Faith, Attitude and Expectations
Memoir of a “Former” Foster Mom
Many times, when I have reflected on children who struggled with home lives, I have often thought about how I would parent children when given the opportunity to be a mother. I also have thought I had my life all planned out with my teaching degree and a home of my own. I just knew that I would be married, have a two-car garage, two kids, summers off, and a dog, but life sure does not work this way! I got to a point in my life when I was wondering what I wanted more than anything, and I concluded that I wanted to be a mother, in whichever capacity that entailed, whether through birth, private adoption, or foster care. As I searched for answers, I attended an interest meeting about foster care, and that meeting changed my life.
I had always heard the phrase, “When you know something is right, you just know it.” I had never had a more profound experience than when I sat in an interest meeting about Foster Care. I was looking at the response card that I placed one little check on to indicate that I was interested in registering for the training needed to become a foster parent! I felt as though this was my destiny in life! Attending classes sparked so many ideas in my mind that, at times, I felt overwhelmed and unsettled because there is such a need for help with foster care. I was also amazed at the things that “the system” believes parents need to know to raise a child, yet biological parents have zero training! While I am a single mom, I know that many people question if it is too hard to be a single parent by choice, and some people think it is hard to welcome a foster child into a family who already has children. At the same time, most people think it is too hard to love and support a child who may not stay with them. My response is always, “Nothing can be as hard as actually being a child in foster care. There are many ways to help kids. Additionally, no process of parenting is easy!”
The more I learned about foster care, the more that I learned there is such a wide range of ways to help children and young adults. Foster parents need help with babysitting just as biological parents need to have a break or a nice dinner out once and a while. Kids in foster care need supplies for school, extra-curricular activities, Christmas gifts, birthday parties/gifts, tutors, job training, transportation, and everyday things, just like children living with biological parents need to thrive in life. They also need guidance and a listening ear as they grow up in our communities. Becoming a mentor or supporter through church groups or volunteer opportunities is necessary in addition to providing an actual home.
As an elementary teacher with over 25 years of experience, I have taught many children and had relationships with many families! One of the lessons I have learned over the years is that children thrive when adults caring for them have faith in them, have a positive attitude, and have realistic expectations. When I got “the call” asking me to become a foster mother, I was in the middle of teaching a science lesson in a lab, and by the end of the conversation, I said,” Yes!” My personal faith gave me the strength to say yes to a child who was born addicted to drugs, and my education gave me the knowledge and attitude needed to help a child thrive in life regardless of how that life began.
My first task was to READ!!!!!! I read everything I could about children born addicted to drugs, being a single mother, choosing pediatricians and daycares, and navigating the foster care system (since this was my first placement). However, the first thing I truly read that was life-changing was a small board book entitled How Do I Love You?, by P.K. Hallinan, to my new foster daughter while she was still in the NICU. I had no idea what would be in our future, given her birth circumstances, but one thing I knew to be true was that all children need to be read to as much as possible from an early age! This prompted me to bring books to the hospital each day for the month that she had to stay in the NICU in order to be weaned from all substances. All-day, every day, I would sit next to her and read!!!!! I was shocked when a nurse told me that she had never seen anyone read to an infant in the NICU, and this was at a big, well-known hospital. Since then, it has been my hope that one day, families would automatically be given a children’s book when a child is born, along with information about how just reading one book per day to a child makes a tremendous impact on the brain development of that child.
As my foster daughter’s life began in the hospital, I had to meet many new people and be ready to welcome them into my home. Once again, faith, attitude, and expectations played huge roles in our story. Some people are very private, and when helping a foster child, parents must be willing to become part of a new “village” with the common goal of doing what is best for the child. We immediately were blessed with an angel of a caseworker from the Department of Family Services, a social worker, an Early Steps case manager, a physical therapist, a speech therapist, and a teacher to evaluate my foster daughter and provide needed services.
