‘Want 3 boys? 3, 5, and 6?’ Something was tugging on our hearts, encouraging us to take another chance.’: Mom candidly shares ‘deep love’ and heartbreak of foster care

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“My husband and I first decided to become a licensed foster home in 2020. We have one son who was 5 at the time but is now 6 years old. While my life has been primarily immersed in child welfare, my husband had absolutely no idea what to expect. I am a licensed social worker and have been for several years. My experience with foster children and families has led me to see the shortcomings, strengths, and needs within the system. While I was off my rocker excited to become a foster mom, my husband needed some…. convincing. He had no idea how we could take another person’s child and ‘babysit’ them until it was time to give them away. His perceptions and fears of the unknown frightened him.

Once we started foster care classes, he began to ask questions and seek clarity on what foster care actually is. It’s an intense process to get licensed, but he supported us through it every step of the way. Now, a year later, it’s safe to say most of those fears have been alleviated. In the system, knowledge is our greatest asset. After four long-term placements and two short-term placements, his eyes now see all of the needs I’ve seen since I started my career in social work. Now, he just gets it, and he couldn’t be more supportive.

mom and dad with their kid on his shoulders
Courtesy of Jordan Mains

We did not begin this process with the hopes of ‘fostering to adopt.’ We honestly didn’t have many expectations as far as placements or length of stays. We were kind of just rolling with it, but our intentions were to help. Help in any way we could in a world that is so unfair to the children who live in it. I was so tired of getting work emails every night on the hour saying, ‘Hi all, we still have 10 children on the placement list for the night.’ ‘Hi all, we still have 7 children on the placement list tonight.’ Hour after hour, day after day. The agencies are desperate to get foster children placed every single night. And every single night, there aren’t enough beds.

There are often children waiting for a bed until close to midnight on any given night. Those same children are picked up early in the morning and sent to sit in an office all day until the hunt for another bed continues. Many children, teens specifically, do this day after day. What kind of life are we setting these children up for? Who is fighting for them? We can blame it on budgeting, social workers, policy, logistics, but the truth is everybody can contribute something to the foster care world. You don’t have to be a licensed foster home to advocate for children. Be a volunteer, make a meal for a foster family, donate school supplies. Literally, the opportunities are endless.

We were an official licensed foster home for a whole 13 days before we got our first call. I couldn’t answer it, but I texted the social worker and said, ‘I’m in a work meeting right now, but I’ll call you in 10 minutes…’ Her response was, ‘Fine, but you might miss out on a 3-year-old little girl who needs a placement tonight.’ I called her back as soon as I could and said ‘yes’ without much hesitation at all. We waited and waited for her arrival. M came to us at 11 p.m. on a Thursday night, after being ripped from the only foster home she knew since she was a baby. I remember the first night she slept in her new room, and I was the one crying an unbelievable number of tears.

mom kissing her daughter on the head
Courtesy of Jordan Mains

I was anxious, worried for her, broken-hearted for her, and all my feelings poured out of me that Thursday night after tucking this little girl into bed. This little girl who had no idea who we were. I don’t think I was able to eat for two days. But day by day, life got normal again. The kids went to school and we went to work. M bonded with our family so quickly and so hard. She was an absolute ray of sunshine. We had our moments of sadness and trauma responses, but our big-hearted girl thrived and loved as if she’d never been hurt. After a few months of living with us, we were told M’s case was transferred to adoption. Circumstances out of our control automatically took the opportunity for us to adopt her away.

A mere two weeks after she transferred to adoption, I got a call from her new social worker saying, ‘I am really nervous to tell you this, but I found a home that is interested in adopting M and her biological brother.’ At that moment, I was convinced my heart shattered. No way they were going to take my girl. No stinking way. Well, I quickly realized that as a foster parent, you have absolutely zero control. It took me a few weeks to get on board, but I realized M deserves permanency, even if it’s not with me. It was then, for the first time, I truly understood the purpose of being a foster parent.

M was moved to her adoptive home in June to be reunited with her biological brother. This was a win for her in the long run. To finally be placed in the same home as her blood relative, and truly the only other human being who can relate to her and her experiences. But boy oh boy, was it a loss for us. We loved her. We still love her. We think and talk about her almost every day. She was my first and only daughter and sometimes my heart still aches for her.

two kids playing on a seesaw togeher
Courtesy of Jordan Mains

The day she left, it almost felt like somebody died. The house was quiet for the first time in months. The grief from her departure still comes in waves, even after we said goodbye over 6 months ago. I recall tears streaming down my face when I opened a bottle of soap she used to love the smell of. Small things are big things while processing grief. M’s adoptive family is nothing short of a miracle. They center their lives around God and giving. We are blessed enough to have visits with M when her family is passing through.

Our family decided to head to the mountains of Colorado to get a fresh sense of bonding, just the three of us. This trip was so needed for us to focus on each other and remember that joy is still achievable. On our way home from Colorado, it was a Monday at 11:05 a.m., I received the text, ‘Want 3 boys? 3, 5, and 6?’ By 4:22 p.m., we said ‘yes.’ 5 hours and 17 minutes of conversation, deliberation, and consideration—and we said yes.

