I want Foster Together to be a place of simplicity and hope within foster care, so this title might surprise you.
But I can't expect the average person to build an emotional, personal, and (most of all) realistic connection with foster care if keep my failures a secret and only share my victories as a foster mom.
We failed our first time as foster parents.
We sent them away. Two little girls.
Our family was crumbling. Their needs demanded attention, with justified anger and fear. Adrenaline pushed me to keep the two girls and our son safe (mostly from each other), and I saw my husband heading for a mental breakdown between chaos at work and emergencies in our living room.
We are still paying penance for sending them away, trying to communicate the gravity of committing to a child, trying to change the culture and the conversation of foster care.
We learned the hard way. We want future foster parents to be aware three little deceiving words (& what’s communicated by them). “Two girls. Half-sisters. NO BEHAVIORAL ISSUES.” That’s why we said yes.
I can’t say the county placement office was intentionally dishonest. The girls didn’t have a RECORD of behavioral issues. They’d only been discovered by the police hours before.
We gleefully bounced into saying “yes” after a quick pre-placement visit at Chick-Fil-A. We were ready. Finally fostering. Ready to love some kids back to life. Save them. Maybe they’d end up as our daughters.
What we thought we could handle turned out to be way over our heads.
Our training prepped us to expect some challenges, and intellectually we knew that kids who are afraid and away from their comforts aren't always "easy to handle" (sometimes they are!). A foster parent of 30 years told me, "It's like childbirth. You can learn about it, but nothing will ever prepare you for actually doing it."
After we admitted we couldn’t keep it up, I grieved those girls. Even as my son & husband recovered from the vicarious trauma, it took nine months to stop my heart from sinking every morning: “I promised they’d be safe, that I wouldn’t leave her alone like their mom did. I’m a hypocrite.” Less than two months after jumping in with an open, hopeful heart, I was the foster mom I self-righteously swore I’d never be. The one who “gave up” & “couldn’t handle it."
We almost quit fostering. But after re-evaluating our vision, allowing real life, not marketing or recruitment techniques, to inform our goals for our family, we adjusted our expectations (on ourselves and the kids) and said yes to a newborn, then to a preteen boy. Our whole team (including our agency, Maple Star, and our friends and family, who I'll write about next week) joined us in a steely commitment to stick with them as long as they needed a safe place to live.
We are advocates for families finding their sweet spot--where their strengths can rise to the challenge, where their time is fully maximized, where their lives are poured out and used up, quickly replenished through support. Sometimes a family has to get into the work to determine this. But the challenge is to figure this out without disrupting kids.
As @fostermoms frequently says, "There is no glory here. Only families who work hard." Since then, we've learned what "working hard" looks like for our family. How far we're able to push (it's often a little more than we think we can). How to remain a strong family while welcoming the lovely and challenging parts of foster care into our home.
We still have their photos up in our living room. I still try to ask around, in case someone knows how they're doing. The sharpness of that shame has worn down, three years later, but the urgency to minimize trauma within foster care remains (because if we're adding pain as we try to help kids, we're not doing it right).
Next week, I'll publish a list of four things I think might have prevented our failure for two little girls.
The African proverb is true for every parent, and can help prevent disruptions like this in foster care. "It takes a village to raise a child." If you want to join our team of neighbors understanding and meeting the needs of foster families, click here.
-Hope, Founding Foster Mom
P.S. Many thanks to Heila and Cait for their help on this post.