‘We went from barely knowing each other to ‘co-parenting’ a child who desperately needed stability. We consider ourselves ‘Sister Moms!’: Two foster families come together for support, advocacy

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Elizabeth’s Story:

I will never forget the day foster care first entered my thoughts. My husband and I had our first child young and during this time he came to me about the idea of becoming foster parents. Originally, I thought he was crazy – I still do some days. I was not interested. We had just started our family, we were young and had no idea what our future may hold. I pushed his thought out of my mind.

After the birth of our son, we went on to welcome three beautiful girls, and again he mentioned foster care. This man had lost his mind. No way was I welcoming a ‘stranger’ into my home when I had four small children. He encouraged me to pray about it and was very adamant someday we would add foster care to our story.

As the years passed, I remember God showing up in small, everyday ways reminding me of what He had laid on my husband’s heart. After a few years of saying no to the uncomfortable, no to God, and no to my
husband, God changed my heart. As we went through the licensing process, I remember thinking, ‘I don’t know if I am cut out for this.’

We finished up our classes and became licensed foster parents, however, we were still waiting for the final copy to come in the mail. When the phone rang, I remember thinking, ‘We don’t even have our  license in hand yet, I wonder what they are calling for?’ As I picked up the phone, I heard of a young boy who needed a home, and while the details were still being finalized, I knew he was a yes for us! I hung up the phone and asked the kids about adding this sweet five-year-old boy to our family.

Everyone was so excited, but moments later the phone rang again. ‘Hello, Mrs. Janssen the courts have ordered the child be placed with his sibling in another home. I know you had put children under 5 on your preference list, but I was wondering if you would be willing to stretch? We have this boy who just turned twelve who is just coming into care. You are the only home available in his zoned school. This would mean one less change for this young boy, would you consider?’ Five and Twelve are different worlds,  my friends! After some conversations with our kids, we said yes.

An hour later, we welcomed an amazing, scared boy. Our journey with him was full of ups and downs, but the one thing that sticks out the most is the loneliness we experienced. There was very little support or community around foster care during this time. Regardless, this boy changed our lives forever. As we watched him flourish with love and consistency, we knew we would never go back to our ‘comfortable’ lives. We are honored to call him our forever son.

Here we are, eight years into our foster care calling. Our oldest sons are now 19 and 20 and pursuing college degrees! We have ten kids currently living at home, and while the oldest is 20, our baby is 3.

Foster, adoptive family take a family photo on the beach with their 10 kids
Courtesy of Lisa Montoya and Elizabeth Janssen

Lisa’s story:

It was three months after our wedding when I first mentioned ‘foster care’ to my husband. I had a heart for children from a very young age, and I knew I wanted a big family one day. At first mention, my husband laughed and quite honestly brushed it off as just another big idea of his new bride.

A year later, we began trying to start a family of our own. My Pinterest boards were filled with pregnancy
announcements and gender reveal parties. We were both young and healthy and had no doubt we’d be seeing those two pink lines very quickly.

Month after month, we found ourselves disappointed, frustrated, and incredibly sad. After many doctor’s appointments and searching for answers, we were given one choice: IVF. We often get asked how we decided to go that route, and the truth is it wasn’t even a question. Our desire for a family outweighed
the daunting task set before us.

Within a few months, those two pink lines I had been eagerly awaiting were right before my eyes (and way darker than I expected). ‘We did it! We’re having a baby!’ I wept on my husbands shoulder, and for the first time in almost two years sighed a sigh of relief.

Our first ultrasound brought an even bigger surprise. ‘Would you look at that, there’s two heartbeats,’ my
doctors said fairly nonchalantly. I quickly replied, ‘Mine and the baby’s, right?’ He laughed along with my husband and the nurse. Apparently I was the only one in the room still wrapping my head around what was being shown on the screen before us – two tiny flickering heartbeats. Twins.

We felt complete. Two healthy children, a little house, and our dog. Complete and comfortable. It would be almost a year later when foster care crossed my mind again. I’d put the twins down for a nap, opened my computer and started reading blogs about foster care. These moms seemed so strong, so fearless. I didn’t know if I had what it took and I also didn’t know if I was willing to give up the life we had built. It sounds selfish, I agree, but this is where my sinner heart was at at time.

I remember listening to a sermon where the Pastor said, ‘God doesn’t call us to be comfortable, He calls us to trust Him completely.’ It was in that message I knew my reservations towards foster care were not from God. In contrary, it was His gentle voice that was calling us towards one of the greatest commissions of our life.

