“‘I could never do that.’ The words came out of my mouth before I even thought about what I was saying. A friend of mine and her husband had just begun their foster-to-adopt journey, and I was meeting their precious new baby for the first time. Of course they wanted to adopt him, but they knew his mom was working towards getting him back. I thought I could never handle an emotional rollercoaster like that, as if my friend possessed some superhuman ability to overcome that heartbreak. Little did I know, my husband and I would have our first foster placement within the next year.
I had never considered fostering before. But once I became curious about it, I suddenly noticed it everywhere. On Facebook, in the news, talking with friends, or reading my Bible — it seemed like fostering was suddenly all around me, yet I knew nothing about it. I began asking questions to anyone I knew that was fostering. I began researching statistics and programs; did you know there are multiple ways to become a foster parent? Fostering a relative’s child is called a kinship placement, and it can be temporary or permanent. Or you can take classes and become certified directly through DFPS (Department of Family Protective Services). There are also a number of private organizations that support foster families through training and beyond. We chose Arrow Child and Family Ministries which operates in Texas and Maryland. From our first informational meeting on, Arrow made the training process easy to navigate and they have supported us well throughout our time fostering.
We made it our New Year’s resolution for 2020 to become foster parents. But before we could get started, we had to tell our families. We broke the news at Christmas with each side of the family. My parents were surprised and a bit scared of the journey ahead of us. Still, they offered to support us however they could from 2 hours away. My husband’s parents, who live in the same town as us, were shocked and upset that we would even consider such a progressive endeavor. ‘Have you given any thought to how this will affect us? What about your own children?’ they interrogated us. Of course we seemed crazy for wanting to foster young kids. We already had our hands full with a very difficult 3 year old, a 19 month old, two ginormous dogs, and three cats. What sane person would add more kids to this circus?
And yes, of course we worried about how this new adventure might affect our two young kids. We decided to only foster children who were the same age as our eldest or younger. Our daughter has always been a spirited, strong-willed child. She’s hardly slept a full night in her life — some kids are just terrible sleepers. And she was prone to some of the worst ‘terrible two’ and ‘threenager’ tantrums that I have ever seen. She did not accept change easily, especially when it meant sharing her mama with her new baby brother. So how was she going to feel about new children becoming a part of our family then leaving? Despite my concerns, she has surprised me with her new capacity for change and abundance of love. I never would’ve predicted that fostering would help her mature into the most tender-hearted big sister. I worried about her the most, but I’ve seen her grow more than any of us throughout our experience.
Our son, on the other hand, has always been a sweet and sensitive baby. For him, I was more concerned about the goodbyes. He has easily accepted each foster child as his new sibling and loved them as such. He can become friends with anyone instantly. But saying goodbye is never easy, there’s really no way to change that. After a kid leaves our home he may ask where they are for awhile but eventually comes to terms with the new normal. Guiding children through losing their family is part of foster parent training, and it can be relevant to our own kids when their new siblings leave.
Our first training classes began in early February of 2020. The coronavirus pandemic was slowly making its way across the world, yet it seemed so distant. By the end of March we were about halfway through training when the discussion of quarantine began. As we scheduled home inspections and continued online lessons, more and more of our town was shutting down. The pandemic increased the already high demand for foster homes, so Arrow expedited our final interviews, which we completed virtually. Within 3 months of beginning classes, we were certified foster parents! And then we waited.
After roughly two weeks of anticipation, Arrow finally called. It was the last Friday in May, around 9 or 10 p.m., when we answered the phone. ‘We need an emergency placement for a young boy and girl. Their other siblings have been placed and we’d like to keep these two together. Can we bring them over tonight?’ After a brief synopsis, the Arrow case manager said, ‘I’ll call you back after I confirm with CPS to give you an ETA.’ The call couldn’t have lasted more than 20 minutes. Then excitement began to set in: we’re getting our first placement! After the second call to confirm, we had about 2-3 hours to prepare their room and some snacks for their arrival. The feeling of eager expectation was similar to when my water broke before my kids were born.
‘This is it! It’s finally happening! Is this real? Am I dreaming?’ were just a few of the thousands of thoughts running through my head. How do you prepare to welcome a child you know nothing about? Sure they told us age, gender, race, and a little bit about their family, but that was it. And just because they say a kid is a certain age does not mean they will be mentally that age. Some children being thrown into foster care have experienced trauma or neglect that their mind cannot comprehend. The brain has some strange ways of coping with trauma. But that was a lesson we’d learn later on.
When a placement arrives, the CPS caseworker stays for an hour or so as you sign paper after paper to become the child’s legal guardian. Whatever the child comes with is now all that they own, even if it’s only the clothes they are wearing. One of our first fosters didn’t even have shoes on, so forget about a change of clothes or their favorite toys. It was now our responsibility to provide all of that. And there’s no baby shower for these babies either. Thankfully we are supported by some incredibly selfless church friends that have become more like family. We have received many donations and shared many possessions with other foster families. Having a village is crucial for parents, but even more so for foster parents. When you never know ahead of time what child you are getting, you need a way to rapidly switch gears from baby care to toddler-proofing to enriching preschool entertainment and so on. Depending on what age range you foster, this can fluctuate a little or a lot! Local foster swap groups on Facebook can be a huge help. Many cities will even have a foster closet of some sort that provides backpacks or duffle bags full of age-appropriate necessities for a new child in foster care. Any seasoned foster parent in your area should be able to help you find one.
