One Year of Foster Parenting

It’s hard to believe that a year ago, we’d never even met four of “our” kids. We were in the throes of locking up laundry detergent and medicines, mounting fire extinguishers, filling out final paperwork, and waiting for the last walk through. Life seemed hectic, but we now realize that there are new levels of stress that we never even knew about before!

That first month of fostering with the little boys was really trial by fire. We were barely hanging on, and only prayer and good friends got us through. With four boys, ages 10 mos, 2.5, 4, and 6 in the house, and two of them having traumatic and undisciplined backgrounds, I was a wreck. I could literally feel the prayers of our support network sustaining me through those days. Of course, God also put people in our lives to help. Mothers and Mother-in-laws, neighbors and church friends who would drop by with a sandwich for me or a meal for the family, friends who would call just to check in and would end up listening to me meltdown on the phone and offering to take a child off my hands for a few hours. LORD, you were so good to us in that hard, hard month.

And there was the love. Those little boys had our hearts within days, or even within hours. Even though it was crazy hard, how could we not fall in love with the children who needed us? They needed to be hugged. They needed to be wrestled with. They needed to laugh. They needed to spill milk without worry. They needed stability and discipline and love and peace. Oh, how I love those little guys still. When they are reunified or adopted and I can’t see them anymore, a little part of my heart will go with them. In ten years, I’ll probably be trying to look them up on facebook just to get a glimpse of who “my” boys turned out to be. What a strange feeling to give up little ones who were ours, if only for a month.

When they left us, we revised our plan about the children we would accept. We hadn’t originally planned on adopting, but had figured that if we fell in love with a child and s/he didn’t reunify, then we’d pursue adoption. After one month of fostering, that plan went out the window. Instead of fostering one child after another, we would invest our lives in one child forever. New plan: find us a baby we can adopt. One {long} month later, Midge entered our lives.

I mentioned the new levels of stress that we never knew about before? Well, we’re in month ten of uncertainty about our baby girl. For the first few days, we thought the agency was right and maybe she would be ours to keep. Then we had to come to terms with the fact that it would take a miracle for us to keep her. For six months, I struggled to let go of the idea of keeping her, and all the while, she was wiggling her way deeper into our hearts and our lives. I imagine the feeling is similar to the parent of a child with an untreatable disease. You want to enjoy the moments you have together, but there is always a cloud over the future. You can’t plan ahead to next year. With fostering, we often couldn’t plan ahead to next month. Court dates brought new terror into our hearts.

And then things settled into a rhythm. A combination of prayer and denial gets us through the days. While 90% of the days were hard and 10% were manageable when we first started, the percentages have now flipped. It took three or four months to get our groove going, but things did settle down. In August, Midge’s social worker said that it would take a dramatic change on her parents’ parts to get her back. The change hasn’t happened yet. But that doesn’t mean much when your whole world is in the judge’s hands. A judge who’s been known to make “crazy decisions”.

You learn to put big, heavy thoughts out of your mind. You learn to compartmentalize the days when she goes for visits with her parents and your heart breaks over and over again. You are grateful for every holiday you get to spend with her and every cute outfit you get to see her in. You take an insane amount of pictures. You get by with prayer and faith, coupled with just not thinking about the future. You live, knowing that in eight weeks, a stranger could make a decision that rips your family apart and puts your baby in an unsafe and unstable situation. All the people who have been around all year and are close to the situation see it, but will the judge agree?

As we work on our yearly recertification classes, we tell each other we’ll never do this again. We put the future on hold while we wait to see what happens with Midge, but we also know that going through these ups and downs and all of the parent visitations and such is not a sustainable lifestyle for our family. God obviously knew what he was doing when he threw us into this, blind, because we never would have done it if we’d known then what we know now about how the foster system works. Then again, if we keep Midge, it will all be worth it, of course. Wow. God knew and God knows. Isn’t it good that God doesn’t reveal our future to us? Isn’t it good to depend on the One who knows what will happen a year from now? Isn’t it good to know that if we follow Him, He will move us in the right direction for our lives and our families, even if that direction is the opposite of where we would walk by ourselves?

Upstairs I hear a baby girl babbling herself to sleep (I hope). A few miles away I have two little boys who think I hung the moon, and a girl who’s healing and growing every day. Every time I rock Midge before bed, I have a chance to sing something right into her heart and her mind. If we keep her, I’ll keep teaching her the same lessons for years to come. And if she leaves us, I hope that someday when she’s grown, she’ll have a vague feeling that “God is So Good” and that “Jesus Loves Me” and it just might pull her in the right direction. Fostering is about love and about hope for the future.  We especially hope for a bright future eight weeks from now.

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