‘We have a 2-year-old with significant abuse. We found man-made cages where they believe he was kept.’ I wanted to love on this poor boy, and make him feel safe.’: Foster mom says ‘with difficulty comes unimaginable beauty’

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“I have wanted to be a mom for as long as I can remember. I have always known lots of babies were in my future. When I was in high school, my family became a foster family (another great story for another day) and the second I laid eyes on our first placement, an 18-month-old wobbly little boy with big blue eyes, I knew I was toast. Foster care and adoption were going to be a part of my future. I knew it then down to my core, and I am living this dream now, fifteen years later. Random fun fact: the blue-eyed, blonde-haired wobbly little ball of cute is now my adopted nephew.

When my husband and I first started dating at the ripe young age of 20, my mom had a six-month-old baby girl as a placement, whom she later adopted. (Are we seeing a pattern yet?) Since I was still living at home and since I was smitten with this baby, I had Baby Girl with me at all times. I openly talked about how excited I was to adopt one day and how I couldn’t wait to have a family of my own. When the then-boyfriend said he’d like to adopt one day too, I knew I had found a keeper.

Courtesy of Chelsea Simons

Fast forward seven years or so, and we had two biological children. Our son, Lincoln, had just turned three, and our daughter, Delaney, was one. It was the week of Halloween, and I was sitting on the floor in our living room working on an extravagant Tinker Bell tutu for Delaney’s costume. The kids were in bed asleep already and I had The Office playing in the background as I worked away on her tutu. Out of nowhere, and I mean completely out of the blue, Jonathan asks…no, no. Let me back up. When I say ‘completely out of the blue,’ I mean we had not talked about fostering in years. It had not been a topic of conversation since we had been dating and I had the baby girl on my hip. Outside of the occasional ‘it’ll be nice to foster some day’ comment here and there, we literally never talked about it. Ever. Okay, back to Jonathan’s very out of the blue question, ‘What do you think about being a foster family?’ Let me tell you, it woke me right up. I wanted to yell, ‘THIS HAS BEEN MY IDEA FOR THE BETTER PART OF A DECADE, PAL,’ but I settled for, ‘That’s a great idea.’

Courtesy of Chelsea Simons

The next day I had emails out to anyone and everyone at our local DHS office I thought could help us get started on the process. Two weeks later we had our application completed and returned. Two weeks after we were sitting in our very first foster parent certification class. We were finally officially certified foster parents eight long months later. Delaney had just turned two. Lincoln was almost four. They were so little. We’ve only been foster parents for a little over a year, so they are STILL so little. They’re just tiny little preschoolers. Actually, I’m pretty sure Delaney is still considered a toddler (she’s a whopping three years old now). The point is our bio kids are still young. They’re still malleable, being shaped and molded in the ebb and flow of our everyday life. They’re little sponges soaking in everything. They watch everything we do and they hear everything we say. We didn’t wait to foster until our kids were older or until we were empty nesters. We knew this was something we were meant to do, and our time had come. Whether the kids were ready or not, change was coming.

Before our certification was complete, for one brief fleeting moment, I was worried about the impact fostering would have on our kids. For one tiny sliver of a moment, I was scared we were rushing into this; our kids were too young, this would be too traumatic for them, they’re going to have to sacrifice too much, they’re going to grow up and resent us for fostering, I would stretch myself too thin and my children would feel neglected. I’m not sure why, but just as fast as those thoughts came rushing in and the fear flooded my heart—they were gone. Replaced by unexplainable peace. I don’t know how I knew it, but I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt our kids would be okay. I knew deep in my bones and down to my core we were making the right decision to foster. I knew we’d all be okay. Even though peace is exactly what my heart needed, we didn’t leave it there. We didn’t just ‘have happy vibes’ and ‘love solved all our problems.’ Jonathan and I had a lot of conversations. We talked a lot about how we could protect our kids and keep our family healthy and happy. We planned and prepared as best as we could. We put precautions in place to make sure our family would stay healthy and happy through the craziness of fostering.

