If you asked me one year ago where I’d be in exactly 365 days, I wouldn’t know what to tell you. All I knew at that moment was that we were about to welcome an 11 month old little girl into our home and we needed to prepare. We knew nothing about her, except her age and that she was headed our way. We worked quickly to get a crib, clothes, and transform our former TV room into a play room. Finally, everything was set, the day and the hour had come and we waited in anticipation to lay eyes on this little girl.
I saw the caseworker’s car parking in our driveway, I watched her get out and scoop up the little girl in her arms. I watched as she walked towards the house, each second my heart pounding with excitement as well as nervousness. Once she reached our doorstep I couldn’t take my eyes off her! She was (still is) beautiful, beautiful hazel eyes, tan skin, chunky little arms and legs, and a cute outfit. The picture we had received a couple of weeks before did her no justice! I still remember what she was wearing! A navy blue onesie with a flowered pattern and adorable little baby jeans with light pink accents. She was apprehensive, looking around at this new home she’d be staying at. We walked around the house so she’d be familiar with it, not leaving the case worker’s arms. No smiles yet, but she looked around intently at her surroundings clearly feeling a little bit uncertain about this big change in her life. We settle in the play room and the case worker lets her down on the floor and allows her to explore. She quickly finds a toy she likes and soon enough she begins to smile. The case worker leaves some time later after she’s sure our little one started to feel comfortable around us.
Once the case worker is gone I start feeling a little stranded. Even though we received a small description about her and a rough schedule of her days, I quickly realized that I had no clue who this little girl was. Many may think children are predictable, that you pretty much know what to expect with small kids. There is some truth to that, however, children are still individuals with their own personalities as well as strengths and weaknesses. None of which I knew for this little girl who now shared our home. The reality that having two weeks vs nine months to prepare for this journey was starting to really settle in. One might not think about it, but the nine months a child spends inside the womb is time that he or she has had getting to know mom in a different way. It was very quickly that I found myself an amateur, lacking those important months of getting to know a child. Much greater also, this little girl’s cluelessness of who I am made me nervous too. Will she find me comforting? Will our personalities clash? I began to feel more lost. How much does she eat? At what time? What does she like? What does she dislike? What is her day to day schedule?
Today, 365 days later, we have grown to know this little girl and she has grown to know us. We know that she loves berries but wants nothing to do with any type of squash. We know she loves stuffed animals and watching the airplanes outside. She knows that Papi needs coffee every morning (which she calls “Papi’s leche” or “Papi’s milk”) and that we are a family that loves to eat at Chipotle. We have learned a lot about each other, however I think I have grown to know myself the most. It feels silly to say, but coming into this I really thought I had a pretty good grasp of my strengths and weaknesses but having this precious girl in my life proved to me otherwise.
There has been nothing in my life that has challenged me to grow in all aspects of myself than embarking on this foster parenting journey. I was forced to see parts of myself I never knew were there, both good and bad. I was thrown into emotional rides that I never knew could be so incredibly sharp and steep. And I was blessed to see God’s sovereignty in an excruciatingly clear and bright light. Becoming a parent is already an incredibly life changing event but becoming a foster parent is all that and then some. Foster parenting comes with a lot of unique situations and challenges that normally don’t come with normal parenting.
What I have learned is that parenting pushes you to the edge of the cliff and does its best to tempt you to jump off. It turns you inside out, bares your soul to the world. It leaves you exposed to yourself. It magnifies the little specks of imperfection within yourself and pushes all your buttons and reveals new ones you didn’t even know you had. It can take you to the end of your rope and then swing you around and around until you can no longer hold on.
If you think you know yourself, and are comfortable with where you are, become a parent and all that will change. I have heard someone say that you are never really an adult until you are a parent. I do believe there is a lot of truth to that because nothing in your life will ever impose on you and disrupt your life as much as a child. Nothing will demand so much, nothing will stretch you out so thin, nothing will ever give you the depth of opportunity to know true selflessness as it is to become a parent. If you want to grow as a person, volunteer to babysit for a few hours. You will encounter a human in its purest form, a human that is just like you except without the refined ability to hide and control emotions and desires.
