10 funny/not-funny foster care problems

We’ve been doing this fostering thing for nearly 18 months now. In many ways I still feel like the new kid on the block. We’ve only had six little loves, and there are veterans out there with 30+ to their names and in their hearts. But all the same, I’ve learned quite a lot over the past year and a half. Here are ten unexpected ‘problems’ that I’ve discovered come with the territory as a foster carer. Some are funny. Some not so funny.

Maybe, if you know a foster carer, this will help you to understand a little more of their crazy life.

  1. The complete inability to plan ANYTHING

    Let’s say you want to book a family trip to the zoo a few months in advance. You probably have a good idea how old your children will be in any given month. In fact, you probably have a good idea how many children you will HAVE in any given month. This, friends, is a luxury I no longer enjoy. I know I’ll have at least two… but will I have three? Four? Will one be a baby and exempt from entrance fees? Will I have 7-year-old triplets? Only God knows – literally.

    Or let’s say you want to arrange to go for a walk with friends next Thursday. Thursday is your free day, so you know you can do it, right? How lovely. Thursday was my free day, too – until one quick phone call changed contact plans and now my Thursdays are full. Cue me cancelling my plans… again.
  2. Your life becomes a series of acronyms

    “I need you to meet with the CSW, IRO and HV at the LAC review next Tuesday. You will be discussing the recent care plan change from Section 20 to ICO, with a view to a FCO. We will also be discussing the upcoming IRH, which was mentioned at the PPM we had a few months ago. Your SSW will be there to support you, and a FSW will be there to support birth parents. You can bring FC6 & 2 with you, as we can arrange care here. If the courts rule for a FCO we would like to arrange a meeting with you and an ASW to discuss where we go from here.

    “Got that?
  3. Being the mom… but not

    I cook their meals, clean their clothes, wipe their bottoms. I teach them to talk, take them for their first swim, steady their hands as they learn to walk. I comfort them through teething, get up in the night with them, nurse them through illness. I read goodnight stories, get sleepy morning cuddles, tickle them till they giggle. I can read their faces better than anyone, understand their incomprehensible babble, and pick up on their subtlest cues. In my heart, I am their mom. But the problem is – I’m not.

    I send them off with strangers to visit their parents. I teach them to love another instead of me.   hand them over when I’d rather keep them close. I build in their now, so others can share in their future.

    I’m their mom – but I’m not.

  4. Getting the names wrong

    You know that thing you do as a parent when you try to call your kid, but call the wrong name first? Maybe you say, “Come here Jon – Davi – Lewis.” Well, my list of names is growing longer very quickly.

    “Come here, Ash – Am – Mar – Eliz – Bri – Luc – Ame – Charity…”By this time next year I might just call all kids by one generic name to save on memory space.  ‘Jo’ sounds good.
  5. The joy of the UNANNOUNCED VISIT

    So we all know the mad tidying up we all do before visitors arrive. But what if that visitor was a social worker? And what if, in addition to the 100 odd scheduled visits a year that social workers made to your house, there was also the promise of one unannounced visit a year. At any time a social work may just appear at the door, ready to record their findings of the state of your home and kids?

    Yep. Oh-so fun.
  6. The conflict of feeling new and experienced all at the same time

    When a new child comes to live with us, it’s like having, er.. I don’t know… a new child. Crazy, but true. And if that child is a baby, it’s like having a new baby. Obvious when you read it, right?  But the thing is, no one treats you like that. No one cooks you meals, asks if you need help, or sympathises with the demands of a sudden extra body in the house. (Okay, not strictly ‘no-one’. Some very wonderful people in our lives go out of their way to check if we need anything. If that’s you, know just how much it means to us. Thank you.)

    But at the same time, you’re not a new parent. And the longer you foster, the more experienced you are. You get used to constantly dipping in and out of parenting a variety of ages. You become experienced at dealing with different stages of childhood, because you’ve just done it so often and so recently. You don’t want people treating you like the newbie – you’ve most likely got more experience than them.

    We’re hard to please, us foster carers.  Sorry about that.