Courtesy of Chelsea Simons

One example is we make sure our son Lincoln will always be the oldest kid in the house. He’s always been the big brother and we felt it was important it stayed this way. This little rule has also morphed a little bit the more kiddos we’ve had in our home. Once, we did a two-week long respite for a 2.5-year-old little boy, and we saw Lincoln regress back a little bit in his behaviors, so we’ve since decided now about 1.5 years is our ideal our age limit. This will change as he gets older, but this is what Lincoln needs for now, so this is what our family will do. Another precaution we set in place is we say no to placements we don’t think would be a good fit for our family. Another way to word this is we say no to placements if we think we wouldn’t be a good fit for them. For us, we know severe or extreme special needs or health concerns would be too much for us to juggle while parenting young children and being working parents. We know ourselves and our limits well enough to know we wouldn’t be able to give a foster child with extreme needs the best care they deserve and need.

One of the most important precautions we’ve held on tight to is we don’t let our family time get cut short. We have multiple examples of this, because quality time is one of my love languages, so I love me some good ole’ family time. The first time this was put to the test was when we got called for our very first long-term placement while we were on our annual family camping trip. The placement desk called. I answered and heard the words pour out of her mouth: ‘Hello, this is the placement desk at your DHS office. We have a baby girl who is three days old in the NICU. She was born addicted to meth, heroine, and methadone. The nurses say her withdrawals are pretty severe, and her birth mom left the hospital, so she has no one here for her.’ My heart was ripped right out of my chest. I wanted so badly to pack up then and there to go home to the baby girl and hold her, snuggle her, love her, and help her withdrawal in her very rough start to life. Jonathan and I decided I would stay on the trip with our kiddos and continue to have the time with them and make those memories. We could not sacrifice that time with our kiddos. We knew we’d get lots of time with the baby when we got home, but our chance at this vacation was in this moment and we couldn’t ask our kids to give it up.

Courtesy of Chelsea Simons

The second time this was put to the test was when Jonathan and I were on a weekend getaway with the kiddos right after Christmas. The day before we were supposed to come home we got a call from the same placement desk worker: ‘Hello. We have a two-year-old boy who has experienced significant abuse. At the home they found man-made cages where they believe he was kept.’ Absolutely gut-wrenching. Of course we wanted to rush home to love on this poor boy and help him feel safe and secure. After talking it out, Jonathan and I decided we would stay on our trip with our kids, and if he still needed a home by the time we got home the following evening, then we’d take him as a placement. In the moment we said ‘yes’ to our kids and our family, and I’m so glad we did. Our kids still remember all the things we did on the trip. They remember all the snow they played in, the ice patches they slipped on, the swimming pool mommy and daddy swam in with them, and the slide at the pool they splashed down about a hundred times. I am so thankful we didn’t sacrifice the time and those memories with our kids.

Courtesy of Chelsea Simons

One happy example is I will still go on family trips with the all kids as often as I can, especially in the summertime when Jonathan’s work load triples and I don’t want to be stuck at home with stir-crazy kiddos. I have taken our kids, foster and bio, on multiple solo trips. Just me and the kids. It is priceless and I wouldn’t change those memories for anything. I took the kiddos up into the mountains to a resort where we rode bikes and ate ice cream all day every day. My favorite trip is taking the kids to the coast. They play in the sand, splash in the little inlets of water, and we eat cheese enchiladas like there’s no tomorrow. Yes, I know enchiladas are not the typical coast food people opt for, but it’s our weird little family tradition and I love it. Through the day to day life we are extra watchful of how our bio kids are doing, which is mostly watching emotional health at their young ages. This is so we can gauge if they need extra mom and dad time, extra snuggles, etc. My husband is really good about gauging my own stress levels and my need for time to refill my cup. If I’m having a hard week, he’ll send me away for a mani/pedi and a Target run. All this to say, we make sure to take care of ourselves as well because when we do we are able to care for foster kiddos even better.