Initially, when I reflected on what I wanted to do for this child, my first thoughts were that I wanted to give her safety, good health, opportunities, and love. Just by being in my care, I felt that safety and love were the easiest things to give her, and with a remarkable doctor and a foster grandmother who devoted her life to health care, I felt keeping her healthy would be manageable. However, providing education and opportunities seemed to be a daunting task at times because I knew what the research says about children born with opiate addictions, as well as other types of addictions. I also knew that many learning differences do not present themselves until a child is well into elementary school. For this reason, I always felt that we had no time to lose and made everything we did a learning experience. There was only proper language spoken to her (no “baby” talk), no electronic devices were used, and plenty of time was given to explore her world. She has also always had books never more than a few feet away from her. She slept with books in her crib (partly because, as a new parent, I knew she could not have too many plush things in her bed for safety reasons, and I just thought she needed to have something to look at!)
Additionally, she played with them in the various baskets around the house, kept some at her foster grandparents’ home, and even kept a basket in the car. Not surprisingly, her first word was “book,” and she said it constantly. I also knew that she would need a peaceful environment, and that was the beginning of playing soft piano music nightly until she fell asleep.
In addition to relying on my faith, as we juggled everything that was part of our journey, I constantly made it a priority to surround my foster daughter with people who were knowledgeable about foster care or who were willing to learn about it while treating her with the love, respect, and dignity that all children deserve in life. For example, when I had to select a pediatrician, my number one consideration was to assess the attitude, as much as the credentials, of the doctor! We were blessed beyond words to meet the man who would care for her with the most gentle spirit and love imaginable! The same could be said about the process of selecting a daycare! I always knew about Head Start, but I had no idea that there was even a thing called Infant Head Start. My foster daughter started SCHOOL, not daycare, at four months old! I was amazed every day at the thorough care given to her and with each objective that she mastered, based on her own individualized lesson plans!
While we began to settle into our life as a small family, we continued to follow all procedures involved with foster care, and we lived the roller coaster that often exists, even in the best of circumstances. There was such a wide range of emotions, and as I grew to love her more, there was always the fear that she would return to her biological family. Some days were full of peace and gratitude for getting to spend even a minute with this child, and other times there would be anger and frustration at the thought of how someone could do horrible things to children, especially infants not even born. As time passed, my faith helped me realize that her biological parents had different lives than I did as a child, and I have no right to judge them. I also figured that this child and I were meant to be together for a higher purpose.
After she was six months old, parent visits ended due to abandonment, which resulted from the hold that drugs have on addicts. I can say that while we had about three months of weekly visits scheduled with her biological mother, there were many in which nobody attended them. I would get the child dressed and prepared, drive an hour to the visit, and go right back home. Her biological mother spent exactly 8 hours with her over time. This would upset me so much, and I felt that nobody cared about this child, but once I found peace in the fact that I cared, my mental peace increased. I also remember so vividly that one day the biological mother asked if she could take pictures. I knew that she still had parental rights at that point, so I told her, “Sure, as long as I am not in the pictures.” After that visit, the biological mother left crying as I had never seen a person cry before in my life. This was the last time we ever saw her. I believe this was the day she loved her child enough to allow me to give her the safety, health, and opportunities all kids deserve in life. This is why I never doubted if this child was loved. There was just no way for the biological parents to give the care and opportunities that kids need in life.
Then, after another six months, the parental rights were terminated. I remember thinking that it is amazing; with just a couple of clicks of a gavel, a parent’s rights can be taken away. I was also amazed at how many lawyers would be involved in this one case. I wondered about the number of lawyers needed to represent all parties when a case consists of multiple children and multiple parents. I always wonder about the money and resources used to address issues with foster care, and why so much is allocated as reactionary measures. I wish there were more plans and funds in place that could be used for preventive measures.
After my foster daughter was in my care for 14 months, she was legally adopted on my birthday, becoming the best gift of my life! Because of having a strong faith, positive attitude, and reasonable expectations, my DAUGHTER is now 11 years old and is moving mountains in the world. I knew that we were destined to be together for a higher purpose. We have spent ten years sharing our story with other potential foster parents, creating awareness of the needs of foster children in our community, and praying for all children to have safety, good health, opportunities, and love!