  7. Storage!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Now I know here in England we’ve all got small houses and not enough space. We all need more storage. But seriously, foster carers take this to the extreme. In addition to the stuff our core family unit own and need space for, in our house we also store:

    a full size single bed; two toddler beds; a cotbed; a moses basket; bedding for all those beds; three chests of draws; a wardrobe; two carry cots; two pushchairs; two car seats; a booster seat; a playmat; a bouncer; a walker; a toy ring; two play mats; a baby bath; a highchair; a nappy bin; two nappy bags; a night-light; a baby monitor; bottles; dummies; toddler cups, plates, and cutlery; bibs; girls’ clothes from newborn to age 6; boys’ clothes from newborn to age 6; toys and games suitable from newborn to age 6; spare suitcases; memory boxes; contact bags;

    I think God gave us expandable walls.
  8. Awkward introductions

    It used to be easy – “Hi, nice to meet you!  These are my kids.” Not any more. ‘These’ aren’t always ‘my’ kids. Sure, it doesn’t matter if I’m just meeting you in passing. You don’t need to know that one (or two) are not really mine. But what if you’ve moved to the area and you’re joining my social group? Do I tell you now? Do I tell you later? Do I just let you figure it out? And what if I’m signing a borrowed baby up for a mother and baby swimming group? It’s just so complicated. Maybe a more experienced foster carer has a good system worked out, but I’m still floundering in this one.
  9. Knowing too much

    We did a lot of learning before becoming foster carers. Then we went through the assessment process, where they put us on a course to learn some more. Then they require that we do a minimum of five training course/books a year, every year. Then we started fostering actual children, and the REAL learning began in earnest.

    Suffice it to say I know an awful lot about attachment, trauma, loss, and transitions, both in theory and practice. The trouble is, I know more than the professionals who I rely on for help. So when it comes to transitioning a child from my home to another, I am often helpless to make things better. I know what needs to be done, but there are too many others in charge who don’t know, and my voice is not enough to get it done.
  10. A really long prayer list and a head full of dreams

    The more kids we have, the longer my prayer list gets. By the time I’m 40 I think it’s going to take me all day just pray for each child.  This a good thing.  But time consuming.

    And my nights. They are filled with dreams of the little loves we no longer have in our homes, but are still in my heart. Here they visit me, sometimes happy and sometimes distressed. It makes for heart-achey sleep.

So there you have it. Ten things I’ve learned in eighteen months. But for all the ‘problems’, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Fostering has been the biggest blessing our family could have asked for, and we are so thankful God entrusted us with this beautiful life.

Advertisements

From loss to hope

Loss.

This one word sums up so much about foster care. First there is the children’s loss: they come to us to so full of it. They’ve lost just about everything by the time they move in – family, home, familiarity, possessions, belonging, security, trust… the list goes on and on. And then there is our loss: the empty hole in our hearts every time we let go of a little one we have loved as our own.

Loss hurts.

20180925_114603Last week we said goodbye to our fifth little love. Letting go just doesn’t get easier. But loss was not a part of God’s orignal plan. In the garden of Eden, there was no place for loss – all was perfect and so, so good. Yet now we live in a world marred by sin, and loss is rife.

But God was not content with loss. Instead, He decided to suffer the biggest loss of all, so that He could win us back and put an end to all loss and pain for good. Jesus Christ, the human personification of God himself, lost his connection to the God-head when he chose to die in our place. Of all the losses this world has seen, none can compare to this.

And now loss is not the end of the story. Jesus rose back to life, conquering death for us all. Now we can exchange loss for gain. We can exchange hurt for hope. We can exchange emptiness for fulfilment. Despite this broken world, God can work all things for good. He can turn the bad on its head.

This doesn’t mean that loss itself is good. No – the loss inflicted on the kids I love is painfully wrong. Desperately unfair. In no way good. But because God IS good, He can turn it around.

When we began this life of foster care we chose to embrace loss. We are priviledged to be co-workers with God, a part of turning bad into good in the lives of the children entrusted to us. And as we feel the pain of our own losses, God steps in and walks alongside us. He turns our tears to joy, gives us peace that passes understanding. As we follow His will, the richness of His presence in our lives makes the sorrow seem small.

Truly, we can do all things through Christ, who strengthens us.

Becoming

A friend of mine put up a quote on Facebook recently, which really spoke to my heart:

God doesn’t give you the people you want. Instead, he gives you the people you need – to teach you, to hurt you, to love you, and to make you exactly the way you’re meant to be.

As a foster carer people often tell me that I’m doing an amazing job. They watch me hold, love and let go of children that I long to keep. And in one sense, they are right. I am doing an amazing job; it’s an amazing privilege to step into a child’s life and form part of their story. But I am not amazing.

