You are brave. You are changing lives.
Before you throw your hands up and walk away, shake your head, or mumble something about how I don’t even know the half of it and you feel like an actual failure…please come close and let me talk to you. Gather ’round, let me share what I see when I watch and think about you.
First let me share my unique view point. I am not a foster parent to any foster children, but I am also no longer so far displaced that I have no clue what is happening. I no longer have a completely made up idea of what it is to be a foster parent; you stepped into the role of parenting through foster care and I have a small window to peer into.
Some of you are in your second round of parenting: instead of basking in the freedom of retirement with little responsibilities tugging at you and your energy, you decided to become foster parents. Some of you have not attempted to grow your family with biological children. Some of you have children and decided to also foster. Some of you are single.
I stand in this weird space, watching you welcome into your home thick trauma and severe attachment disorders, watching you love bigger than most people dream possible. I attempt to offer small bits of support in the way of a listening ear and small bits of babysitting, because I want to help but am unsure how. I don’t think either of us actually know.
People say stupid things, don’t they? People ask questions that aren’t their business in the first place, don’t they? People ask questions about the children you love deeply, who are standing right next to you, and have actual working ears to hear the questions being asked as though they cannot hear, don’t they?
You walk with such grace and poise, despite your boiling blood and frustration, while the cashier volunteers to “take your child home with her.” The offer is thrown into the air as a joke, as though your little one isn’t confused enough as it is, listening to another stranger offer to house her for a time. But this isn’t a joke. These kids aren’t a joke. Their lives aren’t a joke.
Outsiders assume you’re either all feel-good, reward-feeling type of people doing charity work resembling babysitting OR they assume you hate your life and the delinquents that walk around in children’s bodies, but can’t “get rid of them” because there is nowhere for them to go. There are so many stigmas surrounding foster care and the valuable children in the system, so many stigmas and statistics making the children you love as your own appear to others as numbers, problematic, and worth less.
But you are actual parents, despite the view society may still hold. These children in your care may not have been born to you, but they have been entrusted to you for now and you parent them. You clean their messes, you buy and make their food, you bathe them, you make sure they have things like clothes and school supplies. You discipline, you have tickle fights, you sing weird songs, and you make “this family’s rules.” You research and study ways to support them best, you fight for their rights, and you advocate for them on a multitude of levels–levels the rest of us can barely begin to see or understand.
Day after day, night after night…
You are caring for and tending to the severe trauma so many of your children, if not all, carry around with them like an extension of themselves. Some of it is hard to uncover, most is difficult to touch, pain-filled and heavy, you continue to do the hard work of loving well.
You are stuck in a seemingly-never-ending, very real and confusing limbo state of wondering how long this child will be in your care: will your child be reunited, can I come to a space of celebrating if reunification happens, will the parent’s rights be terminated, and then what?… the questions that loom perpetually nag your heart, and it is far more than exhausting.
You have to live moment by moment because peering into any sort of future promises pain and uncertainty, grief and goodbyes of many.
It amazes me every time you don’t chew out all of the other parents who “understand” what it’s like to raise a “passionate” child. We both know that these parents mean well and are simply doing a bad job of trying to relate instead of truly listen; we both know that the level of passion your [foster] child has is intensified by actual defiance and severe trauma we can barely begin to understand or even know, because the history is spotty at best.
The holidays are approaching and court dates are imminent: will you have to say goodbye and therefore grieve through the entirety of this “special season?” Will you have to grieve the loss of the child or children you love so dearly, you love as though he or she was wrapped up in your DNA? Or will you attend the many family events, hoping the extensions of your family accepts this child as one of their own, even if the once-ordinary celebration turns into a fiasco of screaming, kicking, and extreme trauma? Will you have to ask your family to refrain from family pictures, so as not to leave out the child you love dearly, perpetuating their feeling of rejection? Either way, there is grief.
I’m painfully privileged to watch you “become too attached” to the children you’re parenting and raising because that is what they need. I am honored to watch the story unfold, pain-filled and complex, intertwined with beauty. When you decided to love vulnerable children in this intense and necessary way, you knew it was about them.
By acknowledging that this is about them and tending to fragments of their heart, you realized that means it’s not about you. If it’s not about you, then preventing yourself from attaching and withholding love is not an option; you know this agonizingly well. You are so brave, friends.
You are brave to choose to love big at the expense of your heart and comfort. You are courageous. And though it is hard to see, you are changing lives. The kids’ lives entrusted to you, yes. But also your family’s, your friends’, mine.
While you love big, right now and today, I watch and I hope to love as big as you. Not because it is heroic and easy, not because you do it perfectly or make it look simple, not because it is some savior-thing, but because the world needs it. Vulnerable children, precious but traumatized at no fault of their own, need it.
Thank you for choosing to love bigger than yourself, at the expense of yourself. I’m privileged to know you.