‘Oh my gosh, this blanket stinks!’ I was careful not to show the horror on my face. I fantasized about throwing it in the washing machine.’: Single dad explains candid reality of foster care, ‘Let go of perfectionist tendencies’

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“You can never really feel fully prepared for a new foster child. Did I make the bed right? Do I have the right food? Do my windows lock? Does the security alarm work? What are they like? Will they like me?

You’re on high alert. Every time the phone rings you think, ‘Okay! This is it!’

And finally, they arrive at your home. You see their smile and you introduce yourself and then you notice just how little they have with them. And those few things they do have are usually a random collection of items.

When my first foster child arrived, I noticed he had a blanket with him. I thought it was sweet he had it to cuddle up to. Since it was the middle of the night, I tucked him in while making sure the blanket was close by in his bed. I thought I smelled something funny, but his pajamas seemed okay, so I decided sleep was the most important thing for now. The next morning as I was preparing breakfast, the little one came into the kitchen, blanket in hand. I quickly came to realize what was up. It was the blanket! ‘Oh my gosh,’ I thought while being careful not to show the horror on my face. This blanket stinks! And, what’s more, I could now see that it was really, really dirty.

Courtesy of Peter M.

I’ll be honest here and say before having kids in my house, I was a little bit of a clean freak. I was a single man who traveled a lot for work and wasn’t even home that much, so it wasn’t difficult for me to keep up with a clean and tidy house. I’d come home from a trip, dump all my clothes into the washing machine, and that would be that. I mean, I knew my life would change with kids in the house…theoretically. But, in reality, you don’t know how much until it happens!

In my mind, I was wrestling with the idea of this smelly blanket. I noticed it was always with him, day and night, no matter where we were or what we were doing. That smelly blanket was right there! I decided I’d give it a few days, and once my foster child was more settled, I had fantasies of being able to put it through the washing machine and we’d all be happy. Right? Well, not really. Once I saw how much the blanket meant to them, not to mention the fact it never left their clutches, I started to remember something crucial from my training.

During foster parent training, they explained to us the kids often show up with a cuddly toy or blanket from their room that has seen better days. During the trauma of being removed from the home, a social worker or police officer will quickly grab something from the child’s room in an attempt to comfort him or her.

Courtesy of Peter M.

Think about it. You’ve been with your parents your whole life and then one day, out of the blue, you’re taken away by force with no time to prepare, no time to say goodbye, and no explanation why you’re being taken away from your home.

The blanket or that stuffed toy becomes one thing that is extremely important to the child because it is the only thing left with memories from home including the smell of the place they associate with family. So, I learned very quickly the one thing I wanted to get rid of was actually the one thing I had to value. Even if the thing disintegrates into a smelly, dirty sliver of what it once was, we really can’t wash it. This little piece of fluff or cloth holds all the smells and memories of where its owner comes from and, in a sense, is a part of his or her identity. It is the anchor to the child’s family and a link back to their home.

So, here is a fair warning! If you are thinking of becoming a foster parent, you’re going to have to let go of some of your perfectionist tendencies. It might look different, smell different, or even look like it has no life left in it, but to that child, it represents home. And just like for all of us, whether it’s the smell of home cooked meals or an old photo album, we all need that one thing that reminds us of home.”

Courtesy of Peter M.

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Peter M. You can follow his journey on Instagram. 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.

Read Peter’s backstory:

‘At 11, his adoptive parents abandoned him at a hospital, never to return. ‘Mr. Peter, can I call you my Dad?’ I began to cry uncontrollably.’: Single dad adopts 11-year-old boy from foster care after biological, adoptive family abandon him

‘My father sent me out for cigarettes. I decided to run away. I needed to find a place he’d never find me.’: Man rescued from abusive family, returns favor by fostering children in need

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