In seven days, we would grow from a family of three to a family of six overnight. We would have four boys in our home under the age of six. Questions like ‘Can we do this?’ ‘Are we ready for FOUR kids?’ ‘Can our 5-year-old son handle another sibling loss?’ raced through my mind for seven whole days. We couldn’t possibly be ready for three new foster placements. There’s no way our hearts could be ready. We are just rounding this grief-induced corner and ‘kind of’ getting back to normal. But something was tugging on our hearts and encouraging us to take another chance. To open our home and become a safe space for a sibling set that needs to stay together. Some will say it was God and others say it’s guilt. Whatever it was, it led us to experience a whole new level of love.

parents with their four kids including their foster kids
Courtesy of Jordan Mains

These boys were different than M. The connection was not immediately there like it was last time. But every day, week, and month that connection grew. For five and a half months we were doing all the hard things. One trauma response after another. We were in it, and we were in it deep. The first time they called us ‘mom and dad’ I was so conflicted. Excited to be viewed as their caretaker, but so sad because they have a mom already. I felt like an imposter sometimes. Who do I think I am to allow these children to call me mom? On our first night together, all three boys slept all night. It was a miracle. That never happens.

When you have a new placement, you just expect to be up all hours of the night consoling or even sleeping on the child’s floor to make them feel safe. Knowing these boys felt safe enough to sleep eased my anxiety and worry greatly. We got them all enrolled in preschool and kindergarten and began taking strides toward ‘life as usual.’ There were many days I went to bed more exhausted than I thought was possible. A newborn would ease in comparison to parenting three traumatized children. I would ask my husband, ‘Do you think we can do this?’ At one point, we felt it was simply too much for us. We considered not sticking it out, but we changed our minds and knew we were all in the right place. We fell in love so incredibly fast. These lively boys were rambunctious, loud, but so kind and gentle. Was my house always messy? Yes. But we made so many memories I can hardly keep them straight.

Before we said ‘yes’ to these boys, their social worker reported this case would likely be in adoption by the end of the year. From the information we had, the biological dad was in jail and the biological mom wasn’t doing the work. The court was scheduled in October and at that hearing, the biological mother was given weekend visits. The boys went from weekly 2-hour supervised visits to all weekends unsupervised. Then a 4-night visit over Thanksgiving. At the next hearing in December, the judge announced the boys would be reunited with mom on 12/21/21. Great, another goodbye, right? Why does this keep happening to us?

I want to make it undeniably clear that we support biological families 100%. We ALWAYS want children with their parents or with kinship when it’s safe and healthy. Family first. Always. As a foster parent, it’s your job to advocate your booty off for kids. Their mom was showing up and putting in the work. So, we advocated for her and her children to be together again after being apart for 15 months. We had to put our ideas of adoption away. Again.

Being a mom to four children, going to school to obtain my master’s in social work, and working full-time as a child welfare social worker kept my brain on overdrive all the time. I never allowed myself time to feel my feelings as hard and difficult as they were and still are. But here we are again, facing the loss of a lifetime. This ‘saying goodbye’ thing is getting harder and harder. This time, we said goodbye to three. THREE. Losing one was hard enough, but three? A friend and fellow foster mom texted me and reminded me our kids aren’t ever really ‘ours’ and we don’t own them.

four kids including their foster kids
Courtesy of Jordan Mains

They’re ours to care for while we are called to care for them. Whether they are foster, adoptive, or biological. Whatever kind of children we have in our home, we care for them for however long we have them… and then we stop. BUT. We don’t stop loving them, we don’t stop thinking about them, we don’t stop grieving them, and we don’t stop worrying about them. Foster parents, the ones who do it right, are supposed to dread every goodbye. That means you loved the child with everything you have.

As I’m writing this, tears stream down my cheeks as our home is almost painfully quiet. There is a foster parent in the world that today, lost a child who was deeply loved. It feels unbearable and impossible to overcome. But, there is also a biological parent out there whose world is coming together. Her life again has meaning, and her family will be together as one for the first time in 15 months. A mother today, has her children in her arms because of you, foster parent. You showed up for a child you did not know. You, foster parent, demonstrated the undoubtedly hardest form of love and sacrificed your own heart to reunite a family.

Our foster journey is only beginning. We have been home to a total of 6 foster children in some way or another. Their ages range from 3 to 16. I’d love to paint this beautiful foster canvas for you and tell you how joyous and beautiful it is, but I can’t. There are some days where it all comes together, and it feels like the ground beneath you won’t falter. Then, sadly, the next day you’re packing up a child’s belongings to send them elsewhere. It’s messy and hard. The lifestyle is unpredictable and sometimes frustrating.

What I can say is this: if you love a child with everything you have and show them what true and unconditional love is, you have done your job. You have taken on a temporary role to love and care for somebody when their biological family could not for one reason or another. There are no words or descriptions I can use to characterize the range of emotions you go through as a foster parent.

There is loss in every gain one way or another. As foster parents, it must be realized that your dedication and advocacy can potentially make or break a family reunifying. It’s hard to put your feelings in a box. It’s hard to do the day-to-day work. It’s hard not to hear ‘thank you.’ It’s hard to love and give away. It’s all hard. But it’s harder to watch children suffer at the hands of the system. It’s harder to know you could have done something to make a difference and didn’t. We are all capable of hard things.”

parents with their bio son
Courtesy of Jordan Mains

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Jordan Mains from St. George, Kansas. You can follow her journey on Instagram and Facebook. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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