A few months ago, Meg shared one of my posts on her blog. I had never seen her blog before, so I clicked on the link and started reading. I found a girl about my age with a heart of gold. I was especially intrigued by her posts on foster care. As a pediatric nurse, I’ve seen moms give up their children for a time while they get help, and usually it breaks their hearts. I’ve seen foster parents who give themselves to their foster children for days or months, however long they are needed, and I’m always impressed by the depth of their love.
One of these parents shared with me, “You know, people say, ‘I could never do foster care. I would get too attached.’ I always tell them that it isn’t about you, it’s about the kids who need you.”
I asked Meg if she would like to write a post about her experiences with foster care for my blog. She wrote from her heart, and it touched mine.
It’s a full day and my brain and heart both are overflowing. In a few hours we’ve got a therapist to see for my 19 month old son, then after that there’s court, then a visit with birth parents depending on how everything goes in court. My brain spins with a million things to do but instead I rock him, my child, to sleep for his nap. I rock him extra long this morning, a bit nervous because it could be the last time I get to do so. I love this baby so much! The child in my womb kicks, and I feel certain that, while there are absolutely differences in foster children and biological children, and in the parenting of them, there is no difference in the amount of love I feel for each of them. I am their mama. They are my little boys. I love them both so much.
I wonder though, what it will be like to hold my baby in my arms with no fear that in the near future a judge will rule that he goes to another mommy, daddy, and home. I wonder what it will be like to not be some type of “co-parent” or the “other mommy”. It scares me a bit because I love being a foster mom despite the hard things that come along with it. I love the challenge. I love the rewards. I even love the birth parents.
I smile. “My” little girl’s birth mommy sent me a picture of her first day of first grade. She looks so happy and excited and nervous. It’s turned out to be a bit of a co-parenting type of situation, and, while hard at times, I find it so rewarding. I’d love to be the one to take her to school and get her settled on this momentous morning in her life. That job isn’t mine though. That’s her mommy’s job. My job is to be aware and step in when they need help. Have her over. Bake cookies with her. Be there for her. But mostly my job is not to be her mommy anymore, but to be there for her mommy as much I can and to empower her to be a good mommy to her kids. We make plans for family day at big brother’s camp- my husband and I, our foster son, little girl, and their mommy. It’s a bit of a different family–two families, really, but on days like these it feels like a sort of whole family. A bit like it’s my sister and her kids. I can’t believe that just a year and a half ago they were virtually strangers–a druggie living in a dumpy trailer in town with 3 hurting kids–a family who needed help–and I pray desperately that God will give her, and us, the strength to hang in there and keep climbing up with no more falls back down again.
Yes, this is my life as a stay at home foster mom. So many days full of therapy and court and visits and things that are mostly foreign to parents of only biological children. It’s different all right–but it doesn’t feel different to me. It feels… normal. There are lots of people with lots of questions on what foster care looks like in daily life and while this post would get way too long if I answered them all, I attempt to answer a few today–from my perspective as a young foster mom. One of the most common questions–and comments–we get as foster parents is this one:
1. “Don’t you get too attached?” More often, though, it’s worded this way. “I could never do that. I would get way too attached.” And yes, trust us we get attached! But in the world of foster care there’s no such thing as getting “too attached.” Attachment is the best thing that could happen for a child who has been through the kind of separation trauma that every foster kid has been through. Be aware, though, that on their end it will probably take a lot longer to get attached than one might think. They’ve had their trust shattered by adults whom they were supposed to be able to trust, and the whole attachment process is probably going to look a lot different than most think. Almost always, they come with a host of attachment issues already in place, and it takes so much more than your love to work through those issues. And you know what? If you’d get too attached that means you’d make a great foster parent! I suggest you connect with an agency today! There are over 400,000 children in foster care in the United States, and they each and every one deserve a foster family who will get “too attached.”
