Foster care has been a common topic in our home lately. We feel fairly confident that training is our next step, but then what? Do we even want to try foster care again? If so, when would we be ready for another placement? What age range? How many children at a time? What would we do differently? While making decisions about how foster care fits into our family, we can unintentionally lose sight of the children.
Today, I got another glimpse into the foster child experience through the videos below. Please watch and share, then join me in praying about how to help.
Warning: you may want to have tissues handy.
...Riding a roller coaster and not knowing if, when, and how the ride will end. Your emotions are up, down, and all around. Just when you think you have moved on, a new twist hurls you forward.
...Wandering through a forest, not knowing which path to follow. You think there might be children out there for you, but aren't sure how to find them.
...Navigating an unfamiliar freeway, wondering which exit to take. Treatment Trail? Adoption Avenue? Foster Care Circle? Or maybe Childless Channel?
...Being trapped, yet forced into action. You picture a future without children, and it doesn't look quite right. Parenthood is unlikely to happen without you taking action, but what action should you take? Hurry up; the years are flying by! If you don't do something now, you will be all alone at eighty.
...Floating in an ocean, waiting for the next wave to hit. The waves might be pregnancy announcements, new babies, thoughtless comments, or dates on the calendar. You just keep treading water.
Our first placement is over. We opened our home and our hearts to two precious little boys for twelve weeks. When we communicated to DSS that we were in over our heads, they moved the boys. Though the decisions were out of our hands, I feel failure, discouragement, and frustration. Weeding through the "whys," I can at least see a few lessons:
- Love is not enough. Seriously. LOVE IS NOT ENOUGH! You may love a 10-year-old boy who has been in a Romanian orphanage since birth. Love is not going to be enough for you to care for him well. In his book, Adopted for Life, Russell Moore describes walking into a silent room full of cribs. The room was not silent because the cribs were empty, but rather because the babies had learned that crying would not help. Nobody was eager to lovingly meet their needs. That neglect has changed your 10-year-old's brain in a way love alone cannot fix.
- Training is required. The boys came to us as a kinship placement, so the training requirement was temporarily waived for us. Kinship placements allow children to be cared for by people they know, typically extended family members or friends. In this situation, we were connected to the family by a friend of a friend. We were moving toward foster care, but our only step so far was attending an information session. Since the next training sessions do not begin until the fall, we still have not been trained. We can now confidently say that traumatized children should NEVER be placed with first-time parents without proper training. Trust me, we did our best. However, I always wondered if our parenting methods were hurting more than helping.
- Community support is helpful. After the boys arrived, our church and community showered us with meals, toys, and support. Suddenly having very active children was a huge change. Not having to think about cooking kept me sane in the early weeks.
- Professional support is vital. Since the boys left, we have learned so much about how many experts and professionals should have been involved in the situation. We told our social worker EVERYTHING and trusted that she would point us to the right people at the right time. Now we know that we should have been much more aggressive about getting professionals involved. I got to attend a long-awaited appointment with the boys and their new foster mom last week. If we had attended an appointment like that one early on, the whole placement would have been different. The professional had simple solutions to major issues. Her advice sliced through the fog that is Google to the best care for these specific boys. I could lose myself in the "If onlys." Instead, I am hoping that this next placement for the boys will be successful because of the resources now coming their way.
- God's approval has to be enough. I am a pleaser. I cannot please everyone in this situation. I experienced things with the boys that nobody else saw. They were different when only with me. Not one person can completely understand what happened in those twelve weeks. I want them to understand so they can tell me I did the right thing. I want them to approve. I want them to tell me I am not a failure. Yet, unanimous support and encouragement is not going to happen. One blog commenter told me she's glad I can't have biological kids since I just dumped off the ones given me. A connected foster mom clearly believes we didn't do enough. And I have to live with that. I can guarantee that my motives were wrong sometimes. I know that my patience ran out often. I admit that my tone was not always gentle. But I promise that I loved those boys wholeheartedly, that I did my best, that I gave it my all. At the end of the day, God's opinion of me has to be the most important. His Son died for me, the impatient, frustrated, temporary foster mom. Through Christ, my wrong motives, harsh words, and impatience are forgiven (see 2 Corinthians 5:21). Fighting my feelings of failure, I am reminding myself that God's approval is enough.
Last week at this time, I was tearfully packing the boys' belongings. That morning, we left for daycare just like every other day. None of us knew that they would never return. In a matter of hours, I would bring them and their belongings to a new home. I still cannot believe it.
One week later, the house is quieter, cleaner, and less kid-friendly. The outlet covers and child-proof locks are gone. Toys and children's books are hidden away. Louie provides the only chaos and cuteness. I can go out tonight without feeling bad leaving Hubby to do bedtime alone with the kids. He can go to work without wondering if everything is okay at home. We can go on a date without needing a babysitter or two.
Everything is different, yet also familiar. We have done this childless thing before. For nearly seven years, we have been married and childless. Parenthood lasted only twelve weeks. Twelve weeks is not very long. Three short (and long) months. A tiny blip in the grand scheme of our lives. Sometimes, it doesn't seem real. We were parents? What? Are you sure?
And yet. We were. This really happened in our living room:
This really happened in our back yard:
We really were this family at the park:
Those twelve weeks really happened. Although our lives may look like they used to, we will never be the same.
Yesterday, my cell phone rang while I was at work. Seeing the social worker's number, I answered. She said to get the boys and their things and drop them all off at their new home in a few hours.
"Are you sure?" I said. "Couldn't we wait until next week when my husband gets home? He didn't get to say goodbye."
"I think it should be today," she said.
In tears, I left my office and headed home to do what she said. My mom and I spent the next two hours frantically packing all of the boys' earthly possessions. More precisely, my mom spent the next few hours packing the boys things while I wandered around trying to make sense of things. Then, we picked the boys up from daycare and took them to their new home as told. I hugged their familiar little bodies, told them I loved them, and walked away.
The boys are gone.
We never planned for this situation to be permanent. Foster care is not supposed to be permanent. We knew a transition would happen. We expected this one to happen "soon." But not like this. We believed "the professionals" knew what they were doing and had the best interests of the children in mind.
Yesterday morning, I was a mom. Today, I am not. I cannot describe to you all the thoughts and emotions running through me right now, but I will try to share a few:
- Grief - For twelve weeks, we were a family. Our family has been severed.
- Frustration - The situation was handled very poorly, with abundant miscommunication and even some dishonesty.
- Sorrow - My boys are gone. My heart hurts, and I know their hearts hurt. They have been through so much already, and this is another hurt for them.
- Shock - I just cannot believe how it all happened. What seems like mismanagement of a situation has left two wounded little boys and four foster parents trying to find our bearings.
- Disbelief - Did I mention that I cannot believe it? I just cannot believe it.
- Relief - The last twelve weeks have been some of the hardest we have ever experienced. My husband, an attorney, said they have been more stressful than preparing for and taking the bar exam. He got shingles as a result of the bar exam stress, so that's saying a lot. After living in crisis mode for twelve weeks, I do feel a small sense of relief. Today, that feeling of relief is FAR outweighed by everything else, but I am trying to remind myself it is there.
I want to thank all of the people who have supported and encouraged us during the last few months. We would not have survived without you. I will try to individually thank you in the coming months, but want to let you know how much you are appreciated now.
If you are the praying type, please pray for the boys. They are so precious, wounded little guys. If I can't make sense of this situation, how can they? May they receive the peace that passes all understanding and can only come from Christ. May they never become stuck in the system. May they be loved and nourished all of their days. May they be safe.
Please, Lord, take care of them. You made them. They were never mine. They were only ever Yours.