We had planned to only have kids who were ready for adoption in our home. I’ll tell you that I was scared to simply foster with adoption not on the table; I didn’t want to put my heart at risk of being broken by agreeing to love a child fully knowing they will return home. However during the required training we took, something began to change inside of us. We realized that although yes, there is risk involved, there are so many kids needing families in the system. But what got to us most was the fact that this was an opportunity to help families stay together. As I have expressed in previous blogs, God’s plan was never for families to fall apart. In my post, In the Belly of a Great Fish, I go into detail about the importance of helping support and keep families together whenever possible regardless of what we may feel.
Many hesitate to welcome children in their lives (whether through foster care, birth, or adoption) because of the perceived loses they will experience. The common train of thought is- “A child will take my time, my freedom, my career, my body, etc…” However, a child does not take those things, you are the one to give them up. We, the adults, are the ones who give up those things, and sometimes quite needlessly. We fall into a slump of depression, anxiety, and fear of the future because we think we have lost these things. But the reality is that we don’t have to give these things up; instead we can look at these things in a different light, we can share them. Our time, freedom, career or anything else you can think of are never stolen by a child, they are transformed. We get to share our time, it is not taken away, we get to give freedom through protection and love, we get to trade in our career for the high calling of forming the life of a child. We lose things when we do not learn how to reframe the purpose of our lives, not when a child enters it.
In regards to specifically foster care, it too has not taken from my life, it has added to it. It has added depth, insight, love, experience, and most of all, it has added a family.
This has been my journey thus far, but do not forget there is another side to the story. Little did I know that just a few miles from our home, there was someone else living a very different situation. Someone who I knew nothing about, except for the fact that she gave birth to this little girl who has brought so much joy and challenge to our lives. Today, we know each other’s names, we know where each of us lives, and we know that whatever happens in our lives, one little girl will always somehow connect us. The following are her words:
“Last year August 7th I lost everything I could think of, even my daughter due to a dumb mistake I chose to do. October 9th I turned myself in because I knew I had a warrant for missing a court date for my daughter. So I knew I was going to jail. But before all that I was sleeping in my car before my parents took it away from me so that left me on the streets. I’ve slept at parks and snuck in at “friends” because they didn’t want me out on the streets. I finally got on my feet by living with a friend for about 4 months til I left from there and I went back to my moms. After all that I started working getting myself back together for once, for myself.
During that time I knew my daughter was living with a different a family and of course I disliked the idea but I also had to remember that these people love my daughter as their own. She’s loved, being taken care of and being a happy child.
She was in a better place where I couldn’t give her all she needed at the time. I worked on myself for the longest. I did parenting classes which I enjoyed very much. It had a lot of different insights on things as being a parent, especially a young one at that. It takes A LOT of patience. But key thing is SELF CARE, if you can’t take care of yourself, how can you possibly take care of your children ? This Is a question everyone must ask themselves. I worked on myself a lot to make sure I’m a suitable mother and to this day I’m still working on myself for the better of my children.
But if it wasn’t for foster care parents to actually give you the time to do that while your child is in good hands then by all means use that time while you can. Most people have a negative view on foster care like my peers in a group I attend too due to confidentiality I can’t say names nor the group I’m in but They don’t have a bond with their children’s foster parents nor who they are and their children are two hours away from them. I sit and think to myself like I’m very grateful for the bond I have with my daughters foster parents they’re like a family to me and they never treated me any different or seen me as a bad mother. I’ve made mistakes and by the grace of God I’m making amends with those mistakes. I just know what to do and what not to do. I won’t ever make that mistake again and what I will do is put my trust in God and trust that I’m in His hands as well as my children. I’ve learned so much over the last year. I also grew up this past year. I acted like a child and now I feel like an actual adult. I put all my anger behind me and became to love the system of foster care. Without them and my daughters foster parents I don’t think I would be where I am today.”
Read these words, ponder them, let them transform and change the perceptions you may have about foster care and parenting in general. Step out in faith and do the things that God calls you to no matter how scary they seem. He never calls you without going with you. I don’t know what the future holds, but I do know that this past year has been a supernatural one. One that God has clearly had a hand in and I know that His hand will never ever leave us. We will press on. We will forever carry with us the lessons, the stories and the memories this little girl has and continues to etch into us, like ink on skin.