2. Usually this one is asked in a round about way, and this is probably the question I hate the most because most people who ask it seem to have a very wrong preconceived idea that doesn’t change no matter what your answer is. However, it is something everyone wants to know, and I get it! “How much do you get paid to keep a foster child?” First of all, there’s a reason the state calls it “reimbursement” instead of “payment” or “income”. That’s virtually all it is–reimbursement. You get a check at the beginning of every month for a few hundred dollars. Exactly how much depends on the age of the child and the services they are getting. Most times if a child is getting extra services because of high needs, it’s quite a bit more. However, that doesn’t come automatically. Instead the foster parent has to apply for it. In the case of the little boy currently with us, he is getting 3 kinds of therapy for his developmental delays, and his former foster parents had already applied for the high needs reimbursement before he came to us, so that’s the same amount we get every month. It’s enough to cover his expenses–diapers, etc., and also basically covers the time I spend with him in therapy. Still, if I worked the hours I do here with him in the office I worked in previously, I’d be “making” more money. In our experience with the foster children we had previously, the reimbursement didn’t nearly cover what we spent on them–which, by the way, was totally fine! Lots of agencies actually require that foster parents hand in detailed receipts of exactly what every penny was spent on, and almost all of it is required to be spent on the foster child. Our county agency does not require that–however, they do expect the children to live a “good” life with plenty of nice clothes, recreation, and things that one would perhaps not deem necessary. While I know there are dishonest foster parents out there who push for every penny they can get in reimbursement, and use it dishonestly, I would say there are very few foster parents who do it because of what they can get. It’s too difficult and scary of a job for that.
3. This one is more of an assumption than a question. “Their birth parents are terrible, and you don’t like them, and you don’t want the child to ever go back to that.” No. And yes, too. The relationship between birth and foster parents can be super complicated, but I’ve found that often, it’s in the foster parents’ hands. Their birth parents, more often than not, are people who have met with more unfortunate circumstances in life than I can even begin to imagine, and for that my heart hurts for them. Does that condone neglect or abuse? No! But it does make it much easier to be compassionate. Listen to their stories. Be willing to, if possible and safe, walk along beside them and empower them to pick up the broken pieces of their lives. They are imperfect humans just like us, but most of them love their kids. Many of them simply have never been shown how to be good parents. Many of them have crashed to the lowest point in their lives and need a helping hand on their way up. One may be surprised to know that for most foster kids this is one of the best things that can happen–for the the birth and foster parents to be able to work together. Foster care does almost always mean the goal of the court being reunification, and on top of the benefits to your child, I promise it will be a lot easier for you if you’ve built some sort of decent relationship with the birth parents if the child does move back home. One’s first goal though, as a foster parent, is to be an advocate for your child, and when it comes down to it there are many times a foster parent must choose to fight for the child instead of the family. In some situations it’s not possible to have contact with the birth parent, or it may be unsafe for you or even the child. It can be hard to know when to help and when to let other people do that job while you simply love and care for the child. With practice and experience it becomes a tiny bit easier, and one becomes a tiny bit wiser. It’s a battle. It’s tough. But it’s worth it. Every penny. Every ounce of energy.
My foster son smiles at me–“ma-ma-ma”–and he rattles a line of baby jibberish mama can’t understand. My heart melts. “I’ll go to court for you, baby, and while I can’t control the outcome, our Jesus knows what’s best for you and will always watch over you–even if I can’t always. I love you baby. I love you!”
Hi, my name is Meg and I live in the beautiful mountains of SW Virginia (lucky me!), with my family–as described in the post above. I’ve been married to my husband, Laban who goes by “Bert” for only a year and half. We’ve been foster parents to 3 different littles of varying ages since we got married and are expecting a biological son the first part of November. I never dreamed I’d be a foster parent. I was going to be a nurse–like Alison here–but God had other plans for me. I blog–when I can, which is rather rare lately–at musicofthestarlight.wordpress.com, and you can find more of my posts on foster care there.