In Joy and in Mess: The Challenges of Being a Foster Parent

I’m diving into the personal side of foster care. I started writing because I needed to digest. I’m publishing because there’s a chance that someday another foster family (or future foster family) will stumble upon this post and find it useful. But it’s hard to write without sounding resentful. My hope is to enlighten not anger. My desire is to paint a picture of our experience not ask you to feel annoyed on our behalf. 

This (foster) parenting gig is hard. So far today I’ve dealt with a lot of vomit–the literal kind from our poor foster kid and the figurative kind from a birth mom who yelled at me.

But the business of foster care may be even harder than the vomit.

One of my greatest strengths as a foster mom is that I give stability, structure, routine, security, predictability. Our home has plenty of chaos (that happens when you have people/kids living in it instead of robots), but our lives are not chaotic.

But that strength is also a weakness and probably why DCFS (Department of Child and Family Services) would say I’m not their favorite foster parent. I have very strict boundaries in place for the protection of my family. I know these boundaries are inconvenient. Maybe I’ll change my mind and relax later, but we can’t get our privacy back once we give it away. So my boundaries are strict. I won’t exchange phone numbers with the birth family, put our home address on medical records, allow the birth family to come to my home for pick-up (it’s been asked of us), or bring my bio girls to our pick-ups/drop-offs with the birth family.

Some people might think I’m overprotective or trying to shelter my bio kids. And you know what? That’s true.

But had our bio girls come with me today for pick-up, they would have heard a hurting mama demand that her child be removed from our home immediately.

Our little toddler and preschooler are walking through this journey with us. They know something is not right with our foster son’s family. They know we are taking care of him while his family gets healthy. They’re sad that he can’t be with his mommy, but they know that someday he will go back home to his family. And it’s going to break their little hearts, because they love him.

Isn’t that enough to ask of kids who are not yet three and not yet five?

I’m okay with protecting them and their innocence awhile longer.

The challenges of being a foster parent

I am naive and new and filled with love and compassion for the bio family, but that does not mean I will move my boundaries for the convenience of the foster care system.

But how does that work out in reality? Our foster child is a ward of the state and subject to the state’s wishes and directions. But thankfully we have the privilege of being responsible for our bio girls. Should I get a babysitter every time I need to go drop-off our tot for one of his three weekly meetings? Should I even consider DCFS’s request that we ask our parents to volunteer to help with transportation? Should we change our girls’ nap schedules, my husband’s work hours, or the rhythm of our family nights so can provide transportation to evening visits? Do I give up my afternoon and evening work time so that a contracted provider doesn’t have to come to our home to pick him up? If I had a “normal” job and “normal” schedule (as opposed to the abnormal hours I keep as a blogger), would there be that expectation of flexibility?

Is this what we signed up for?

I heard recently from another foster mom that all foster parents eventually get burned out. Not on the kids–caring for the kids is the easiest part. But all foster parents get worn out by the system.

Co-parenting with the government is not for the faint of heart.

And I was also reminded by another foster mom friend that all systems are imperfect. My home is imperfect. I am imperfect. Rather than complaining, I could choose to thank God for all of the relationships he has given us through foster care, humbly acknowledge my own imperfections, and not give up because loving our foster tot and his family is worth it.



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