Just Okay

I do not like to be good enough. I do not like to be just okay. Last summer, my family rented an AirBnB. It was wonderful, truly the best vacation we had ever had. I privately messaged the owner with a list of minor issues with the home so she knew to repair them, because the home had been booked solid for months, I assumed she just didn’t know about them. Really simple things like burnt out lightbulbs, or peeled off wallpaper or missing towels and cutlery. I assured her that the house was wonderful, it wouldn’t affect our rating of her home, and we hoped to come back, it was just an FYI. When it came time to rate the home, I gave a detailed review, praised the home endlessly, and gave it 5 stars. Her review of me came up, where she criticized me for being too wordy in emails (guilty as charged, look at me now, I can already tell this post is going to be too long) and said I was “just okay.” JUST okay? Just OKAY?! JUST OKAY?!?! I wiped all the surfaces with bleach wipes, stripped all the beds, washed all the towels, left a thank you note, cleaned everything, swept, wiped down the fridge. Just okay?!

I tend to be a perfectionist in some aspects (not all). I like things to be done a certain way. I have high standards for myself and my children. I like my fitted sheets folded in perfect rectangles, I like my toilet scrubbed a specific way, I like my scrambled eggs cooked on a screaming hot cast iron in 40 seconds and removed immediately and topped with the perfect amount of coarse salt. When it comes to baby and kid stuff, don’t get me started on car seat safety, and I am probably the only person I know who is sanitizing bottles post-first birthday. I don’t offer solid foods before 6 months, I nurse all my bios to natural weaning age, I use rigid formula preparing protocol for our fosterlings, and I document the heck out of everything I do.

So a few years ago when we were fostering our 4th kiddo and the social worker said “Rachel, I’m not looking for his mom to be perfect. I’m not looking for her to be you. I’m looking for her to be just safe enough. Just good enough. Just okay enough to keep him alive.” I was of course flabbergasted. How could you take a child out of a home with everyone’s underwear was folded in perfect envelope shapes, and stacked like files in their little drawers and move him somewhere where the bare minimum is “just good enough to stay alive”?!

We just celebrated 6 years of fostering a few weeks ago, and I’m finding that indeed, not everyone has to be me. They don’t have to face all their canned goods the same way and have spreadsheets for their Costco shopping. They just have to be able to care for the child at a safe level. They have to feed the child 3 times a day. And sometimes those parents are going to feed their kids apple juice and Cheetos, something this mother just doesn’t do. Sometimes they are going to let their kids sleep with the TV on, a travesty in my home. Some parents are going to let their children graduate to a booster before the maximum weight on their 5-point car seat, a thought which literally gives me palpitations.

I shouldn’t look at the family of the child who is placed in my home and say “if this baby is gonna go home, they need to be a carbon copy of me.” I have to say “will this child be safe— enough?” A lot of times the answer is yes, even if I really fight that answer. And if the answer is no, being that the goal of all foster care is, what my friends? Ding ding! Reunification, that’s right! Then I better do everything in my power to set them up and help them be good enough, safe enough, okay enough. That means I have to mentor, I have to co-parent, I have to celebrate their every achievement, I have to sit with them in court and show them I’m here to cheer them on, I have to write safety tips and schedules for them, I have to help them set up everything they need to make their home safer. And the hardest part? I have to be at peace with it if and when that child that I have loved, fed, clothed, kissed, cuddled, wept over, advocated for, driven all over the countryside for appointments, prayed over, and indeed written a book’s worth of notes, documentation, spreadsheets, charts, and schedules— goes home to a house where they might eat donuts and soda for breakfast.

At the end of the day, I have no legal or biological right to that child. Yes, they feel like my own. But they aren’t my own. So if the powers that be say the place they need to be is with their family, in their home, kept just safe enough, it’s not my job freak out in the corner that their parents aren’t AS safe as me. Or AS organized as I am. Or AS responsible as I am. (Let me just be real and add here that I WILL be rocking back and forth in the corner freaking out, but there’s nothing I can do about it, so I shouldn’t! 😂)

I lost my mind last year when I was rated as “just okay”. I actually cried about it. I vented to my sisters and my friends. I could not believe that someone had the audacity to rate me as “just okay”. I had to go to God and deal with my pride over how upset I was at being seen as mediocre. My incredibly talented and funny friend created this embroidery piece for me, and I have it hanging in my room to remind me that as highly as I might have viewed myself leaving that AirBnB, someone else thought my standards were just okay. Talk about humbling.

