My biggest hurdle in taking the plunge to start foster care was the question of how it might impact my biological child. Would it be putting him at risk? Would he be jealous, bullied, or exposed to too many hard and horrible things? My son had just turned three when we got licensed, and he was an only child. And he is one of those kids that is sensitive and has an innate goodness about him.
As an infant, he would start crying when he heard other babies cry and break into tears when anyone said something in a loud voice. For over a year after he transitioned to his big boy bed, he wouldn’t get out of his bed in the morning unless we came in and told him he could. Every night we’d tuck him in and remind him it’s okay to come out of bed when he wakes up, but every morning it was the same routine. 10-15 minutes after I heard him stir, he would call out, “Mama, can I come out?” Only this child would ask for permission to get up in the morning!
We don’t have stories of naughty but hilarious things he’s done. We hear stories of hilariously crafty things our friends’ small children are doing (elaborate escapes from timeout, ingenious excuses after getting caught red handed, sassy retorts), but those thoughts don’t seem to occur to him as options.
The truly heartbreaking part as his mother is to see how he assumes everyone thinks like he does. A month or so before we were licensed, we took him to a music event for children preschool aged and younger. Without a single ounce of reservation, he started dancing his heart out to the music. He’d look around, smile at the kid next to him, and go back to showing off his dance moves laughing the whole time. My eyes were glued onto that silly, joyful little boy, so I was watching from across the gym when a girl his age made a beeline straight to my son and gave him a forceful push to the ground. His mouth hung open, eyes huge, lip quivering, stone still. The look of shock on his face said it all. I didn’t see any anger there but genuine, hurt confusion. His gears were spinning, trying to figure out why a stranger would do that. He came crying to me afterwards asking, “Why would she want to push me?” I struggled with the answer to why someone could hurt another, but I assured him that what she did wasn’t the right thing to do. He didn’t dance with the same gleeful enthusiasm after that incident, and my heart broke for my innocent child who didn’t know how to process unkindness. This was who my child was, and I was about to start foster care where he might be exposed to much worse than pushing. Was I ruining my son?
I smile thinking back on that time because I was so unprepared for how greatly foster care would affect him.
The day that we welcomed our first placement, a newly turned one year old boy, I was able to leave work early to go get him by myself. He clung to his previous foster mom while she kept trying to hand him off saying over and over again, “He’s not usually like this; he’s usually so friendly. I don’t know why he won’t go to you. He’s usually so friendly..”. I was in full out panic mode as I nervously made my way home with a sobbing child in the backseat, brought him into the house, and sat with him while he did these gut wrenching jerking sobs on my lap. We sat there for twenty some minutes when my mom dropped my son off to see the new baby. My son took a minute studying that baby and then started talking to him in a whisper. Baby stopped crying, which he had been doing since the moment I met him, to listen. Within the hour my son had him smiling. It was my son who was able to make this new baby comfortable in our home when I couldn’t, and I realized for the first time that fostering wasn’t something that only I was called to do. It was a calling for my whole family, and even the smallest was going to be instrumental in loving on this baby.
After that first day, I saw how foster care continued to change my son. He learned how to share in a way that being an only child doesn’t give a lot of experience in. He had a companion and referred to his foster brother as his “baby friend” and would run around the house playing a modified game of tag with him (Lord knows he was missing some of those childhood games we just don’t do quite as much of as adults). He stepped right into the role of being a big brother and wanted to help with taking care of his foster brother. I saw him slowly become more mature, tenderhearted, and compassionate.
Before foster care, I would talk to my son about loving others. We would read books on sharing. My husband and I would try to model the behaviors we wanted to cultivate in him. But I can tell you that I never saw my son grow and develop those character traits I preached as quickly or as successfully as when he was able to put it in practice with foster care. I truly never imagined how good this was going to be for my son. The thing I feared would ruin him has actually helped him become a better person. And I never for a second regret opening our home and giving my whole family a chance for fostering to change us.