The moment we got the first call, my heart pounded and I started feeling an array of emotions. Excitement, anxiety, worry, hope, joy, dread…the list could go on. Dan and I had thought about becoming foster parents for years, but had a lot of “reasons” why we couldn’t or wouldn’t want to do it. After months (and a few miraculous ways that God worked on our hearts), we decided to go for it and we had our first placement of two boys under 2 years old.
IT. WAS. CRAZY.
Truth-be-told, we felt like we were drowning. We barely slept, I forgot to eat, and could only fit in a few sips of coffee each morning (which is a BIG sacrifice for this coffee-lover). The boys became a part of our lives quickly and just as we started to imagine what our “new normal” would be, they left as quickly as they arrived. We had five days with them and then they were gone. We were shocked, tired, and amazed – all at once.
We learned a lot in those five days. I now that I’ve been through two additional placement and a culmination of 9 months of fostering, we’ve learned to stretch and grow with each new placement. For now, here are five things we learned in that first experience:
- Expect the Unexpected. There are lots of moving parts when a child gets placed with Child Protective Services. Multiple caseworkers and social workers, GALs, Child Placement Agencies, Home Supervisors, Biological parents and family, Foster Parents and family, and the communities in which they work and live. From our first experience, we realized quickly that not everyone is on the same page. When we got our first call, we knew we were getting two kids, but when they showed up, one was a different age than we had heard. We weren’t as prepared as we thought we were. One was going full-speed-ahead all day and night (until he finally crashed at night after hours of trying to get him to settle). The other was a baby who did not want to be put down – even to sleep – he wanted (and probably needed) to be held most of his waking hours. And the sleeping hours were few and far between. We were expecting them to stay a minimum of six months. They went back to parents after five days. We were expecting we could handle it a lot better. Were we in for a surprise! Maybe that’s expected for many of you out there – but for me, I realized quickly that any expectations I had were not even close to the real thing.
- It takes sacrifice: This seems obvious, right? This is why most of us might shun away from making the final push to become foster parents. It’s good and important work – I think we could all agree on that. But it takes true sacrifice. It takes a giving-up of so many parts of us. Depending on the age of child you are approved for, it could mean many sleepless nights. It could mean lots of tears and screaming, struggles with communication and navigating food issues. It could mean staying at home all day when you’re used to being out and about for work. It may mean saying no to many things that you’d rather be doing. It takes a lot of dying to self in order to love, nurture, and care for these little ones who need your full attention and grace.
- It takes a village: I don’t know if I truly understood this saying until we went through a really dark time, and then again when we started foster care with our first placement. We are not couple who has extra financial resources at this point in our lives. We rely on both of our jobs to pay our bills buy food and have a little on the side for coffee or other needs …so having people come around us with clothes and toys and baby gear and kids gear meals and gift cards was incredibly helpful and in our case, much-needed. Not only did people support us in this tangible way but so many encouraged and prayed and lifted our spirits when we were struggling-we truly could not be doing this without our family, friends, our community and our church. If you’re considering foster care I’d recommend gathering a village of your own that will be committed to walking this journey with you in whatever way that they are best equipped to do.
- It will hurt: It’s hurts to have your life turned upside-down for another person. It’s painful to let go of your old way of life (for our case it was “freedom” to do what we wanted as a married couple without children). It’s painful to see your own brokenness, impatience, frustration, and even (dare-I-say) anger at times. It’s painfully hard to do this work. Loving children deeply and fully – children that you literally just met and know nothing about- doesn’t always come naturally (at least not for me). The children that come through your door may have difficult and challenging behaviors that you may or may not know how to handle well. They may not sleep or want to eat. They may not want to be comforted by you. It can be very hard. But mostly, maybe the hardest part is letting go of my selfishness and giving up my “needs” for the needs of another who so desperately deserves it.
- It is worth it: I’ve always had a warm feeling about this statement – but I never taken it as seriously before as I do now. When I think about what some of these children have been through, it makes sense that they struggle in new environments. Some of them don’t know what it feels like to be cared for in an intentional way. Some of them don’t know peace and quiet so it feels strange and scary. Some of them don’t know how to be loved or soothed or nurtured. Please hear me when I say; this is not to make their biological parents sound like terrible people, because the truth is, most of them are not. Most of them may have a similar story to these kids- and maybe didn’t get the attachment and care that they truly needed when they were young. Unfortunately, trauma can become a negative cycle that affects generations. In this short time, I know and believe that it’s so vital to love these children as if they were your own. It’s vital to allow your heart to attach to them so that they can feel safe to attach to another human. It’s one of the most, if not the most, important piece of a child’s development. One of the hardest things to experience in life is the feeling of being desperately alone. When we step into the call of foster care, are stepping into holy ground- hard, yet holy. When you are called to be a presence in their little lives and called to be a voice that says to each child; “You are not alone. You’re not forgotten. You are dearly loved and always worth loving”.
Today as we eagerly wait for our next placement, people ask me if I’m excited. It’s a hard question to answer and if I’m being honest, the answer is yes and no. I’m truly excited to see who we will get to love on next. I’m excited to love and serve and welcome a child into a safe place and caring community. But I’m scared. I’m aware of the sacrifice, the pain, the challenges, the tears, all the mixed emotions and the sleepless nights that will also accompany our next placement. We will do the best we can, but it’s hard, it takes sacrifice, it takes a village, it’s painful, and yet, it’s so worth it. In the midst of it all, our deepest hope is to be a refuge, and with the help of God and our people around us, we hope that many more children will get to experience refuge and healing as long as they’re with us.