What is the mental image that you conjure up when you think about foster care?
Is it blueberry and peach picking as a family? Is it neighborhood play-dates? Is it trips to the beach? Is it family vacations? Is it a bedtime routine filled with prayers, “I love yous”, goodnight kisses, and hugs?
Or is it children showing up on doorsteps in a moment’s notice with nothing but the clothes on their back? Is it a picture of stress, challenging behaviors, and sleepless nights?
If your picture doesn’t include both images, it’s not incorrect, just incomplete. Foster care should evoke images of trauma, neglect, and pain, as well as images of joy, love, and happiness. The duality of foster care is what brings beauty amid the brokenness. More than once have we heard, “I love being in foster care!” from our children. While the phrase is often expressing appreciation and joy for some of their current lived realities, it’s an utterly heartbreaking sentence.
Prior to getting into foster care, Rachel and I weren’t entirely sure how to complete the picture of foster care either. Often, in our context as educators, foster care or DCF involvement often came up in the context of understanding why a student had failed to submit assignments, or had attendance concerns. “Oh, well, DCF is involved and there is a lot going on in their life”. We knew that foster children would come into our home from hard places, but we lacked an understanding of what that initial moment would evolve into after much time had passed.
Today, we have a much different “picture” of foster care. A more complete one. We have three precious girls in our care, who we are growing more and more attached to by the day. They are becoming entwined into every aspect of our lives. The growth we have seen in all of them over the past year with us is impossible to put into words. In fact, it’s hard to imagine our life before them, or, for that matter, our life after them. However, the reality is that we live in a world where at any moment, we could get a call that these girls are going home, or going to live with a different relative. For now we operate as a family unit, knowing full well that it is unlikely that all five of us will actually be a forever family.
Sometimes, like a duck, our situation appears calm and collected from the outside, but our feet are working tirelessly helping us to stay afloat. We try our best to make sure that our three girls have as “normal” of a childhood experience as possible, but behind the scenes we often find ourselves navigating some very complex dynamics that include family visits, constant check in calls with DCF, ever evolving (and stalling) court cases, and therapy visits for all. Foster parenting is fraught with difficult scenarios that truly put your ability to occupy a variety of different emotions at the same time to the test. After time, like all parents, you develop a keen ability to jump from one emotion to the other in a moment’s instance. Being able to get a frustrating case update call from a worker in the same moment that you are playing Legos with a two year old, and preparing dinner for the family, simply demands that you have the ability to handle difficult information with ease, discernment, and an intense ability to compartmentalize.
To be clear, our journey has not always been filled with moments of joy. This is hard work. At times, we have felt we were drowning and couldn’t keep our heads above water trying to juggle it all. In the beginning, amid the tantrums, physical aggression, and threats, we questioned each other and God. This is what we were called to do, but in that moment we felt it wasn’t sustainable. We cried out more than once about the situation, and out of desperation. Subconsciously, we harbored some resentment towards each other and our earthly vision could not understand how or why this was the place we found ourselves. And, in other, very different times, we have gone through stretches of normalcy as a family unit, and shared nothing but love and affection among the five of us; sometimes even forgetting about all the challenging dynamics that are constantly at play in our shared lives.
The same duck image can be easily translated for our girls. They often appear and present as typical developing children, but underneath their appearance lies a depth of trauma and hardship. Each foster child is bonded in the reality that nothing is fair for them from the onset. No matter how well they might have it in our home, or how well adjusted they might appear, they are still living in a strangers home during their formative years. We know that they were brought to us through brokenness and they did not deserve this situation. There is no reason that they should have to deal with these unique challenges of growing up torn between two very different realities.
God has placed the phrase “let go and let God” on our hearts throughout our foster journey. Once we stopped trying to control so much, we started to see what He was doing. God is so visibly at work in these girls’ lives. We are not sure we have ever so clearly seen the hand of God take over a situation, particularly in the way that he has turned around the heart of our middle-little (we often refer to our three girls as little-little, middle-little, and big-little). She blows us away every day with her faith, empathy and resilience, despite the hardships she has faced. We all have so much to learn from this tender-hearted little girl. So, for now, we will continue to trust God’s plan for all of our lives and walk by faith, even when we can not see.
We are cognizant that our scenario is not the same as others. We personally know of other foster care parents that have had experiences much different than this. Nevertheless, our experience is just as defining of the foster care experience as any other. You can always reach out directly to us to learn more about our journey, how to start your own foster story, or to learn more about ours. To get updated on new posts see our blog or follow us on Instagram (@branches_from_the_vine).
“Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” — Matthew 17:20