Courtesy of Chelsea Simons

The fear of the impact fostering can have on biological children keeps so many people from thinking they are capable of fostering. Fear grows when it’s left alone in the dark, so I want to shed light on the issue. Let’s just call it like it is, shall we? Yes, fostering is hard. Yes, fostering will impact your biological children. Yes, adding children to your family will change the dynamics of your home. Yes, you will have moments where you wonder if you made a mistake. Fostering is hard. It is physically demanding. It is emotionally draining. It is spiritually challenging. Yes, fostering is hard. Just because fostering is hard does not mean it’s going to leave a negative impact on your kids. Just because fostering is hard doesn’t mean your children will suffer. Just because fostering can be hard doesn’t mean it always will be. Because, in my experience, the hardest things in life can also be the best. Yes, these fears are completely valid and the decision to foster can not be made flippantly, but on the other side of fear is unimaginable beauty. All of the hardships and heartaches I’ve endured as a foster mom have nothing to do with fostering. It’s just the heartache of being a mother. As soon as I lay eyes on our foster kids they become MY kids and I love them and treat them like my own.

Courtesy of Chelsea Simons

So, the hardships and heartaches have nothing to do with fostering. It is hard to watch my kid suffer. Whether it be through drug withdrawals or being sad a friend at school didn’t share a toy with them—it is hard to watch my kids suffer. It is hard not having complete control over my kids’ lives. Not in the ‘controlling, helicopter parent/drill sergeant parent’ type of way, but in the ‘I want to protect my child from everything because they are the most precious thing in my life, and I love them so much there aren’t enough words to express the magnitude of my love’ type of control. Here’s the best example I can think of: the baby girl who was our first ever placement had the case which broke me as a mother. We spent four months loving her and pouring our hearts and souls out to her. The hard start to life she had bonded me close to her. Holding your baby close, knowing the immense pain they’re in, and carrying the pain in your heart will absolutely give you a close bond. One day I got a call from her caseworker, saying a family member had come forward to be a placement option for her. I had a good relationship with another member of the family (sending pictures of Baby, keeping them updated on her health, etc), and I told them someone had come forward to be a placement option, and I didn’t think I’d be Baby Girl’s foster mom for much longer.

Courtesy of Chelsea Simons

They proceeded to tell me the family member had a history of documented abuse in their home. This gutted me. As a mother, how on earth was I supposed to send this baby into a home where abuse had been documented? It was the hardest moment thus far in my foster mother journey, having absolutely zero control over the life of this child, whom I loved with every inch of my being. Paralleled is the lack of control I have over the lives of my biological children. I will have zero control whether or not they drink at parties in high school. I will have zero control over where they go to college or the careers they want to pursue. I will have zero control over who they choose to date or marry. I will have zero control over their lifestyles and life choices. I will have zero control over if they’ll bury me or if I’ll bury them. Motherhood is a completely surrendered state. Whether it is biological motherhood or foster motherhood—hardships and heartache don’t discriminate. A mother’s heart is a mother’s heart.

Courtesy of Chelsea Simons

Yes, fostering has impacted my two children. It has changed them in the best way possible. Because of fostering, my son is obsessed with babies and is the most gentle, loving soul to every baby he sees. My son has grown into an immensely empathic boy, and my heart is so full knowing he’ll grow into an empathetic man, husband, and father. My son is a leader. He will see me struggling with a diaper change and his response is, ‘No worries! I can help!’ as he runs off to get me another package of wipes I forgot to grab. My daughter has become such a helper. She constantly asks to hold the baby, to feed the baby, to help shake the bottle and mix the formula, to sit next to the baby in the car to give him his binky. This is a huge deal for her, considering I couldn’t get her to put a single crayon away without a huge meltdown. Both of my children have grown in their patience. They understand when the baby is upset they’re going to have to wait until mom can help them.

Courtesy of Chelsea Simons

They are gaining more understanding of the world around them. They are seeing in action we help people in need. They are watching their parents cheerlead our fosters’ bio parents when they have a victory. They are seeing us cry tears of joy when kiddos get to go back home. Our kids are listening to us talk about bio parents with the respect and dignity they deserve—a witness to how all beings deserve respect and kindness. So, yes. Fostering has impacted our children. It has forever changed them in the best way possible, and will continue to shape them for as long as bonus kiddos are coming through our door. When my son says, ‘I missed the baby so much when I was school today!’ I know we’re doing the right thing. When my daughter asks every single night at bedtime to kiss and hug the baby, I know we’re doing the right thing. Yes, fostering is hard. But it is so, so very worth it. For countless reasons, it’s so very worth it.”

Courtesy of Chelsea Simons

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Chelsea Simons of Portland, Oregon. You can follow their 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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