If the requirement for parenting was perfection, then none of us would be able to parent. Heck, some of you run way tighter ships that I do, and if you were the required standard, I would also surely fail, spreadsheets and all. My encouragement for you, if you’re like me, is to stop judging parents because they aren’t you. No one is you, except you. And that’s okay, and also? Sometimes being just okay, is actually okay.

(Note: I want to be clear that this is something I am working on. This is literally me preaching at me right now. Trying to tell myself these truths when I feel like every fiber in me is fighting it. This is not something I have attained, I am not some holier than thou perfect person who doesn’t judge people. I do a LOT. And so as I am writing this, my number one audience member is me. I really hope I can learn this lesson sooner than later!)

No, I’m Not Adopting Her

“But are you going to adopt her?” The question I anticipate with both glee in hopes of educating and dread because of the response the educating will bring.

The short answer is no, but the follow up questions that come are as predictable as flies landing on feces.

“But, why?”

“Did you not want her?”

“Does he have ‘issues’?”

“Oh you’re planning on sending her home? Is that a… good thing?”

“Is someone else going to adopt him? Can I adopt him?”

“Don’t you think he would be better off with you than his parents?”

Adoption is viewed by the general public as the ultimate goal in the foster care process. The last, but most important part. The beautiful part. The happy part. The “living the dream” part. It is because of this that I have begun to become hugely outspoken in my defense of fostering to reunify. I feel like some sort of wild and fanatic preacher on the topic that everyone looks sideways at.

No, there are no reunifying parties, there are no special pictures with the judge and a stuffed animal signifying a child’s return home. There are few viral posts that number a child’s days in foster care, followed not by an adoption announcement, but by a reunification announcement.

And foster parents? Well I’m here to tell you that personally, I don’t want accolades. (In fact, I think it’s weird when people give them.) But! Foster parents are often portrayed as people who want to soak money out of a crappy system in order to furnish the high life (and all the foster parents being paid a dollar and 14 cents an hour laughed a great laugh!) while adoptive parents are seen as selfless saviors rescuing a child from an evil drug addict.

Listen, let’s cut to the chase. When I smile and answer your question with a “No, we aren’t adopting. The purpose of foster care is always reunification unless (and only unless) it is deemed too unsafe for a child to return home. So it’s actually a really great thing that his parents are doing so well and working so hard to get him back.” And you give me a bewildered and disappointed look because I am not adopting this “poor child”, it kinda makes me wanna scream until that sympathetic look off your face disappears.

Let’s hear it again: THE 📢 GOAL 📢 OF📢 FOSTER CARE📢 IS📢 REUNIFICATION.

I don’t care if I sound like a cult leader by saying it, I don’t care if I make you uncomfortable by beating this drum, I don’t care if it doesn’t fit your perfect world narrative.

Children belong with their families (full stop.)

When that is not a safe option, then adoption becomes a necessary part of that story. It is the fail safe, not the modus operandi.

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End note: Before you come at me defensively with why your adoption is justified, or sharing that your friend had to adopt because the child’s mother was a crack dealer, you’ve missed the point. This post is not to degrade adoption— I am thankful for adoption. Adoption is a very important fail safe. This point of this post is to educate those unfamiliar with the system on what the actual point of the foster care system is about.

Why the heck am I doing this?

