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.

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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.

A Forever Changing Family

First, two became one. And that was the day Milkman and I were married. We were going to wait a year before trying for a baby.

2 months into our marriage we decided to “leave it up to God and see what happens.” We were pregnant the next month. Just two weeks before our first wedding anniversary, we became a family of 3 when Captain was born.

We thought we would wait a year before trying again. And then when Captain was 8 months old, we got another positive pregnancy test. Our sweet Mamitas was born 41 weeks later, and we became a family of 4.

When Mamitas was 11 months old, we had another positive pregnancy test. We were so excited to be a family of 5! We cherished each moment we had, but at my 17 week appointment, our little baby love was no longer. I delivered Ezra’s sleeping body 4 days later, and we remained a family of 4.

4 months later, another positive test! Our rainbow baby was the greatest joy of our lives. Peachy was born that Fall, and then we were 5. We knew after such a difficult pregnancy and traumatic labor and delivery that biological babies would not be in our near future, but we had already completed our foster parenting requirements, so we trusted that our family would grow in time.

9 months later, we received a call for two sisters from our foster agency. Within 24 hours of getting a call, we were a family of 7. Three months later, they reunified, and for two weeks, we became a family of 5 yet again.

It was too quiet, so imagine our joy when we received a call for an “adoptable” 5 day old newborn baby boy. Sweet Warrior. He left us just under 3 months later to a non-family relative home. We were devastated.

And the calls stopped. We were just 5 again. For 6 months we sat by the phone, and no more children came. But then, a call. And we were 6, when little Chatito came to live with us. And 6 we have happily been, and 6 we shall remain for a little while longer. Then 5 again when he reuinifies, but not much longer after that…

And we will be a family of 6 yet again. Because the Lord has blessed us with the gift of pregnancy!

We are grateful to God for giving us another baby to love. Our hands are full, but our hearts are bursting. What a joy to have 4 children at my feet to love on while a 5th steadily grows in my womb! Join us in praying for a healthy pregnancy and a sweet, full of life baby in Summer 2018!

Visitation Day Blues: Kid Edition

As we all piled for our morning cuddle on the couch the kids asked what the plan was for the day. I told them, “Don’t forget, you guys need to pack your backpacks with quiet activities, today is visitation.”

Captain, my oldest asked, “Is it the one where we go to the coffee shop?”

“No, that’s the other visit. Today is the one where you need to sit quietly in the car in the parking lot so your baby sister can sleep while the baby is visiting with his mom.”

Both my preschooler and kindergartener groaned. This is the least favorite day of the week. We eat an early lunch, every one goes potty, and we load up into the van and head to the other side of the county for our fosterling to visit his mother for an hour. Because of when it’s scheduled, my little ones end up stuck in the car for two and a half hours. I don’t like it either. Trying to keep my older kids quiet and occupied so that my youngest can get some sleep is stressful. On good days, she gets half of her normal length in nap. On bad days, it’s a 5 minute nap and a whole afternoon of meltdowns. It’s not easy on our foster baby either. Some how it always works out that he gets awoken to go to the visit or awoken once we get to the visit. Lots of interrupted sleep usually equals a very long day with lots of crying, nap fighting, and fussiness for him.

“Mom, we don’t like this visitation day! It’s boring!” I sighed as the day had just started and the complaining was already starting. Milkman looked at me sleepily from the corner of the couch where he spent the early morning after a very early wake up call from our foster baby. We trade off nights, so I actually got sleep last night, but I couldn’t say the same for my sweet husband.

As much as I wanted to reply, “Stop complaining, too bad!” I realized this was a teaching moment. “You know what guys? I don’t necessarily like this visitation day either. It’s stressful for me trying to ensure every one is quiet in the car. But… Well. Do you know why we do this? God says that we need to care for orphans and widows. Do you know what a widow is? It’s someone who has lost their spouse and has no one to care for them. Do you know what an orphan is?”

They looked at me blankly.

“An orphan is someone who either doesn’t have living parents, or their parents cannot currently safely care for them. The foster children we’ve had in and out of our home are considered orphans. So we actually have a really important job, because we are obeying God when we care for foster children. We don’t just do this because babies are cute— even though they are! We do this because we love them, and have a duty to obey God, and this is how our family has been called to obey. And one of the jobs of foster families is to make sure foster children get to see their parents.”

They nodded slowly. Well, the older kids did. My youngest, Peachy, was dancing around like a wild maniac to Celtic Christmas music. Never a dull moment.

Milkman chimed in, “Can you imagine if you only got to see mama and papa two hours a week?? You would miss us so much and we would miss you so much, right? The baby’s mommy wants to see her baby.”