When God calls, you answer. Sometimes with a shaky voice and fear in your hearts, but you answer and you trust His plan. Over the next several months, we did just that. We attended training classes, completed countless sheets of paperwork, prepped our house (i.e. cleaned like never before) for a home study, and before we knew it we received an email stating, ‘You are officially a licensed foster home in the state of Florida.’

Our journey started slow by providing respite care as needed. Children would come and spend a few days
with us before returning back to their foster home. We got the opportunity to love on various children and then say goodbye a few days later. I liked the idea of easing our kids into the concept of welcoming new people, but also saying goodbye to them.

Five months after receiving our license, we received the call that would forever change our family. ‘Hi Lisa, we have a five-month-old baby boy who needs placement immediately. What do you think?’ Our licensing specialist said. Without hesitation I replied, ‘Yes!’ As a family, we had already discussed what we felt capable of and so without many questions, I knew this little one was exactly who God had us waiting for.

It’s been three years since that phone call, our ‘little guy’ is not so little anymore and he’s no longer the baby of the house. Almost a year after he joined our family, his baby brother got to join us as well. At that time we had 4 under 4!

We were busy, but when a text came through asking if I’d be willing to take a 15-year-old girl as a respite for the weekend, I didn’t bat an eye. Of course we would. Had we ever raised a teen? No! Did we ever have other teens in the house? No! Did we have any idea what we were doing? No! But, it was just a weekend, right?

Well what happens when that one weekend turns into building relationships, weekly phone calls, weekend visits and eventually a long term placement? For me, my heart was full, but my head was confused. I had so many questions and I wasn’t really sure who to ask.

Family of six take a photo on the beach with their biological twin children and their two foster sons
Courtesy of Lisa Montoya and Elizabeth Janssen

The story of our friendship:

Thankfully, when you surround yourself with a supportive village, they often recognize your needs even before you do. That is exactly what Brandi did. Insert ‘foster mom matchmaker.’

By anything but chance, Elizabeth and I met at the Christmas closet in December. We mostly just chatted about toys for our littles and which makeup to choose for our teen girls, but what God was doing in that moment was so much more. He was opening a door I didn’t even know I would need just a few short weeks later.

I had been a foster/adoptive parent for at least 7 years at this point. I was a completely exhausted mom of 10 when Brandi mentioned Lisa and I should get together. Honestly, I thought, ‘Yes, that would be great, but currently I don’t even pee by myself so…maybe I’m not quite ready.’ Apparently, Brandi didn’t like this response and set us up on a blind date at the Christmas Closet.

As we picked out gifts for our kids and Lisa talked about her new addition, I couldn’t help but remember the flood of emotions that comes from a new placement. I know all placements are similar but your first teenage placement is a whole new world. As I listened to Lisa, I thought about my previous teen placements, the current five teenagers in my home, and the difference in fostering teens and fostering young children.

I was reminded of how alone I felt as we navigated advocating for teens and knew God was the real matchmaker here (Sorry Brandi). I did my best to encourage her because, while I know teenage placements are hard, they are also the most rewarding in my experience, and we went on our way. I remember leaving feeling like God was calling me to wrap around Lisa and her family as she poured into
this sweet young woman, but I just wasn’t sure how.

Foster moms smile for a photo together while both wearing blue at the beach
Courtesy of Lisa Montoya and Elizabeth Janssen

After that initial meeting with Elizabeth, life got crazy. We were now a family of 7, navigating 4 under 4 and a teen. We were also loading up two vehicles with suitcases and presents for our week-long Christmas vacation. We were going through the motions, loving this child the best we knew how, but honestly, we were just surviving.

Two weeks in care and I still didn’t have the paperwork I needed to even enroll this child in school. The communication with her case manager was sparse, at best. I had a constant nagging in my heart that I needed to be doing more for her, but I didn’t know what this looked like. We won’t go into details here, because this is not our part of the story to tell, but let’s just say when our home was in crisis with what felt like only one option, God intervened.

A few phone calls later and next thing I know, I am talking to that foster mom I met at the Christmas Closet. It all hit me at once and it was like I could see the bigger picture God has planned for this story, far before we knew how it was going to play out.

Two foster couples pose for a photo on the beach together in color-coordinated outfits
Courtesy of Lisa Montoya and Elizabeth Janssen

When Brandi called weeks later, Lisa was the last person on my mind. We had just celebrated Christmas and were also getting ready to celebrate an adoption anniversary as well as a one year welcome to our family anniversary. Brandi asked if we would be willing to provide respite for a few days/week and I immediately said yes. I mean, what’s a couple days, right?

Brandi then explained to me this placement was a 15-year-old girl and an emergency placement from Lisa’s house. I remember thinking two things in that moment. First, I will be calling Lisa as soon as I get off the phone with Brandi. Second, could I really survive a couple days or a week parenting THREE 15-year-old young ladies?

After talking with Lisa, I realized this child was loved and supported in this home, and a very important member of this family. The emergency wasn’t really an emergency with Lisa’s family, but an emergency with teen foster care as a whole. Lisa knew her role as a loving and supportive parent well. She had her own biological children as well as little foster loves, and she was killing it! Lisa needed someone to assure her she was the person for this job! That she was called to advocate, and no matter what anyone said, her motherly instinct could be trusted to advocate for this child.

Lisa needed someone who had been there before, someone who would listen, encourage, and support her. This was me (poor Lisa didn’t even get a choice)! I knew the first thing I could do to give Lisa support was to provide respite for this child. We welcomed this child and instantly fell in love, all the while knowing we were going to do everything we could to support this family and get this child back to Lisa.

If I’m being completely honest, the following few weeks were brutal. We continued to love this child, but from a distance. We tried to advocate, but with little success. We were desperate for her to come ‘back home,’ but didn’t know the steps to take to make it happen. Elizabeth didn’t just sign up to provide respite. She walked alongside our family, was the voice for this child when I wasn’t sure what else to say, and gave us the confidence we needed to continue moving forward.

We went from barely knowing each other to ‘co-parenting’ a child who desperately needed stability. We have since coined this term: ‘Sister Moms!’ Over the next 3 weeks, we would experience the following together (all the while maintaining life as usual on the home front):

Two foster moms take candid photo on the beach while they talk and laugh with one another
Courtesy of Lisa Montoya and Elizabeth Janssen

– vetting prospective foster homes in case our home was no longer an option
– attending an IEP meeting and advocating for her school needs
– convincing school transportation to allow the child to ride multiple buses until we got this figured out
– initiating mental health services
– reaching out to our village for help with transportation, sleepovers, and PRAYER
– planning and executing a baptism for her (by her request) in less than 24 hours
– attending multiple team meetings to ensure the child’s needs were met and her voice was heard
– planning and executing an amazing sweet 16 birthday party
– and ultimately, BRINGING OUR GIRL HOME!

That journey is truly what collided our two worlds and we are so grateful it has. Some things have changed since then: children have left our home, new children have joined, we’ve added ‘forever children,’ we’ve provided respite, and together our families have grown closer. Our children look forward to our time together, and from youngest to oldest bonds have formed we hope will last a lifetime.

Foster kids smile for a photo while in an elevator in a hotel for vacation
Courtesy of Lisa Montoya and Elizabeth Janssen

Our husbands have somehow put up with our crazy antics and big dreams, and throughout it all their relationship has flourished. They are just as happy hanging out on the back patio as they are helping bio families move out of their apartments. Their servant hearts are truly remarkable.

Two foster couples take a photo together while out for dinner without their kids
Courtesy of Lisa Montoya and Elizabeth Janssen

The toll foster care takes on your family can quickly cause burnout. Continually advocating for the well being of not only children in your care, but also their families, in a broken system is the hardest thing we have ever done. Our friendship has allowed us to be each others support, to cry when things get tough, to encourage when one is feeling weary.

Our children can confide in one another because they actually get it. We work hard, but we also play hard. We travel, we have impromptu playdates, we stay up way too late and we do our best to create memories for our kids that they can cherish forever.

Foster daughters in matching yellow bathing suits smile for a photo while holding hands on the beach
Courtesy of Lisa Montoya and Elizabeth Janssen

As a result of our friendship, our community around us began coining us, ‘The Jantoyas,’ a mixture of our two last names but a name that now describes one family. Together, we stand in awe as God continues to write this beautiful story.”

Two foster families take group photo on the beach in color-coordinated outfits
Courtesy of Lisa Montoya and Elizabeth Janssen
Two foster families take huge group photo as they all walk down the beach hand-in-hand
Courtesy of Lisa Montoya and Elizabeth Janssen

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Lisa Montoya and Elizabeth Janssen of Florida. You can follow their journey on Instagram. 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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