By: Chelsea Beauchamp; Marketing Manager
When it comes to sharing the experience of raising a child who is NOT yours EXACTLY, but your love is just as deep— well, words just come up short.
Preparing for something you can never be fully prepared for…
In preparation for licensure, foster parents in the state of Indiana are required to take a minimum of 20 hours of classes- continuing those classes each year to maintain licensure. In addition, foster parents must follow their state guidelines to keep their home in compliance, including minimum square footage of living space per person in the home, multiple fire extinguishers and carbon monoxide detectors, outlined fire drills and safety plans, medical records for all humans and pets in the home, car insurance info, vehicle inspections, financial audits, proof that your water source is filtered, personal reference statements, and more. But this doesn’t come close to the preparation needed within your heart.
Your phone rings and you are forever touched by this child.
By saying “yes” you will be giving your entire home, heart and soul. You only have a couple of hours to emotionally and logistically prepare. So, you quickly research and call every daycare in your area hoping they have an open spot and head to the store to purchase clothes, diapers, formula, bedding, bottles, sippy cups, etc. Meeting this child is a bittersweet feeling. You are filled with devotion and they instantly have a place in your family. But, you are also filled with sadness for this child that has just been removed from everything they know. Your “Mama Bear” instincts immediately kick-in to full gear and you begin protecting them from anything that could hurt them.
Foster parents have ALL the responsibility and emotions of a “real” parent.
As a foster parent, you experience the daily responsibilities and struggles that other families do: feedings every 2 hours during the night (with no maternity leave), sick days, bed wettings, homework, and tantrums (without any of the parental rights). You are constantly worried: you worry the parents won’t show up to visitations and break their child’s heart; you worry about how the visitation will go and the emotional repercussions after; you worry you aren’t parenting in a way that is best for this child who has gone thru more trauma and chaos than you ever have; you are constantly worried for their little hearts- are they sad, insecure, angry, wondering if anyone loves them; you worry you aren’t respecting the heritage or culture of a child; you worry you aren’t being a strong enough advocate for the child- are they receiving all the services that they need and deserve?
But, it is so worth it.
You will bond with this child and look them in their eyes and think to yourself “I love this child. They can’t possibly leave.” You get all the sweet snuggles, story times, and get to witness their milestones. The amount of joy and pride you feel when they overcome an obstacle is indescribable. It brings tears to my eyes just thinking about the challenges all the children who have lived with us have overcome. Each child holds a piece of your heart that you will never get back. No matter how often you remind yourself that this child is likely going to be leaving one day, it does absolutely nothing to keep your heartstrings from winding so tightly around them.
You should know that one day they’ll return to their birth parent(s).
You prepare and do everything you can to help this child thrive. After months and sometimes years of care, you believe that you know this child best and what is best for them, but one day the judge will make their decision to have the child return to their birth parent. We have had to say goodbye to our littles ones after just weeks, some after several months, and others after a few years. You hope the bond with their birth parent is healthy and continues to grow, their friendships pick up right where they left off, and they are safe and happy.
Dropping this child off, having them run after you, screaming for you, and not being able to run back and scoop them up is the hardest thing you’ll ever have to do. You just have to LEAVE them. And then you begin worrying again. Do they think I abandoned them? Will they remember they will always be loved? Will they be fed? Are they being helped with homework?
What you must remember while you are raising this child is that their parents are working towards providing a more stable life for their family. The birth parents are engaged in various services provided by the state that promote healing, personal reflection and new relationship and parenting skills. If you choose to interact with the birth parent either during or after the court case, you get to see them overcome their own obstacles and evolve as a person and parent.
Moving forward and being present
There are daily reminders of each child that has lived with you. Every day, 100 little things remind you of your little loves and your bones ache so deeply from missing them. I lay in bed each night and hope they know that they are so special, they are not forgotten and they will always be loved.
One thing I have learned from being a foster parent is to never take anything or anyone that is important to me, for granted. Life can change so quickly, and you can lose the ones you love in just moments. I try to be present in even the littlest of moments. My brother (who does climb mountains and swim in rivers) said it well in a toast he recently gave at my sister’s wedding:
“So, stop pacing the aisles and lamenting the miles. Instead, SWIM more rivers. CLIMB more mountains, KISS more babies, COUNT more stars. TEACH THE TEACHERS A THING OR TWO and Raise Holy Hell. Laugh more and cry less. GO barefoot more often. Eat more ice cream. Ride more merry-go-rounds. Watch more sunsets. Life must be lived as we go along. SEIZE THIS DAY because the Station will come soon enough.” Many of us don’t climb mountains or swim in rivers, but the intention of the message remains the same no matter who you are.
If you know a foster parent, please show them love, compassion and empathy for their situation. Foster parenting is hard and saying “goodbye” is unimaginable, but it is worth it.
Hoosier children are being placed in foster care at more than twice the national rate. As of May of this year, there were 16,407 Indiana foster kids. Love is hard. Foster care is hard. However, choosing to love isn’t. Here is some information if you are interested in helping children in your community that need a safe and loving home.