Early yesterday morning, after Milkman and I were awake 11 times through the night between the 6 children in our home, I kissed him and left for an eye appointment. While I was there, he got everyone ready for the day, fed, and read Bible with them. I couldn’t come home after the appointment because I needed to get diapers from target (in 2 sizes because we don’t know what size fits this baby best), and a bunch of other random newborn stuff. I got home, the kids were handed off to me so Milkman could work, and I had to find out how to homeschool 3 older kids while handling a newborn, nursing toddler, and preschooler (the answer by the way is not well, and with the assistance of a baby carrier, and Cocomelon). Then came calling 5 doctors to find anyone who takes the state insurance so this baby can get a checkup and getting the runaround and then a “no” after each one. Lunch and Naptime were total and complete disasters, trying to keep everyone quiet while Milkman had a video call for work, and then somehow get 3 children who all need to be held or sang to or breastfed or bottlefed or a mix of the above in order to sleep. Then came cooking beans and rice for our small group later in the evening, dropping baby off for a visit with parents (did I mention the social worker gave me the wrong address? New town, no clue where to go, and lots of traffic= complete meltdown for me and 10 minutes lost with the parents which is beyond upsetting). Drove back home, finished cooking, tried desperately to clean something, picked up baby from visit, rushed out to small group, came home, we put 6 kids to bed (a feat, let me tell you), and then I realized I hadn’t done my lesson prep for the week. The preschooler can’t fall asleep without me by the door so I lesson prepped in the hallway on the tile floor while Milkman did laundry (first time we ever washed a diaper with the clothes, that was fun for him to cleanup), and washed bottles. We both finished our tasks around 10:15, got ready for bed, showered, and fell into bed at 11.

I cannot tell you the amount of times I asked myself yesterday “why the bleep am I doing this?!” Why did I think I could handle fostering away from family and my supports? Why did I willingly take on a 6th child that is a newborn and therefore will not be sleeping at night? How did I forget the time and travel that comes with foster parenting? Why did I think I would be able to handle all this? What if I can’t do this? Should we have said no? Why do I even want to foster?

The short answer I would have given you while homeschool lesson planning for 3 grades at 9:30pm on cold tile floor last night is: I don’t know. I don’t know why we keep doing this. This is crazy. We must be actually out of our minds to keep doing this. The longer answer comes in the quiet moments when I have a chance to take a breath. I’m doing this because there is a need, and we have the means to fill this need. I’m doing this because we need more foster parents who are not looking for a free kid, and want to see families reunified. I’m doing this because we aren’t guaranteed an easy life. I’m doing this because I believe I have a moral and spiritual obligation to do so. I’m doing this because it’s the right thing to do. I’m doing this because life is already crazy, so what’s a little more?

This is hard, and while not unfamiliar with difficult things, I am out of practice with all of the difficult things that come with foster parenting. I know that in a couple weeks, Milkman and I will hit our stride and our schedule will find a new normal, and we will adjust to even less sleep than the minimal sleep we have survived on for 9 years, and we will have a better handle on life.

But right now? Right now, I’m going to vacillate between “I absolutely cannot do this” and “I am so glad we are doing this”, not just daily, but sometimes hourly, and even minute to minute, and that’s okay.

Two Challenges to Foster Parents

Last Saturday I did my very last foster care training panel with my old county. I started paneling over 3 years ago, while pregnant with my 4th and fostering the most incredible little boy. (Foster parents who have had multiple placements and been doing this a while, you know that one placement that you cannot stop thinking of, worrying about, and praying for long after they’ve left? That was him.)

I got on this panel and became a foster care ambassador with our county because that little man’s therapist had connected with us during his placement and we talked a lot about reunification and foster care (oh wait, those are the same things… 😉🙃 who’s feeling snarky today? I am!) She told me about the foster care training programs that she ran for our county and told me that there were panels that would present in front of each new crew of prospective foster parents consisting of a foster parent, a reunified parent, and a former foster youth (FFY). That panel became one of the most mind blowing and life changing things to happen to my foster care journey.

For over a year, I sat next to one FFY who pleaded with foster parents to take teens, and I sweetly smiled and nodded, while internally thinking “not me, but yes, those people should definitely do that!” About 14 months after the first panel where I sat next to her, we said yes to a teenager. See what I mean about a life changing experience?

