Last week was the first of a new series called “My Story Monday” where real foster parents share their stories in exclusive interviews. If you missed it, you’ll definitely want to check it out here. This week’s story comes from a mom on her first placement with 4 year old twins.
My Story Monday
I have wanted children for as long as I can remember. I began babysitting when I was 12 years old and just fell in love with kids. I’ve dated enough men who didn’t want kids or who were indecisive, so I decided that I would just help out other kids until I felt I ready to have my own.
The biggest challenge in the beginning was dealing with all the immediate doctor appointments, social worker visits, visits with DJO (Deputy Juvenile Officer who handles the legal aspects of the case), family visits, and other visits that have to take place within the first 30, 60, and 90 days. I felt like I should have put a revolving door on my house!
The biggest challenge now, after having my kids for a few months and them now feeling safe with me, is talking about their parents to them. They have started calling their biological mom their “old mom” and saying she “used to be their mom.” I am not a fan of their biological mom (my kids don’t know this), but I still encourage them to talk about her and remember the good times. Hearing them talk about her in a past tense is very hard for me to hear.
It is also very hard hearing them talk about their past. I knew signing up to be a foster mom was not going to be easy, but some of the things these young kids have been through is just so unreal and heartbreaking. The trauma and abuse they’ve endured is just devastating.
For example, we passed a police car shortly after they arrived and my 4 year old daughter remarked, “Oh, there’s the police. Somebody got killed. Who is getting locked up?” It was such a casual observation for a child who didn’t even know her ABC’s yet.
We’ve also come up against the ignorance of the community. I am white and my foster children are African American. The questions and comments I receive from adults are unreal. Here are two memorable conversations I’ve had:
Random Lady: Oh wow, your kids are dark! They can’t possibly be yours.
Without looking up, I responded: Oh, you should see how dark their father is!
Lady at store to my 4 year old: Where is your Mom?
My 4 year old points to me: My TT is right there!!
Lady: No, your real Mom
4 year old: Well my real mom is sick, so my TT is acting like my mom for right now. So she’s my Mom.
This last conversation made me tear up. If a 4 year old can understand it, why can’t an adult? Despite these difficulties, I’ve seen a lot of growth.
When my kids came to live with me, they HATED bath time. We were lucky to get 1 bath a week. Both kids just completed swim lessons and loved it! She was jumping in the 9 foot deep water with no life jacket and swimming to the edge with no help! He was able to put his own head under water and blow bubbles. These may seem like small things, but they are huge successes for these children.
My foster daughter now knows that police are good people who are here to help. She knows more nursery rhymes than I knew existed. She can spell and write her name. She knows her ABC’s, and she is now remembering things that happened months ago and bringing them up and asking about them. Seeing my kids achieve something they never thought possible and the look of satisfaction on their faces is so rewarding. When my kids feel comfortable enough with me to open up and let me know about their past, it shows that they feel safe with me. That’s huge.
If I were to give new foster parents any advice, I would tell them to have an open mind. You have no idea what these kids are used to, what they’ve been exposed to, what their “normal” is, or what, if anything, has ever been expected of them. Ask them questions. These kids are smart! They can tell you a lot of the things you don’t know.
Here are some traits that will take you far in your journey:
Patience – Some of these kids will take time to feel safe with you. They will have behaviors and actions that seem completely unreal, but they don’t know any better.
Understanding – I grew up in a very nice, semi well-off family. These kids did not. My kids were excited they each had a bed when they came to live with me.
Flexibility – Nothing will ever go as your agency says. Most of the time it’s not their fault, so be flexible!
A sense of humor – Sometimes, most times, it’s easier to laugh about what happened because if not, you’d go crazy!
Compassion – These kids just want to be loved. Do exactly that. Love them. Relate to them. Show them you care. Let them stay up an extra 5 minutes to read one more book. Be 5 minutes late to work because your son just learned the Itsy Bitsy Spider and is beyond excited to teach it to you.
A good support system – Family and friends that are on your side and willing to help out will be a lifesaver for you. Talk to them. Take them up on offers to pick the kids up from daycare or for your parents to watch them so you can do something as simple as go to Target in peace and quiet. They would not offer to help if they did not actually want to help. It’s okay to ask for help! It’s okay to ask for a break, you deserve it.
Even with the challenges, fostering has been the most rewarding thing I have ever done. I am happy where it’s taken me. It has shown me a world I only dreamed of. I’ve wanted kids for so long, and I’m finally able to give my kids the home they deserve. It’s been hard- VERY hard, but I wouldn’t change it. I’m surprised it has shown me so much about myself and helped me see what’s actually important to me versus what I thought was important prior to becoming a mom. I know these 4 and a half year old’s have only lived with me for 6 months, but I’d be lost without them. They have completely stolen my heart!
If you’re a foster parent and would like to see your story featured on Still Orphans blog, please send an email inquiry to firstname.lastname@example.org
[This interview has been edited slightly for readability]