We have just come to the end of a three month placement. E, age 6, and B, age 2, came to us last November, a week after our first little love went home. They had had a life full of trauma. E told us things so nonchalantly. Things that a 6 year old should never even know about, let alone experience. B was terrified of simple sounds, and she spent the first night screaming for hours, not knowing why she had suddenly been taken from everything she knew and put with strangers.

The first week was a big adjustment, but we took it in our stride. As time went on the girls began to relax. They began to feel safe. They began to open up, and this is where it got really hard. After three weeks E began to show us just how much damage the trauma had done to her. She became everything we had been told to expect during our foster training, but experiencing it in real life is something different. We began to have daily meltdowns over nothing, where E would scream, kick, hit, throw, pinch, spit, bite, and generally try to destroy everything. These meltdowns could last up to two hours, and could happen several times a day, especially during weekends and holidays. She just couldn’t process all the awful, awful things that she had experienced, and she was letting us know the only way she knew how.

‘Theraputic parenting’ is the term we use to describe our way of dealing with foster children. PACE – Playfulness, Acceptance, Curiosity and Empathy: these are the tools we use, built on a foundation of love, firm boundaries and total acceptance. There were many times when I was being scratched and hit that I was able to respond with deep empathy. When I could look in E’s eyes and tell her that I knew she was hurting so badly, and that’s why she felt like she needed to hurt me too, and that was okay. There were times I could respond to spiteful words with humour and diffuse the situation. There were times when, yes, I was doing an amazing job.

But that’s only half of the story. There were many times when I did not want to deal with another meltdown, and wished the school day was longer. Many times when E’s deliberate attempts to hurt and provoke me, succeeded. Many times when patience was not a virtue I possessed. Many time when despite knowing it was not her fault, I felt like it was. There were times when, no, I was definitely not amazing.

Guilt. I am not the perfect foster parent that I want to be. Confusion. I truly believe God called me to this job, and that He has equipped me for it – so why can’t I do it better?

This morning I listened to a podcast by a very dear friend of mine, who was talking about why he believes ‘just be who you are’ is a message which means well, but does people a disservice. It stunts our growth and stalls us in our current place of imperfection rather than helping us move into who we are meant to be. No one is perfect. And although we are all created unique and wonderful in our own ways, we are not yet the best version of ourselves. God put people and situations in our path not only so we can help them, but so we can grow.

The difference between a master and an amateur, they say, is that a master has made many more mistakes. As we wait for the next broken lives to come live with us, my prayer is that I will have learnt from my mistakes. That next time I will be more of who God has called me out to be. That I will love better, and be a truer reflection of God’s grace and mercy.

sketch-1518116393277

Foster love: why I can’t let go, but choose to anyway

So many people have said to me over the last few months, as we have been approved as foster carers and had our first placement,

“Oh, I couldn’t do that. I could never hand them back!”

I get that. I totally, totally get that. I used to say the exact same thing myself, when friends of mine became foster carers and I watched them take in these precious, tiny babies then let them go again after investing so much. How could they do that? I just knew I couldn’t.

But here’s the thing. Anyone who just ‘can’ will probably never make a good foster carer.

Because fostering is not just about taking a child into your home. It’s about taking them into your heart. These are kids who have suffered things you and I really can’t imagine. Kids who have been abused, neglected, rejected. When they are taken into care they need someone who is willing to love them fiercely, wholeheartedly. They need to be loved as if they were your own. And yes, that means when they leave you will be heartbroken, because it will feel like letting go of your own children. But that is what they need. They need to matter to someone. They need to be loved so hard by someone who never wants to let them go. They need to be worth someone’s heartbreak.

Having said goodbye to our first little love last week, I have had my first taste of heartbreak. She wasn’t with us long, but we loved her completely. Since she left I keep thinking I hear her. I woke last night thinking she was crying for me. I keep thumbing through photos of her, missing her so much.

There is an undercurrent to that phrase “I couldn’t do that”. It’s almost as if, without meaning to, people assume that the only way to let go is to love less. That somehow we must love less, if we can handle saying goodbye. And I’m not blaming anyone – remember, I said the same thing myself. It’s just that I came to realise that my own heartbreak was nothing in comparison to what these children are going through. If they have no choice but to live through trauma, fear and broken relationships, surely I can give of myself in order for them to experience uninhibited love, no matter the cost to my own heart?

So we will keep loving each child who comes into our home as if they were our own. And we will endure the heartbreak of saying goodbye. Because they need us to love without holding back, more than we need to be spared the ache of letting them go.

%d bloggers like this: