‘Why does he act like that?’ My home was a war zone. But I wouldn’t take back that time even if I could.’: Woman shares advice to new foster parents, ‘Find your people’

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“This story isn’t about me or my husband, but that’s where it starts. We met in kindergarten and started dating when I was 15. Right after we graduated high school, we both went on life-changing ministry trips. I went to a safe house in another country to support and love girls who were rescued from human trafficking. It was during that trip my passion for serving vulnerable people was solidified, but I didn’t know then how it would play out. After we came home, my husband and I went about getting started in life. We were married at 19 and 20 and I went after my passion in a fury.

Courtesy of Alicia

I earned my MSW (Masters of Social Work) and knew right away I wanted to specialize in childhood trauma, so it didn’t take long for foster care to pop up on the radar. There were a few times we talked about it years before we were ever licensed, but we started out in our journey together very young and we knew we weren’t ready yet. I’ve always worked with vulnerable populations, and the urge to do more is pretty persistent. I’ve seen women struggling to get back on their feet in a domestic violence shelter, teens who are already on the road to addiction in rehab, men on parole trying to re-acclimate to society, and children tell the most chilling parts of their stories in an advocacy center. Every single system we operate within has its limits and its problems, and if you’re a bleeding heart, (me!) it’s hard to stand by and watch.

Courtesy of Alicia

What we’ve learned over these last 4 years is none of us are really all that different. See, when you become a foster parent, you thrust yourself right into all of the heavy issues in our society: racism, prison reform, addiction, infertility, pro-choice vs pro-life, etc. We all have valid experiences, BUT every single one of us are simply one choice away from a completely different life. So that birth mother I met at the DHHS office? She and I could have easily traded places. Remembering that goes a long way in building empathy, and if you want to be a foster parent, empathy is something you’ll need.

We’re a foster family that believes in love and redemption and reunification, and so we support all of our children’s parents. We have been able to maintain contact with some and even continue offering support. Why? Because they matter. I would be a fool to believe I was called to love my children, and not their parents. That is just part of parenting children who are not mine.

Courtesy of Alicia

Homelessness or drug addiction does not take away a person’s worth. Of course, there are various reasons a child can end up in care, but I mention those two because they have been the most common in my area. Even within the foster parent community, there can be a lot of judgement toward our birth parents. I’ve had conversations with so many people who say they support reunification, but then don’t give time for healing. And I understand that part. It’s heart-wrenching to watch a child be thrown around in the mix of trauma. It’s also difficult to determine what the ‘best interest’ of that child really is. As the parents who bring these children in and love them as our own, it can be tough to reconcile the fact even though we may be able to provide a home with a different standard of living, it might not be better.

But how does anyone decide the level of trauma that should be allowed to continue? We have believed the lie ‘children are resilient’ for far too long. If that’s the case, then tell me why we have a generation of adults dealing with trauma and all of its destruction? It’s true every person has a different level of tolerance and an individual way of processing trauma, but it’s so dangerous to believe just because a child is a child they are somehow immune.

Courtesy of Alicia

To give some more food for thought on the matter, this is one of my favorite quotes about trauma: ‘Trauma is perhaps the most ignored, belittled, denied, misunderstood, and untreated cause of human suffering.’ (Peter Levine)

We’ve made a lot of headway in the area of mental health stigma, but we have a long way to go. As the age-old analogy goes, we would never tell someone with a broken leg to ‘try harder’ and then they’ll be fine. We do, however, expect a person with trauma (and all the symptoms it causes) to get on with normal life. What should be happening is the normalization of getting help in order to heal. As with other things in life, foster care is a cycle; many of our bio parents were also in care when they were children. If we think about it from that perspective things fall into place a little bit. How would a parent effectively parent when it wasn’t modeled for them and they don’t know where to turn? Or when even their most basic needs aren’t met?

Courtesy of Alicia

Even so, foster care is complicated. Sometimes even with help and support from all angles, a child just cannot safely return to their birth family. We have had the honor of parenting seven children of various ages and circumstances, and six of them have gone home or moved on to live with family. We never thought we would be in this position, but we’re now embarking on an adoption journey. I don’t know if I could even begin to explain what it was like to be part of a termination trial. Let alone what pain there would be to experience the other end. There are plenty of reasons our little one needs to stay with us, but it doesn’t take away the fact another family has been permanently broken for mine to be expanded. Adoption always begins with loss, and that’s something we need to do a better job acknowledging.

Courtesy of Alicia

With that being said, I am also overjoyed about my growing family. I love our child to no end, and I want to be able to give him the absolute best chance in life. It’s astonishing to me my husband and I are now going to be permanently entrusted to love, guide, and teach this little soul. I am forever grateful I get to be his mama, and I could have missed it.

We could have decided to never take the leap to become foster parents. We could have decided to only take adoptive cases. We could have decided to not take emergency cases. We could have only taken one placement at a time. We could have made all of those choices to protect our own hearts, and to be honest, it would have been much easier—but the end results wouldn’t serve anyone. There are kids who need a safe landing place much more desperately than we need to protect our hearts. Foster care is not about me, but giving pieces of my heart away to all of our children might be one of the best things I’ve ever done.

Under normal circumstances, we raise our children and then they go off and live their own adult lives. Foster care isn’t that much different— it’s just reality in warp speed. Rather than 18 years, we may only get 18 months or 18 days. That means that every single second is that much more important. That’s one of the blessings of being a foster parent; it’s impossible to take for granted the time you have. Focusing on what’s important is so much easier when you remember to make the most of the time you are gifted. After all, we might only have one more day.

Courtesy of Alicia

When you become a foster parent, what’s important gets shifted. It can be a lonely and misunderstood place, and because of that certain relationships might fall to the side. Parenting kids from hard places is just different, and there is a plethora of well-intentioned, yet unwanted advice that comes from everyone. A lot of people have had lots to say about my children’s trauma responses, and that might be one of the most frustrating things about fostering. ‘Why does he act like that?’ was something I heard almost daily at one point. I’ve even described my home as a ‘war zone’ before. But I wouldn’t take back that time even if I could.

There is one instance of unwanted advice that will forever stick out in my mind: the lady at the restaurant telling me breastfeeding is better. Obviously, I biologically could not have breastfed my foster child. Also, I’m sure it would have been illegal. But why would I ever need to explain that? We really should stop mom-shaming of all kinds. If we could all just remember that everyone has their own story, we would have a much more loving world.

Courtesy of Alicia

Back to relationships though, it’s also not easy to keep up a social life between parenting times, court dates, team meetings, and all of the extra mental health/medical appointments. Being the village to my children’s parents is one of my favorite parts of being a foster parent, but it’s equally as important foster parents have their own village. That’s the most important thing I could ever say to a new foster parent. Find your people.

We have our people, and they show up big. They show up for every child we’ve loved, and even for the ones that didn’t make it to our home. Our people don’t just show up for our kids, they show up for US. It’s probably more appreciated than they know because more than social life being impacted, foster care can really try a marriage. As with any new challenge in life, it’s also an opportunity to grow if you have the right support. Now, as we are preparing to adopt, my husband and I have the strongest relationship we’ve ever had. Foster care has given us the opportunity to build our teamwork, and really put focused energy into our friendship. At this point in our lives, it has to be intention. I also didn’t know how much more I could love my husband until I saw him stepping up to be a dad to the children sharing our home.

Courtesy of Alicia

So I’ve mentioned a few of my favorite parts of being a foster mom, but the absolute best has got to be the tangible way I see the gospel playing out every single day. Whether it’s the redemption of our birth parents, or the redemption of our kids, the underlying message of both foster care and the gospel to that one thing: redemption. And through all of the brokenness comes something really beautiful.

So what I’m saying is this— foster care is hard. It’s also worth it. So worth it. The sweet, smiling babe that jumps into my arms every evening is worth it. The children who have gone home are worth it. Every child is worth it. If you love a foster parent, send them a little encouragement today. Check in on them. They will appreciate it.”

Courtesy of Alicia

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Alicia from Michigan. You can follow their journey on Instagram and their blog. 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.

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