Quite frequently when someone learns that we formed part of our family through Foster-to-Adopt, they will shake their heads and say, “I couldn’t do it. Are they okay?” Let me translate that phrase for you. It means, “I won’t do it, and you shouldn’t have either.” Usually this is someone who has watched a lot of television shows about troubled kids (who seem too often to be adopted) or they have a friend or relative with a challenging child.
The hard truth of foster care is that kids who lose their original families — for any reason, even “good” ones — have emotional scars. How big those scars are is due in part to their experience but also has a lot to do with their own personal psychological makeup. You can’t predict how it’s going to be; you can’t tell which child is going to have a really hard time and which ones are going to sail through. It’s just impossible to tell. Kids don’t come with instruction books. If they did, I’m pretty sure my mom would have sold everything she owned for mine (and I was born to her!)
We had one little girl in foster care who cried for her daddy an hour when she got here and had trouble going to sleep at night, but other than that, sailed through foster care. She was three years old and spunky and a handful but seemed, largely, untroubled by it all. She was with us twice; the second time she burst through the door, said, “Hello, Me-maw” and started playing with the kids. She looked to all the world like one of the lucky ones. I didn’t quite buy it.
When she went to her forever family, she was peaches for six weeks and then, hell on wheels. She couldn’t help herself and they were great with her but it was hard, hard, hard. All the terrible things that had happened to her as an infant and toddler began to manifest in her day to day life. She was very troubled . . . well, heart broken really. They got through that very difficult time and she is feeling happier now, but it was tough. I credit her adoptive parents who understood the hardest thing to truly get: her behavior wasn’t about them. They hung in with her and got her help, and bless them all, it seems to be working. She will always have those scars but they do fade over time.
There is good news though, and it’s a little funny looking. The good news is that this is how it’s supposed to be. This is how we’re made. As little ones, we’re meant to be dependent on our parents and attached to them. So when a little one has that bond broken, it breaks their little heart. And it should, because that means they are capable of love and passion. So you try your best and they try their best, and little by little, things get better. Of course, sometimes you don’t do your best and you apologize and you start over. That’s how it’s “supposed” to be too. We humans — the big ones and the little ones — work together and do what we can with what we have.
Then, one day, your child will get in a little trouble at school and you will realize he or she hasn’t been in trouble at school all year! (Or month, or week — whatever progress looks like.) Life can be hard and trying and that’s the human experience. Thank goodness it’s on the outside — so you can see it and help them. Somehow helping them will help you. Month by month, things improve a little and suddenly, you are all the better for it. They’ve grown and you’ve grown and that, my friends, is the good news.