‘Are you a mom?’ she abruptly asked. I wasn’t prepared for this question. Yes, I get too attached. Yes, I cry when they leave.’: Woman fosters 8 kids, ‘They will always be my babies’

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“As a foster mom, I never quite know how to answer when someone asks me if I have kids. Do I say yes? No? Do I reply with the number I have currently? Two. Or the number I’ve had overall? Eight. So, I started replying with ‘sometimes’ and from there, the title ‘Sometimes Mom’ was born.

Upon finding out my husband and I are foster parents, most people want to know why. To them, fostering is a backup plan, a last resort. What most people want to know but are too polite to ask is if we are infertile. Others are less polite and will ask outright, but those looking for a more tactful route will say, ‘Why did you become interested in fostering?’ But don’t be fooled, they really want to know why we seemingly can’t have biological children. Because if we could, we would, right??

The truth is, we aren’t experiencing infertility. Or, maybe we could be. We have never tried to have biological children, so I really can’t say for sure. What I can say for sure is this: we foster because we love it, because it is our first choice, and because it is what we feel we are meant to do at this moment. There is really no interesting story behind why we chose to foster. The interesting story is everything that has come since we made our decision.

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I answered the door to our first placement in March 2019 when a 3-year-old girl pushed right past me, dressed in a replica of the iconic red Orphan Annie dress, and walked into our home like she owned the place. I couldn’t help thinking, ‘I think she’s gonna like it here.’

It turns out she did like it here, and we loved having her. It felt very easy and natural in a way a 3-year-old suddenly being transplanted into your home is not. I pretty quickly became terrified of her leaving us. But as foster care goes, she was with us only 4 days. On her last day, we walked to the park nearby and while playing, she abruptly asked, ‘Are you a mom?’ I hadn’t yet prepared for this question, but answered, ‘Well, I’m kind of like a mom because I help take care of kids.’ ‘Okay,’ she said, satisfied by this answer. ‘I’m going to call you mom.’

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On the way home, she was too tired to walk and asked to be carried. It was a long way to carry a 3-and-a-half-year-old but of course, I agreed. The next day, she left and my arms were so sore from having carried her, but over the next few days, the soreness faded until it was completely gone. I knew it wasn’t rational, but I didn’t want that pain to be gone because then it felt like she was really gone too. If my arms could heal that quickly, how long until my heart would follow suit? How long until this girl would forget me completely?

But as it turns out, the heart doesn’t heal as quickly, and I still think of her every day.

Next, we had three other short-term placements, a baby boy for 2 days, a baby girl for a week, and another baby boy for 2 weeks. The length of time doesn’t matter. They will always be my babies, their pictures still hang in my house, their laughter and cries echoing in each room.

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The next little guy came to us with a warning. ‘He’s a crier,’ his social worker cautioned before making a quick getaway. And he was. He also had an ear infection and we spent our second and third nights with him in the emergency room. It wasn’t until the fourth day he cracked the tiniest smile, one that brought me to tears, and at least a week until we heard his belly laugh, a sound that remains one of my favorites.

I never knew how long he would be with us, the little information I was given indicated he would be going home ‘soon.’ The word soon is relative in foster care as I learned and for 7 months, we lived each day not knowing if it could be his last with us. On the day before Thanksgiving, we finally found ourselves preparing for a life without our son. Not knowing if I would ever see him again, I wrote a note to his mom:

‘When he first came to us, you wrote a letter asking us to take care of him. We loved him and did our best to care for him. I hope you’ll agree…..’

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I don’t remember my entire letter, I wish I had saved a copy, but my son left and my words went with him. My husband and I cried so hard we collapsed on the couch and eventually fell asleep. I woke to a text message on my phone from an unfamiliar number. These words I have saved, but could never forget:

‘…I just want to thank you for everything you did for him, he was definitely well taken care of. Sometimes when a kid is in foster care, you never know how your kid is being treated but in this case, I had no worries. Yes, I missed him every day but knowing he was in a great home made me feel at ease and for that, I am forever grateful to you guys…’

That was over a year ago and I am so proud to say we still see this little boy often. Our ongoing relationship with his biological family is complicated and challenging but it’s also beautiful and worth it. This little boy is so, so loved.

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After he left, my husband and I decided to take a few months off from fostering, which turned into a few more months when COVID-19 hit. We received a call in June 2020 about a 10-month-old baby girl and we felt ready. Parenting, apparently, is like riding a bike and we quickly fell back into a routine that included diapers, bottles, and of course, social workers.

This bald-headed angel adjusted to us very quickly. She ate and slept well, she was happy and healthy. Life was good. So good in fact, when we found out she had a 4-year-old sister in another foster home, we felt ready to finally take on a second child, something we hadn’t done before. Despite social workers’ frequent requests for us to take on multiple children, we had declined in the past. The siblings had lived apart for almost a year and it was important to us that they be reunited in our home. The older sister was sweet and polite and funny but could also be violent and destructive. This tiny, beautiful 4-year-old girl can at times, make us feel like hostages in our own home. We have sticker charts, calm down strategies, engage in therapy, label our feelings. All the things. Sometimes we see great progress and she is the sweetest girl in the entire world and other times, she purposely pees on our couch, spits on us, and effectively destroys our home, but we love her. She is our family and it is very hard to picture our lives without her.

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In the midst of all this, we are told the girls will be going home ‘soon,’ a word that has lost all meaning at this point. Originally, I scoffed at the notion their mother could handle them when we barely could. But, after 7 months, we are only just now starting to get to know their mom, a process that has greatly humanized her to me. I feel a level of appreciation from her I have never felt from the Department.

We plan to work together as a team during the reunification process and I think that is the most important and powerful thing we could be doing for these girls.

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When people talk about ‘the system,’ they’re never referring to something positive. But sometimes, when a child enters ‘the system,’ they come to my house where they read five books a night, learn to ice skate, go on trips, and get an entire bonus family. Sometimes, when they leave my house, it is for the better and sometimes not. Often, I don’t know which way it will play out but there is nothing I can do and that is terrifying.

When people refer to ‘these parents,’ they don’t see the obstacles they’ve overcome to get their children back. They don’t see the humility it takes to accept a foster parent as an important figure in their child’s life, to thank them.

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It’s not uncommon for someone to tell me they would like to foster but they would get too attached, they wouldn’t be able to let the kids go. By that logic, children shouldn’t have a safe, loving home to go to, with parents that would be sad to see them go, at the expense of the adult’s feelings. There is nothing noble about that sentiment, to suggest your hypothetical loss would somehow be greater than that of these children.

Yes, I get too attached. Of course, I cry when they leave. There are reminders of my children everywhere and initially, they make me sad but eventually, they always bring me joy. Reunification used to be the scariest thing about foster care to me, but while it still makes me sad, it doesn’t scare me anymore. I can be sad, I will survive sad. Then, I’ll reflect, process, learn a thing or two about unconditional love and I will do it all over again.

I can survive sad and so can you.”

Courtesy of Sometimes Mom

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Sometimes Mom from New England. You can follow their journey on Instagram. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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