On this panel, I gained newfound empathy for those parents struggling with addiction, for those in a familial cycle of child abuse, for those who didn’t just lose their kids once— but multiple times. I gained an incredible insight on FFY who had awful experiences with foster parents, those who wanted to be loved and accepted but gave their foster parents hell for fear of being hurt, and those who never found their forever home. I often felt in those panels, where I was a Johnny One-Note beating the drum of reunification, that I was the weakest link, because nothing I could have said would have mattered as much as the stories of the other two panel members. They were the ones who had experienced very real and serious trauma.

As I’ve shared, we moved away from our county, but I continued to panel via Zoom (which was such a blessing!) When we completed our training in our new county, I was so saddened that they didn’t have a similar segment in their training, as I can’t imagine anything being more impactful in training than to hear from 3 experienced key parties in any foster care situation.

I was informed a couple of weeks ago that my former county had changed their rules and I would no longer be able to serve on the panel since they were not including non-county residents in the trainings. My heart dropped. The one last tie I had to my former county’s DCFS system was to be severed.

And so, this last Saturday, I served my last panel, and once again I was amazed at the stories my other two co-panelists shared and what they had lived through. I was overwhelmed once again at the heartbreak that causes the need for foster care and the heartbreak it in turn causes.

As it was my last panel, I was given the opportunity to share any last remarks on being a foster parent. While I’m just one foster mama, with no special talents, I wanted to share those last thoughts with you, in case anyone might find them helpful.

1. You aren’t just fostering a child. You are there to be a resource to an entire family. If you cannot support reunification until rights are terminated, then you aren’t fulfilling your role as a foster parent. Is it easy? No. Is it scary? Yes. Frustrating? Mhm. Appalling, mind blowing, overwhelming, angering, and exhausting? Check, check. But seeing a family reunified at the end of it is infinitely worth all of that pain and drain (and before my adoptive parents come at me, yes I’m grateful for you too, but that is so often the emphasis of foster parents, that we aren’t talking about that today!)

What does supporting the whole family look like? Making sure sibling visits happen if their siblings are elsewhere, keeping in regular contact with their parents and giving updates, advocating for their parents to get services and transportation. It means pushing when the social worker says they can’t find a parent, it means asking for extra visitation support for parent and child to make the most of their time together, it means at a minimum, telling that child every night that their parent loves them.

2. My very last uttered sentence on the panel this weekend was “Please take a teen.” The same words I heard from the incredibly brave FFY panelist I sat next to on more panels than not. Maybe you’re like Rachel in 2018 nodding and smiling outwardly at that statement right now while internally screaming “fat chance, Rach!” Okay so maybe you feel a teen isn’t right for your family right now, but step a little further out of your comfort zone. Maybe be willing to do emergency placements if you’re only adoption minded to help dip your toes into a different mindset, maybe it’s take an elementary age kid if you only take tinies. Maybe it’s to take a special needs kid or a child from a different religion from you. Stretch yourself, and stretch your family. I have said it before, and I’ll say it again: I bonded more quickly with our teenager than I did with any other placement. I didn’t think being a 33 year old mother to a 17 year old and a grandmother to her baby would have ever been something I was comfortable with— but it changed our lives and it changed theirs, because I get to be in their lives forever, a privilege which we didn’t get with all of the littles who left before.

I am very sad to be mourning yet another severed connection to the place I called home for 34 years, I am sad to not have the opportunity to hear and learn from other reunified parents and former foster youth, I am sad to not get to tell new foster parents about the tragic beauty of reunification. But man, am I ever grateful for the last 3 years I had, because without that voice to my right telling me to take a teen, we might never have said yes to our daughter and grand baby.

I hope that wherever you are in your foster care journey, you are ready and willing to support whole families and stretch yourself!

The Last Mile

I have never run a marathon, and I never expect to. But I imagine how I am feeling in this moment is similar to that last mile a marathon runner runs.

After 13 months, our girls are reunifying and moving out.

I am elated. There’s no other word for it. We have advocated and pushed and done whatever we could to help make this happen. There is no greater joy than a family being put back together and getting a fresh start in a new place. Parent and child are finally starting a new chapter of their lives together. Sure they’ve been living together here in our home, but now they are on their own. It’s the next big thing.

