Foster Parenting: It’s Good… for Your Marriage??

It’s been just under 5 weeks since Milkman and I became foster parents. When I got the call from the social worker that there was a need to place a sibling set, and would we take them, if our home study could be expedited, I said I would need to talk to my husband. I called Milkman, my heart racing, and we agreed we would pray about it for 30 minutes, and then I would call him back and we would make our decision. 

Thirty minutes later I called and said, “So, what do you think?” And before the words were all out of my mouth, he said, “we should do this.”

The rest of that day is a blur. Cleaning, arranging furniture, going grocery shopping, and putting our own 3 children to bed. But what will forever ring clearest in my mind is what happened after everything was done. Milkman and I put flowered sheets on the twin bed and placed a stuffed bunny I had purchased just a couple of hours earlier on the pillow, and we sat down, side by side. We prayed for the little ones who would be coming to live with us the next day, and when we finished I said, “Babe? I’m already on an emotional roller coaster. We are going to need to be so transparent with each other. Can we commit to being as open as we can about what we are feeling during this process?”

Now, if you know me, you know I’m a bit of an open book. I don’t mince my words often. And if you know anything about my marriage to Milkman, you know we are very open with one another and seek to have quality communication with each other. However, there is a little box in the back of every parent’s brain that has a lock on it. In that box are the feelings of inadequacy you have as a parent. In that box is where you hide your list of parental failures. And the most secret thing in that box, are the things you think about parenthood and your children from time to time that you are too afraid to type or utter for fear of judgement. You may even just fear that saying them makes those feelings more tangible and real, and therefore more scary. 

I knew that I was going to need a whole steamer trunk for that box once I became a Foster parent, because I assumed (and rightly so) that I would go through so many more feelings of inadequacy, so many more feelings of failure, and so many more feelings about how I would view myself as a foster parent and my foster children. I knew that I was going to have to open up to Milkman about those deep, hidden thoughts if we were going to make this work. And he was going to have to with me.
In the first 24 hours we had our placements, I had to unload on Milkman several times. I would say, “I know this sounds [selfish, naïve, strange, etc.] but, right now I am feeling really [scared, confused, frustrated, etc.]. What about you?” And then he would reply with what he was unpacking from his box.

Every time there has been a change, a bit of news, a call from a social worker, or a meltdown from a child, we have this exchange. It is happening less and less as time goes on. I am able to cope more, he is too. We are learning that if biological parenthood seemed overwhelming or emotionally draining, Foster parenting is incomparably much more so. But still, we have our talks in the evenings when staring at chubby cheeks, freckles, and curls while all 5 children sleep. We can’t believe we are doing this. We can’t imagine not doing this. We can’t believe we love these children so much. We can’t believe we care for their mother (whom we have never met) so much.

Like I said, we’ve always talked, Milkman and I. But I’ve never opened up that little box quite so wide. And same goes for him. We have become vulnerable to one another in new ways. We have an entirely new level of transparency. We hold each other up, because most days, no one is going to understand how hard Foster parenting is except for another foster parent. He’s the closest friend I have, and it just so happens that he is a foster parent, too.

Don’t get me wrong, Fostering can be hard on your marriage. There’s a lot of stress adding a change to your family dynamic, and it can be scary. The lack of sleep, schedule changes, visits, appointments, and nearly non-existent down time when you have 5 children under 5 is draining. But some how, right now, it’s pulling us closer together, and I’m thankful for it.

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