Those first two kids were tired and scared when they arrived at our house. Our daughter woke up while we were still signing the paperwork at 1:30 or 2:00 am. She welcomed them with open arms and began bringing them toys, which was remarkably out of character for our usually shy little girl. Although that first placement was very sudden and brief (we only had them about 2 weeks), we grew close to them quickly. They were active kids and kept us busy, but we enjoyed our time with them. They had experienced trauma and I spent every night before bed rocking them and reassuring them, ‘You are safe. I won’t let anything happen to you. We are here to protect you.’ Then as unexpectedly as they came, they were moved to live with a family member.
In June we got a call about 3 siblings needing a foster home, possibly for the next year or so. We weren’t sure we could handle three — they were one year old twins with their two year old brother. We took in the twins first but made room for their brother soon after. The car seats alone took up my entire small suv at the time. We upgraded to a van, not a minivan, a twelve passenger van. It made buckling all five car seats so much easier! The twins were fairly independent for babies. Their brother was sweet and loving. We were really enjoying our time with them, then the ‘honeymoon phase’ came to an end.
When children are in an unfamiliar environment, they naturally become more reserved. Contrary to what you may think, the more a child trusts you the more they will act out. Sounds strange, I know. When you become a child’s safe space they feel comfortable being truly themselves, even if that means throwing terrible tantrums. So as a child becomes used to living with us, things may seem nice and easy at first, but eventually problems begin to surface. Sometimes it’s repressed trauma, sometimes it’s frustration and confusion, and sometimes it’s sadness or anger. Children in foster care can’t make sense of what has happened to them and need help to process all those feelings. It is our job as foster parents to look deeper into problem behaviors and find the underlying issue. When you see past a child’s outburst and figure out what they are struggling with, only then can you help them heal. Some kids need time and love, some kids need therapy, some kids may even need medication. But none of that healing can begin until the child learns to trust you and feels safe with you. And yes, it can be a very frustrating process for everyone involved.
So when our new two year old began to slowly open up and become more comfortable, we began to notice some red flags. For one thing, he didn’t know how to chew solid foods. He would either just swallow something whole or stuff it in his cheek until it dissolved or fell out. So we started speech therapy to help him learn to chew. He also couldn’t talk so speech therapy helped him there as well. When we noticed he had balance and coordination problems, we started occupational therapy. It helps that my husband is a physical therapist so he can spot hidden problems and know the right professional to help fix it. Not every issue is so simple though. As I said before, trauma can have some strange effects on the brain. Sometimes developmental delays may look like a learning disability. There’s no real hard and fast way to tell whether something is inherent or the result of trauma. Some behaviors may resolve over time while others may be a more long-term issue.
One struggle we faced longer than expected was a child that had no sense of self preservation. This kid would blindly charge ahead without looking where he was going. He’d bolt into the street anytime the front door was unlocked. He even tried to leap into a cold lake without knowing how to swim! And everything he did was without hesitation. He’d just go, no thought process at all. We initially thought that as he grew and learned more he might develop a better sense of self and safety. But that never happened. Or worse, we would think he’s making progress then out of nowhere he would regress and put himself or someone else in danger. It was a very frustrating cycle. But he was a sweet boy and he was very close to our son since they were the same age. It was a difficult and stressful time for my husband and I, but watching our two kids love that little boy as if he had always been their brother was the best experience.
Each of our fosters have been very different, and each one has taught us unique lessons. One important lesson we have learned: you can’t love every child exactly the same. That doesn’t mean you pick favorites. What I’m saying is, loving your biological children comes naturally but loving someone else’s children is a choice. Every day you choose to show love to these kids that you hardly know. And the longer you keep choosing love, the more natural it becomes. But it may never be as natural as loving your own kids, and that’s ok. Loving someone else’s kids isn’t always easy. And sometimes right after you truly feel close to them, they get moved somewhere else. Every bit of love given to a child, no matter how brief their time with you, will make a difference in their life. Any amount of love is better than no love at all. Yes, it is hard to love kids that seem to blatantly defy you. Yes, it is hard to say goodbye to a child you love. And yes, it is always worth it. I wouldn’t say fostering has been rewarding for me at all. It has been tough. But it is all worth it to say yes again and again, and to love these kiddos however I can for however long they are mine.
Choosing to love your foster child’s parents is also important. Not every child in foster care has horrible, uncaring parents. Sometimes parents are overwhelmed by their situation and desperately in need of help with nowhere to turn. That doesn’t justify some of their behaviors but it helps to understand where they’re coming from. Choose to give the parents the benefit of the doubt. All parents need support, so be as supportive as you can. Maybe they will surprise you in the end. You might even become part of their village and allow them to be a part of yours. What a blessing!
We have been blessed by so many during our fostering journey. And I hope we have been a blessing to many others as well. We believe fostering is a necessary calling. Foster homes are desperately needed, no matter where you live. It is an important task to care for ‘the least of these’ among us. It’s not a decision made lightly either. But wherever we fall short, God has come through as our strength. Love others and exhibit hospitality, and you may find yourself welcoming angels.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Molly from Waco, Texas. You can follow their journey on Instagram and on their Facebook. 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.
Read more touching stories about adoption here:
‘It’s an impossible mission.’ My mom wasn’t going to give up yet. This was for her little girl. She wasn’t about to lose this fight.’: Transracial adoptee shares journey, ‘My life was forever changed’
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