Foster training provided a wealth of knowledge for us but obviously there are plenty of questions that are left unanswered during that period because the answers require first-hand experience. With this post I'd like to talk through the questions I had going into fostering and how they have been answered so far.
How will my kids take to having a foster child in our home?
I touched on this a little bit with my previous post, but I want to bring it back up again because this was one of the first questions that came up when we decided to start the fostering process. Our boys are awesome kids and generally very friendly. They have the typical moments you'd expect where they don't get along at times, but over all they are best friends and there's a brotherhood bond there that brings me great joy. I know part of that stems from the knowledge that they're part of the same family. So what would their response be to another child in our home, a baby at that, who would require a great deal of focus from both my wife and I? How much would they understand about who this child is and why we're doing this? Would they be jealous? Would they not treat him or her as equal?
Their response has been one of the biggest answers to prayer for us. From the beginning and to this day they treat baby girl as their sister. They've loved on her, never once acted in a jealous manner nor challenged why she's here at all. In fact they've both shown an enthusiasm and desire to have her remain part of our family forever.
At this stage they both have a good understanding of who baby girl is and that there's a chance she may have to return to her family. We've been upfront with them from the beginning that she has another mom and dad and that we're just taking care of her because she needs a safe place to stay. Sharing with them openly and honestly about what we're doing (in terms they would understand) has proved to be a wise decision.
How much information will the birth family have about my family?
Fostering thrusts you directly into the lives of strangers. From day one we were provided with a lot of information regarding baby girl's birth family and her life up until the day we took her into care. While having that information was helpful for us to have context about her, it was uncomfortable to learn certain facts about people we don't know. Then, going forward with the fostering journey, we knew we would have visitations with her family. We learned that those visitations would take place at a neutral location, CPS' office, which gave us peace.
We were unsure how meeting her family face-to-face would go, but thankfully everyone behaved in a civil and respectable manner. Conversations were brief as interactions at the visitations were limited basically to dropping her off and picking her back up. Over time we saw these moments as an opportunity to help baby girl's family, which leads me to share an important mindset we've had during this journey.
From day one we've understood our role and stuck to it, which is: to provide a safe, loving and nurturing environment for a child in need. This child is not ours and if her parents are able to make great progress and restore their ability to care for her safely, then that is worth celebrating! We did not get into fostering with our end goal being adoption, so our efforts were entirely in service to her and the hope of reunifying with her family. So, we sought opportunities to let her family know that she is safe and cared for, so that they would not worry about her and could focus on getting well. We used the short interactions we had with her mom and dad at visitations to communicate this mindset.
Will I have thoughts of quitting?
The more you learn about fostering the more you realize how hard it is. I often equated it to being on a long journey in which you can only see what is directly in front of your feet and that's it. You knew you were headed in some sort of direction, but most of the time you had no idea where you were going to end up. Having that many unknowns can be unnerving. Couple that with being up in the middle of every night with feedings and changing diapers of a child who is not your own and you can begin to see how easy the thought of "Hey, is this all worth it? This isn't even my own kid!" can creep in. But if I'm honest I had similar thoughts with our two boys who ARE our biological kids. :) Caring for an infant is a challenge. Period. It stretches you in ways you just aren't prepared for. So while times were tough I thankfully never entertained thoughts of throwing in the towel. I allowed hard moments to exist, I acknowledged them, and I moved on.
If I believe a child needs unconditional love from day one will I be able to go that far with one who is not my own?
This is a biggie. Huge. It's one we often get from other people. I mean, how do you love a child who is not your own and may be out of your life abruptly? Do you go all in with your love? Do you hold back part of yourself for safety sake?
When we had our boys I was amazed at how naturally the idea of "unconditional love" invaded my life. Getting up in the middle of the night to tend to him, to help my wife, to set aside other plans...wasn't that hard. Over time sure it becomes more challenging because the newness wears off and that degree of love becomes a lifestyle choice, because living sacrificially isn't natural. But now we were presented with a 3 month old who through no fault of her own was placed in a home of strangers. She needed the same unconditional love. All children do.
So we jumped. No holding back. You go all in. You have to, because she needs it.
And now, 17 months in, that's a lot of unconditional love. It feels like we're still falling from the jump we made, unsure what kind of landing we'll have. Sometimes people say something like "I don't know how you can do that. I don't think I could." I get that. Honestly it's hard for me to write out a plan on how I've been able to love baby girl fully for 17 months and still know that I'm not promised a future with her. All I can say is God showed up and has expanded my heart to possess the ability to love like this, like He does. I had to jump. He had to do the work of the heart.
What happens if we have to say goodbye?
The lingering question. We have not gone full circle with this placement and so we don't know if we will have to say goodbye. I don't like to dwell on it but I know I need to ponder it for myself but mostly for my family. I know the role I'll have to play in helping us mourn if she has to move on. We'll mourn for sure. It'll be incredibly painful. But I have hope. I have hope because God has already shown me a capacity to love that is beyond my ability and while I can't see the road ahead and I still feel like I'm falling, I know I'm not alone.
James 1:27 says:
"Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world."
With the faith I have in God I believe our service to baby girl and her family aligns with His will. I believe the work we're doing honors Him and I believe He is meeting us where we're at and providing for us. That explains my capacity to love. That explains why we can risk the thought of saying goodbye. That doesn't free us from pain. We are not promised that everything will work out exactly like we hope. But, we do have hope that the work we are doing now is helping to repair the trauma she's already experienced.
There is more to share, especially regarding the really hard realities of fostering. I will continue to share in the days to come. For those of you who are supporting us during this process, thank you! Your words of encouragement, offers to help and prayers are a blessing to me and my family.