So, we’ve had two foster girls for about nine and a half months now. N is 3 and her sister L is 2. We had no idea when we got the placement how long they would be here, although it sort of seemed like it would be a while. Their parents were a mess. The girls needed a place to stay. We were only looking for one child, but how do you really say no?
Nine months later, we’re still not sure how long they’re going to be here. Maybe a few more months, maybe forever. It all depends on their mom, who is now in her third or fourth month of rehab. If she does well, the girls will probably go back to her later this year. If she relapses badly, the goal of this case will probably change to termination of parental rights, in which case the girls would need a forever home.
The mom still has a long ways to go. She has to prove she can live on her own, generate an income, provide for the kids, pay the bills, make it to the doctor’s office, manage all the day-to-day existence that she’s never been able to do before. If you’ve ever tried to keep two small children happy for an extended period, you know it’s not easy, even for someone with all the advantages that you’ve probably had if you’re reading this. The mom has none of that going for her.
You don’t really want the mom to fail. You don’t want her back out on the streets, using, stumbling from one shady hotel to another, partying at bars. But you don’t want her daughters doing that someday either.
Yes, we’d like to keep the girls, raise them as our own, make them part of our family. But there’s still an emotional guard in place when you know they could leave at any time. Sometimes it worries me that I don’t feel more toward them right now. If we do adopt them, will I really love them? I think, though, that if adoption were to happen, a lot of the frustration and sometimes, yes, even resentment, would disappear when the mechanics of the foster system are stripped away and we could focus on the kids.
On the other hand, in a lot of ways, it would be really, really nice to just go back to our three boys, to feel like we had the time to devote to them, to do the best possible job raising them. Whenever we do respite care – and when you’re a foster parent, you have to do respite care because you won’t last if you don’t – it feels like we can breathe again. The girls are not our hope to be parents. We already are parents to three incredible kids. That’s what really makes this whole process not quite so breathtaking for us.
But, and this is a huge but, do we really want our lives to be comfortable? Do we want them to be easy? Sure, we wonder if our biological kids are getting the shaft because we decided to dump these other two kids into their lives. But you know what? They’re really not. They’re learning and growing too, more than they know. That incredible parenting job I think I would do with just the three of them? I’m still the same sinner no matter how many kids I have, so it wouldn’t be all that different. These lessons will stick with them the rest of their lives, and maybe that’s one of the best parenting decisions we could have made. Doesn’t always feel like that, though.
Fostering is really, really hard. Maybe the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Having five kids in the house 8 and under generates unfathomable chaos. It turns out that loving kids that aren’t your own is not so easy a lot of days. Dealing with endless phone calls, appointments, visits, schedules, policies and paperwork is enough to make you quit, as is navigating a system set up to give biological parents every excuse in the book while hammering the very folks who are working their tails off to help the kids. Feeling like you’re failing your own kids brings guilt. Collapsing into bed at the end of the day because you’re just done, there’s nothing left, is exhausting. Getting up the next day and doing it again and again and again requires patience and perseverance. Trying to figure out exactly how anything out of the normal will work with these extra people around takes a lot of thought and energy. Being pushed way out of your idyllic suburban comfort zone is awkward. Learning how some people in my own American town actually live is mind-blowing. Building relationships with social workers and teachers and bus drivers and speech therapists and relatives and doctors and other foster parents takes effort.
You can’t do it on your own. You need Another who is stronger and braver and truer and kinder and more patient than you could ever hope to be. You need His arms around you every second of every day.
You need friends and support and love, and we have that. Because of that, because of grace upon grace upon grace, maybe all those people we meet – and two little girls – will get a glimpse of Christ.
This is hard. But it’s good. Hard means you’re growing. Hard means you’re learning. Hard means you’re doing something worth doing. Hard means that you’re more aware than ever of the grace you have been given and are being given and will be given, in endless supply.