who has been through trauma and grief. She is in a new home, with a new language, new food, and new people (two of them being the toddler/infant variety). In addition to parenting a child from a completely different background, with completely different morals, who has been through her fair share of trauma and grief, I am also foster parenting this child. Foster parenting adds a whole new dimension. It means that I have to do paperwork for pretty much every single action that I perform- where I drive with her, where I take her, who I leave her with, what medications I have given her (yes, even TUMS and or Tylenol), what she mentioned to me in her dreams, etc. It means that within 30 days of having Heavenly, I have to take her to a pediatrician, an eye doctor, a dentist, a counselor and all of her visits with her Mom (twice weekly). Except I can’t do any of those appointments until her insurance card comes through (spoiler alert: We are on day 53 and I still don’t have the insurance card). I go to each appointment and get asked endless questions and have to produce all the important papers on demand. I need to record every appointment and every discipline strategy Theo and I have used. I have to make sure that she is eating, sleeping and processing all things “correctly”. I have to make sure that she is ready to enter the 6th grade in the fall- we have a lot of ground to make up! I have applied for a tutor and I’m still waiting for that to come through.
I’ve noticed three distinct phases to fostering. I didn’t learn this in class and I have no idea if I’m scientifically correct, but this is just what I have observed from my own experience. Each stage seems to last a different length of time depending on all the different factors.
First, comes the honeymoon stage. I open the door to this child, and they step into my home. Everyone is on their best behavior, including us adults. We feel like this was 100% the right thing, and we feel like we are doing things for the greater good. We feel like we matter! We are making a difference! We are life-changers, difference makers! We have great hope that this situation will turn out differently from all the others and the dream reunion/adoption/case plan is full swing! How could we ever do anything else with our lives? This is GRAND! This is FABULOUS! LONG LIVE FOSTERING.
And then the second stage hits- the nightmare stage. Suddenly, everyone starts to feel comfortable- comfortable enough to wonder if it’s actually reality. Boundaries are pushed. Rules are broken, and enforced, and broken again. The new house and bedroom that once seemed big and exciting now has walls that are closing in. The kids that were SO cute at the beginning are now nothing but annoying. Tempers begin to flare. Trust is broken. The case plan is falling apart. This isn’t fun anymore, and we all want out. I want to give up so badly. The situation seems so broken, so hopeless. Why are we doing this again? When will this end? This is pretty much horrible. WHY ARE WE FOSTER PARENTS?
Then, finally, the third stage- the family stage. The stage where the trust has been broken, but the fences have been mended. The children know that we are not going anywhere, and we have finally figured out their personalities and what makes them tick. We have found coping strategies and we are finally in a good place with the case workers and the case plan and the daily and weekly schedules. It’s still not easy- parenting never is. But it’s not the terrible, horrible, darkness of that second stage. It’s a consistent, loving, steady stage that involves not just tears but also joy and laughter.
I guess there is also a *bonus stage* in foster care- the final stage, the goodbye. But that’s a whole different story for a whole different time.
I’m writing this post very much from the second stage. The last two weeks have been HARD. So many different situations have arisen where the boundaries are being pushed, shoved and trampled on. The tempers have flared and the fights have happened. The hard questions have rolled off our tongues and we are often left in a state of hopelessness and lonliness. We are exhausted. Several times a day the actual thought of giving up crosses my mind. Wouldn’t that just be easier? But everyday I have to remind myself that in the long run, that is not what would be best. Not for anybody involved. Not for me and Theo, not for the kids, not for Heavenly and not for her family. So we press on.
Foster care is hard, but it’s not all terrible. We have this beautiful, sweet and hilarious ten year old living in our home. I have the privilege of spending my days with all three of these beautiful gifts. Sometimes I just need to step back and look at this life that I have- I am blessed beyond measure.
So that’s where we are, two months in.
P.S. On Facebook and Instagram, I recently posted that July is Heavenly’s birthday month! In order to make her month special, I am asking my social media tribe to send birthday cards to her! This original goal of overwhelming her with birthday cards in the mailbox has now turned into a quest to receive a birthday card from all 50 states! Let me know if you would like to send her a birthday card!