An Inside Look at Foster Homes: What They’re Like

Ever wanted an inside look at what foster homes are really like? Here are a few stories to give you an idea.

Natalie Brenner April 26, 2018
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When you walk through our front door, you’ll be met with a staircase leading to our main floor as well as a vast variety of objects that have been thrown down the stairs in anger. You may see the crayons and markers scribbled up and down the white walls leading you to the main floor, or maybe you’ll notice the smell of a filthy bathroom because our 4-year-old continues to make feces messes all over the toilet and walls. It’s hard to say what will catch your attention first.

As you round the corner and enter our main room, there will be different sensory tools like an orange body sock, a colored-on tent, coloring books, reading books, stacks of play-dough, Silly Putty, different fidgets, and a swing. There are chunks of food and dried milk drips all over our brown leather couch (which is broken because despite constant reminders, our 4 and 8-year-old kids continue to jump on it).

There are color-coded calendars everywhere for everyone, chore charts laid out, visual reminders of what to do with our toilet paper after we wipe, and what the routine is for bedtime. The kitchen floor is caked with food, especially under the table where my two toddlers sit side-by-side, dumping their milk, water, rice, beans, or any other meal I prepare. We’ve cycled through a number of white IKEA table chairs because for some reason, tipping them over and breaking them is just a really fun time.

You’ll often see sass and moodiness; you’ll hear our 8-year-old shouting “No!” and “I hate you!” and “You’re a loser!” to my husband, But the next moment, she’s petting my hair, kissing my cheek, and telling me how much she loves me. The reactivity is big around here.

Structure is something I have never been great at. Becoming a foster mama forced me to function with structure and find routine in our life. With the 4 to 7 appointments filling our weekdays and visits with family and siblings living in other foster families, life is crazy.

Sure, we laugh and giggle and have tickle fights too. We blow bubbles, kiss owies, and tuck our kids into bed with stories and songs. We go to the park, the library, the zoo, the beach. But in all honesty, we are always battling the breath-holding, waiting for the next meltdown or reaction of defiance.

There are tears. Lots and lots of tears. We talk about missing family members; we talk about being safe and unsafe, kind and unkind. We process the grief and loss and immense tragedies that life brings us sometimes. We give so much space to be sad, even if we are being sad over a broken Barbie doll. But it is rarely about the broken Barbie doll.

And yet, though the inside look at our home and heart and life seems a little too crazy, hard, and painful even, it’s filled with a deep sense of humanizing people we otherwise maybe wouldn’t have. It’s worth it because these kids each deserve a chance to be loved in a safe and nurturing environment.

Aside from the immense challenges, there are also a lot of humbling-joy moments. We printed out photos of the few months the girls have lived with us and put them in an album for them: watching their faces light up as they relived each memory at the beach, the park, the museum, the zoo brought me so much joy. Taking them on their first camping experience and teaching them about s’mores, and spider hunts, and stars.

Watching their eyes light up over getting bedtime hugs and being tickled led me to ask if they ever get hugs, snuggles, and tickles at their other home. My heart crashed when they said they’d never had that.

Realizing that we get to be the ones to not only instill safety, security, and stability, but also typical and healthy childhood memories is something not lost on me.

My hope is that whenever they return home, they’ll have a bank of memories to hold on to. This is easily one of the hardest times of their childhood, and it makes all the challenges worth it knowing we might be instilling dignity in them.

Here are the voices of two other foster parents: 

Having a home with children is always going to be crazy. Having a home with children that are trying to figure you out while you figure them out is going to be even more crazy.

There are moments of peace and joy and fun and laughter, but that is often all taking place in the context of chaos that is sometimes, almost manageable, but often just feels overwhelming.

We try to be really intentional in how we set up our home (i.e. hammocks and ball pits that serve as an occupational therapy outlet of sorts, an egg chair that serves as an escape pod in the living room for when things feel overwhelming for a child, coloring books and reading books all over the place for easy to grab distractions when necessary, and sometimes more screen time than we’d like to admit because it keeps us all sane to hear Daniel Tiger’s voice again).

—Seth

We are two working foster parents. We live in a DIY fixer-upper, and I’m trying to launch my artist career, you know, in my spare time. My home is a wreck. Dirty clothes are strewn everywhere even though there is a laundry basket in every room. The nursery has piles of dirty diapers because I only ever have enough time to get a new diaper ON the baby before I have to run and see what the heck my 4-year-old has gotten into during the 45 seconds my eyes were not on him. (Should I worry when it is so quiet I call out his name, just his name, from the nursery and he answers, “Nothing!!”?)

The stovetop gets cleaned once a week—on the day our amazing babysitter comes over. Dirty dishes are always in the sink even though dinner most nights is simply peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with smoothies. That literally requires just one knife, three plates, and the blender. And still.

The paper pile on the counter is our Mt. Everest, and Lord have mercy, the toys…

We have cute baskets and toy bins, and it’s never enough. People assume kids in care need toys, and kids in care with attachment issues can see when the most busted piece of crap gets tossed, so you keep it ALL.

If you’re reading a certain level of stress in me, yes. My home, my sanctuary. I’m a germaphobe neat freak so hosting children has made me butt up against a lot of things I’ve had to learn to let go of. I’m convinced my children’s hearts are more important than my organizational systems, so I sacrifice them. But it’s not easy. When your sanctuary is in chaos, it’s hard to rest, recharge. I often get far less sleep than I should (average about 5 hours per night), trying to clean up at the end of a day. But this is what caffeine is for, I suppose.

—Sara

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Natalie Brenner

Natalie Brenner is wife to Loren and mom to two under two, living in Portland, Oregon. She is the best-selling author of This Undeserved Life. She likes her wine red, ice cream served by the pint, and conversations vulnerable. Natalie believes in the impossible and hopes to create safe spaces for every fractured soul. She's addicted to honesty and believes grief is the avenue to wholeness. Natalie is a bookworm, a speaker, and a lover of fall. Connect with her at NatalieBrennerWrites.com and join her email community.


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