I continued, “Exactly! And that’s one way we can serve his mommy, too. She loves her baby. So I know that visitation day is kinda lousy and boring for us. But it’s a sacrifice we make together as a family to obey God and to serve the baby and his mommy. Can you understand that?”

“Yes, mama.” They replied. I’m sure they didn’t feel super happy to go on with the plan for the day, but at least they now knew there was a valid reason behind their boring day ahead.

Sometimes teaching moments are hard to come by, and sometimes they fall perfectly in your lap, like it did for us today. My kiddos do sacrifice a lot for our family to continue fostering. While it’s not as much as Milkman and I have to, it’s a decent amount for very young children.

I hope they know, for as long or short as we have to foster, it’s not just something we do for the heck of it. It’s something that takes self sacrifice. It’s something that is hard to do. It’s something that takes giving up our schedules, preferences, and desires. It’s certainly not something we do for praise from others or accolades. But, most importantly it’s something that we do in love and obedience— together. As a family.

To the Average Foster Parent

Thank you…

For getting up 7 times in the night with a screaming baby who doesn’t share your DNA.

For googling ways to comfort a baby born addicted to meth, when you feel at a loss.

For crying over biological parents’ loss— even if they don’t seem to feel that loss so very much.

For singing lullabies to the stranger who moved into your home today and assuring her that she is safe.

For quietly patching holes in walls after uncontrollable tantrums.

For advocating on his behalf to school teachers, coaches, and friends.

For the moments when you stand under the shower shaking with righteous anger on behalf of a child who has had their innocence robbed far too young.

For driving miles and miles and miles each week to appointments, visitation, and therapy.

For getting the cold shoulder or worse from biological family members and responding in love.

For building a relationship with her mother, and seeking to mentor and model what a healthy family looks like.

For trying every possible way to help a child with RAD, when everyone else has given up.

For supporting reunification when you know your heart will snap.

For being willing to become a forever family when her family has disappeared.

For taking the punches and responding with “I love you.”

For being willing to risk.

In case no one else has said it, I will. Thank you.

Why I’ll Never Be a Successful Blogger 

We went camping a few weeks ago with some friends (total blast, don’t be afraid to go tent camping with a bunch of very young children!), and they had other friends camping with us as well who I hadn’t met before.

It came up that I have a blog, and as we talked I told them that though I had a post that went viral totally unexpectedly, I would never be a successful blogger. Why is that? Because I can’t write for the sake of keeping an audience.

See, in order to be a successful blogger, you have to put out content consistently. When you stop writing, people stop reading, and when people stop reading, Facebook and search engine algorithms make you less visible to the internet world.

With just one week of us being on vacation, I chose to stay off of social media as much as possible. When I came back and began posting, Facebook had made it so that my posts were viewed far fewer times than the week before when I was posting consistently.

But my problem with trying to write simply for the sake of keeping an audience is this: I can’t– in good conscience– fling crappy content at you just because the algorithms tell me I should.

When I started this blog in January 2012, I was 7 months pregnant with my first baby, and had just left my job as a nanny to get ready for stay at home motherhood. I never expected anyone to read it, and if a tiny piece of me hoped someone would, I certainly never expected thousands and thousands of people to read it, and yet here I am, 5.5 years later with a pretty strong readership. 

I’ve never been able to write for the sake of writing. In fact, I have gone long periods without blogging at all, because I didn’t feel I had anything worthwhile to share. When I write– it’s because I want to. And I usually want to when I am stressed, exhausted, drained, and/or passionate about a topic. 

Blogging is not my job. I can’t promise new content every Monday and Thursday, or once a week, or even twice a month. My job is being Milkman’s wife. My job is being mother and homeschool teacher to Captain, Mamitas, and Peachy. My job is being a foster mother to whichever little one(s) are in my home. My job is keeping our household running smoothly, making meals, and scrubbing toilets. As much as I love writing, it can’t be my first priority.

When you read something here on my humble and homely little blog, it’s because it mattered enough for me to take the time to say it. No filler, no fluff. No pandering to the masses or clickbait. Just the musings of a tired mama, tapping away on her phone screen while rocking a child or hanging out on the bathroom floor while kiddds brush their teeth. 
So for those of you who stick around for my occasional content, THANK YOU. I’m so glad there is someone to read what I have to say. And in turn, I promise not to fill your newsfeed with “Ten Ways to Turn Your Houseplants into Dragons”, “16 Steps to a More Organized Kitchen”, and “Why My Children are Way Better than Yours.” 😉
PS I just posted this blog without a featured photo. This is practically blogocide.