I am terribly sad. Sad is such a general word, but it’s the only word I can find. I watched baby’s first steps, heard her first words, took her on her first Disney trip, held her when she cried, kissed her booboos. I’ve received countless kisses and cuddles from her, tickled her til we both were in stitches laughing, watched her bond with Milkman grow stronger than with any other caregiver, and felt her sleepy breathing belly on my back in the carrier for so many naps. For over 13 months she has slept in my home every single night, and awoken every single morning to the sounds of her 4 (now 5) siblings. I’ve been greeted by her big smile and loud voice yelling “MAMA!” Every time I came out of my room in the mornings. How could you not be sad saying goodbye to a child who has been as close as your own for over a year? And her mommy? The teenager I have seen from a minor to a legal adult, the girl whom I have held many evenings working through things, the girl whose gorgeous long hair I have braided countless times, with whom I have laughed so hard we’ve almost peed ourselves and cried so hard we’ve emptied ourselves of all emotion. The teenager who moved out in a fury months after she came, the teenager who returned back to our family a few months ago. This teenager that I bonded with quicker than I ever bonded with a foster baby, is leaving my home forever.

I am relieved. Both for selfless and selfish reasons— yes, I am a human and I am sometimes selfish. I am relieved because we worked so incredibly hard to make this happen. I am relieved because families belong together. I am relieved because this is the next step. But I am also relieved because I am tired. I am tired of meetings, specialist appointments, so many therapies, so much paperwork. I am relieved because I haven’t had time to bond with my 2 week old baby because from the second I got home from the hospital I have been on calls and doing interviews for next steps and trying to calm storms and repair old wounds for a hurting soul. I am relieved because I haven’t been alone with my husband in months. I’m relieved because 5 kids will seem like a breeze after 7 kids. I’m relieved because I’m tired— I’m so so so tired of having to model perfect parenting 24/7. I’m relieved because my family needs a break from the constant trauma that has washed through our home for these last 13 months, and the behaviors that trauma results in.

I am grateful. I am grateful we said yes to a teenager last year after saying we wouldn’t do that while we had young children. I’m grateful we said yes to her and her baby when we thought we wouldn’t foster moms and their babies til we were much older. I’m grateful I bugged every provider, therapist, and social worker til we got the safety nets in place for these two to set them off on the right foot. I am grateful my children have grown in patience and selflessness, sharing their mama with so many others. I am grateful that I have been stretched— not TO my limit— but BEYOND my limits, til I thought I would break and shatter into a million pieces, but didn’t. I am grateful that my life has been forever changed by these two souls.

I am hopeful. I am hopeful for their future, that they will be successful in their reunification. I am hopeful they will stay in our family’s life forever. I am hopeful they will break old cycles.

We are on the last mile. The finish line is so close I can taste the rest at the end of it, feel it in my aching soul. I can’t wait for it to be here— but I am also so scared to cross the finish line, and everything to be forever different. This is foster care: where we take the bitter along with the sweet, where our family is ripped apart, so another can be made whole.

A Time to Bathe, and a Time to Cuddle

I have been uncharacteristically private in regards to our current foster placement. With past kiddos it has felt appropriate to share snippets here and there while protecting their privacy and stories. For this placement, it has not felt appropriate.

However, last night as I rocked Little One and the tears were flowing I wanted to share something on my heart.

Many times when we get a child back from a visit, we are tempted to bathe them immediately. Sometimes this is necessary if the child comes back obviously soiled, caked in grime, or sticky from treats. I’m sure there are also many germaphobes like me who like the ritual of the after-visit bath to cleanse away the host of germs you imagine them to have touched in a county visitation room where countless children have been snotting, slobbering, and chewing on the same objects all day.

Yesterday, Little One came back from visit smelling very strongly of their parent’s preferred fragrance. The smell of this fragrance was incredibly harsh. I am really sensitive to perfumes and colognes, perhaps more than most, but this time it was particularly bothersome. I began sneezing, my eyes were watering, and I even broke out into hives on my face as I cuddled Little One after the visit. As I was scratching my chin and blowing my nose while rocking this very upset, post-visit child, I thought “I’ve gotta bathe this baby.” As soon as I had the thought, Little One went into another fit of screaming, and I thought “Wait— this is all this child has. This scent. There is no physical touch from their bio parent to cling to, no article of parent’s clothing, no face to reach out and touch. There is only this scent.” If I bathed the child there and then, I would be stripping away the one sensory reminder this child had to hold on to as they went to bed. So I didn’t bathe Little One. Instead I put my head down close to theirs, ignoring the itching hives and runny nose I had. I prayed and sang over the child, and though this baby usually goes to sleep without any rocking, I rocked Little One to sleep.

Once I left the room, I cried. Yes, Little One is secure with us. Little one is loved, cared for, and knows us, having spent over half their life living with us. But Milkman and I are not, nor will we ever be Little One’s blood relatives. There is an invisible bond that this child will have to their biological parents that has and will continue to confound me, no matter how infrequent visits may be. The fragrance may have been offensive to my nose, but if I washed that away, Little One would be devoid of that lingering memory of their parent.

I’m not here to say that you shouldn’t bathe or shower a child after visit. I’m not here to say that you should always choose to suffer with an unpleasant or lingering cologne or perfume. I’m not saying that if you immediately bathe them that you’re a bad foster parent. I’m just saying these are the things we should seek to remember when we are caring for other people’s children.

Keep up the good work, foster parents. The little unnoticed things you do may go a longer way than you think at helping shape a child for the rest of their life.

Leaving

Do you know what it’s like to have a social worker tell you that the child you have loved and raised is leaving almost immediately?

Now I share this experience with his mother. She was told this when he was a newborn before he came to me. Now I am being told this while he is a toddler headed back to her.

We knew this day was coming. We knew. We are foster parents, and the goal of foster care is reunification. He was only ever supposed to be here temporarily. But time kept going, and dates kept getting pushed, until next thing you know, reunification seems far away, because it’s always been far away. And then you sit down for what you think is a totally benign meeting with the social worker and you’re told “he’s leaving. Presently.”

I’ve read about these situations. Going from 1 hour visits to reunification, but that happened to other people. In less progressive states. We would certainly be doing half days, full days, overnights, weekends… you know, the normal protocol.

But, no.

The child whose open wounded skin you cleaned and soothed, the child you fed at 3am, the child you rocked for hours on end while staring at his beautiful face, the child you fed his first bite of food to, the child who called you mama first, the child who took his first steps to you, the child you advocated for, the child you loved as much as your own flesh and blood… that child is leaving. In two days.

My heart shattered. My stomach lurched. My voice sprung out of my body involuntarily like an animal wounded. My tears so thick I could not see. My hands shook. My face flushed. My head spun. This is the same feeling I felt when I saw my still baby with no heartbeat on the ultrasound. This is the first part of mourning.

I broke the news to my two oldest children as soon as I walked in the door. Captain held me tightly and said what I have drilled into their heads for months: “We knew this day was coming, mama.”

And so we did. And so he will leave. And so we will weep. And so we will mourn. And so we will worry. And after I deliver this baby who kicks so fiercely in my womb— we will open our home again. We will say yes again. We will love intensely once again… only to say goodbye, yet again. Because this is foster care.

Editing to add:

Hello All,

While I usually try to individually reply to each comment, I currently don’t have the emotional capacity to do so right now. Know that I have read every comment and appreciate each of you, your support, and your prayers.

To those who have walked this road already: I feel what you have felt. There is a comfort in knowing I am not alone.

To those asking why this happens: nothing illegal has happened, it’s more common than we think. I don’t make the decisions, because I’m just a foster parent. I may not always like the decisions others make, but I have to trust that this is just how the system works, and I will not let this sour me— just yet. Our work as a foster family hasn’t finished. (Though it will be on pause til the new baby is born).

We are hurting, we are grieving, but most of all we are praying for this little family that is going to be intact again, for peace, wisdom, strength, and safety. As sad and as broken as I am right now, can you imagine how over the moon his Mommy must be? I dare say as I am packing his things up with tears, she must be preparing with the world’s biggest smile!

We take the bitter with the sweet. Because that’s just what foster care is. Bittersweet.

Thank you again for all the love and encouragement! It has helped tremendously.

As Much— but Different

One fear I had going into Fostering was “what if I don’t love the children as much as my own biological children?” And then the follow-up was thinking, I suppose if I didn’t love them as much and they are only here temporarily, that’s not the end of the world, but what if I adopted and I didn’t love that child as much as my bios?

I read blogs, Facebook posts, and books where people always just said they loved their foster and adopted children as much as their bios. But, it still scared me. Okay, so those people love their kids as much, but what if I don’t? And frankly, no one can answer that question before they begin fostering or before they’ve adopted, and it may be on a case by case basis. You may have that “as much” love for one child and not another.

Last night, I had the opportunity to speak on a panel with a former foster youth who aged out of the system, a reunified parent, and I was representing foster parents during a training for new foster parents. As I was answering a question about the dynamic in our home between bios and fosters, I came to this realization, and voiced it: I love my foster child with the same intensity that I love my biological children. I often think that no one has ever loved their foster child as much as I love mine. But I would be lying if I said it was the same type of love. Before you judge me too harshly, let me give you an example.

I love my husband intensely. If the dial goes to a 10, I love him at an 11 (name that movie reference!). I also love my bio children, and I love them at an 11. But it’s a different type of love. Same goes for my parents. 11… but on a different dial. I love them all to the same intensity, but my love for each of them is a love that plays out differently. So, when I say I love my foster son just as much as I love my biological children, I don’t want to give you a false idea about how it may be for you, by leaving it as simple as that.

You will (hopefully!!!) love your foster child just as much as you love your bios, but don’t be surprised or feel guilty if that love is different. I don’t know why exactly. Maybe because I co-slept and nursed my bios, so there was that really early physical bonding. Maybe because they are a permanent fixture in my life and in our home. Maybe because I’m parenting with just their father, and not co-parenting with a stranger. I’m sure there are lots of components to the puzzle.

My encouragement to you today is this:

If you are considering foster care or adoption (yes, those are two very different categories!) and the fear of loving a stranger is holding you back, I’m here to encourage you, that it is very possible to love a child who is not from your body, just as much as you love your bio kids.

If you are currently loving on a foster or adoptive child, and you love them just as much, but it feels a different? That’s okay. I think it’s that way for a lot of us. It doesn’t mean you love them less— it’s just a little different.

You Can’t Fix “The System”

No one sits behind their desk and says “Lets emotionally scar a child”.

No one speaks out in a courtroom and tells a judge, “Your Honor, we need to ensure this child ends up with RAD.”

No one sits at your dining room table and says, “We really ought to set this baby up for complete emotional failure in life.”

In foster parent circles, you hear a lot of people saying, “The system is so broken! It must be fixed!” And indeed it is broken. Like the public school system, it is a one size fits all path. So while slight variations may be made here or there, it’s designed to work for the average case— whatever that is.

In my county, young children are not supposed to end up in the system terribly long. This is a good thing. But what is supposed to happen and what does happen are two different things. A child whose life hangs in the balance. A baby who has formed attachments to people other than their parents for months or even years, suffers from the instability of belonging nowhere. An older child passed from home to home, racking up a line of diagnoses and worsening behavior with each disruption. A teenager, ready to age out, with no real hope or plan of what comes next.

So we should speed up the process, right? Well, if we reunite these children too quickly, their parents will fail. Often times, parents have a long history of struggles to overcome in a short time. Addiction, mental health problems, abusive tendencies, and the like cannot be fixed with the swish of a wand. These hurdles can take a long time to overcome. We set children up for failure and re-entry into the system, we risk their physical and mental health, and sometimes we risk even their lives by reuniting too soon.

But, if we terminate parents’ rights too quickly, we needlessly rip families apart. This leads to resentment on the part of the adoptee. We see depression, RAD, we see regret, we see that a family may have been reunited if the parents only had more time. We see two families worn down and broken.

So what’s the fix? How do we “reform the system!”? I don’t think there is an answer to that. Call me a pessimist, but there is no fix that would work in a one size fits all system. The system, “broken” though it may be, is the most effective formula for the middle cases. The ones on top and the ones on bottom get the short end of the stick, but there simply has to be a middle of the road procedure they slap on every case.

Individualizing every case would be ideal of course. But this would require so much more manpower, so many less hard and fast laws, and so much more personal interpretation of the rules on a case by case basis by the decision makers. While that sounds great, it is, of course, a lawsuit nightmare waiting to happen. You terminate the rights of one parent at 3 months into the case, give others 6 years, and you’re asking for revolt.

So what happens? What happens is you sit awake all night with a screaming baby on visit days who is torn apart by anxiety because you left her with a stranger for a few hours. Except that stranger is her mother. You have a little boy, so shaken up by instability that he eats obsessively, hoards food, and steals more for later, because it’s the only thing he can control. You have a preteen girl punching holes in walls, completely conflicted by the stability she gets in one home, and the love she feels for her mother— no matter how unstable her mom’s home may be. You have an adolescent boy shooting up heroine to stop feeling the rejection he has felt from being bounced around home to home for the majority of his life.

So, no. There are no lawyers asking to inflict RAD on a child. There are no social workers providing drugs for foster youth. There are no judges sentencing small humans to a life of depression and instability— but it’s still what’s happening. Fix the system? I don’t think you can.

Sound bleak? Yeah. It is. I’m worn out. I’m weary. I’m tired. I’m wrecked. What can I do? What can you do? If we can’t save the foster care system, how do we make a difference?

By taking the punches— sometimes literally. By being a child’s rock to cling to when they’ve been shipwrecked in a stormy ocean of instability. By praying for that baby while you rock him, since he is too small to understand why he is so scared of visit days. By advocating for resources when you are personally tapped out, and that young lady needs clinical help. By not giving up on the child— even when you’ve given up on the system.

You cannot control the system. You cannot control the parent. You cannot control the judges, lawyers, and social workers. You cannot control the child sometimes. But, you can control the conscious decision to keep going.

So. Tired though we may be. Exhausted. Wrecked. Jaded. Bruised and broken. Soldier on. Keep going.

I Don’t Want To

I don’t want to co-parent today. I don’t want to pretend that it isn’t frustrating that someone parents differently from me. I don’t want to get a child back with a diaper put on incorrectly. I don’t want to smell someone else’s strong perfume on him.

I don’t want to have to spend 3 days getting eczema flares down after a visit. I don’t want to deal with the meltdowns that will plague us for the next 24 hours. The clingy baby who refuses to let you pee alone, because he’s so afraid you’re going to leave him with someone else again. I don’t want to deal with crappy naps and night terrors for the next day.

I don’t want to send texts and pictures every day. I don’t want to give updates that aren’t appreciated. I don’t want to spend hours writing up parenting instructions per the social worker to find out they were never read. I don’t want to spend hours every week transporting and dealing with 3 other whiny children stuck in a car. I don’t want to make pleasant small talk at drop off and pick up.

I don’t want to worry. I don’t want to be scared about something going wrong. I don’t want to spend hours with my stomach in knots in fear. I don’t want to get a baby back who has gotten hurt.

This is the point where you ask “Then why are you a foster parent? Stop complaining and find something else to do with your life!”

Because this is what I’m supposed to do. Because doing the right thing is hard— but you still have to do it. Because being selfish isn’t a right– and it’s a pretty crappy character quality. Because, if I don’t do it, someone else also might not. Because this is what i signed up to do. Because being a co-parent is a necessary role for a foster parent to fulfill. Because this is how I can help a family reunite. Because sometimes you have to fake it ‘til you make it. Because this baby is worth trying for. Because his mama is worth trying for. Because it’s not about me. Because, today is just a bad day. Because, tomorrow will probably be better.