Foster Parenting 101

My first son slept “like a baby” from his very early days.  As a well-rested young stay-at-home mom, I sometimes found myself making a bit of noise outside the nursery door by about nine in the morning, when I was ready for some company.

My second little boy did not follow this pattern, as he woke many times through the night for his first three years until, curiously, his baby brother, also prone to night waking, arrived.

I really didn’t mind getting up with the babies.  A mostly quiet house in the dark stillness of night offered a sense of peace, even serenity, which restored me much as if I had slept a full night.

I guess my little boys prepared me, but only in a small way, for the endless night wakings that were to come.  Now, the imagined demons in the night reach their accusatory hands toward me, and anxiety speeds through my insides as I wonder, “Am I enough?”

The dull ache in the hip of my nearly half-century old frame gives me pause as I move to the room at the west end of our farmhouse, listening outside the nursery door.  I am working hard at sleep training with this little one, because those every-two-hour wakings are no longer exactly enchanting.  I had read Margaret Wise Brown’s “Little Fur Family” (my miniature version bound in pretend fur) before putting him down tonight, and I am hoping the mother bear’s advice to “sleep warm in your fur, all night long” will do the trick.

Other than possibly my little fur-bound volume, though, there is really no book for any of this.

Over the years, people have asked many questions and made plenty of statements about fostering.  I am convinced that the vast majority of these questions and comments come from a place of curiosity, from well-intentioned people that are genuinely interested in our family.  I have decided to share some of these questions, along with the responses that I have to offer.

“Are they yours?”

They are my heartbeat; they are my priority.  They were born to another woman, and while they are with me, they are never completely mine, yet they are, without a doubt, my children.

“Why doesn’t she live with her real parents?” 

Many things relative to foster care are confidential.  It is not up to me to disclose this kind of information to the lady in line next to me at the bagel shop, but I can give you an idea.  As parents, we have much in common.  We love our children, and we work hard every day to do our best for them.  Sometimes, though, something happens…something unfortunate, something tragic,  something unexpected.  We may be just one “something” away from being unable to care for our own little ones.

“I could never give them back.”

I was reading through some of my old college files the other day.  Though the vision I had for myself twenty seven years ago is similar today, there are some detours.  I had seen myself pursuing higher education, with plans of fostering and adopting swirled together with one noble, starry-eyed wave of a magic wand, ending in a whole gaggle of little children.   I never made it to the PhD.   I did get the big family, but by no wave of a wand.  Rather, through the grief and pain of terminated parental rights, abandoned babies, and lives overcome by addiction and mental illness.   My family has also experienced the joy of working with birth parents whose children are returned home.  We don’t “give them back.”  We support them and love them as their fate is determined by the actions of others.   And yes, it is hard, whatever the outcome, but there can also be indescribable, unfathomable joy, and that truly is magic.

“How many are you going to have?”

If I had a crystal ball, I don’t think I would look.  At least, not yet.  No part of this is up to me.  We spend our days, and a call comes about a baby sibling to our son.  I wonder if I should pack up the bottles for good.  With my older children on the brink of adult life, I know the richness of motherhood, and while I learn so much from others, I sometimes forget what I used to know.

“Doesn’t this impact your marriage?”

Of course it does; however could it not?  We are destined for this, just as all the stars are numbered, there is reason and meaning behind all of our connections.  We could not do this alone.  Times are best when we work together.  After twenty-five years of marriage, we have learned ways to support one another.  Dan can tell when I have had too much; he knows when I am on the verge of tears, and my arms are sore from holding a writhing eight-year-old.  He gently takes over, and I can spend some mindless minutes peeling carrots.  I know, too, that if he slips upstairs to play his keyboard for a little while, this time will fill his soul so that he may be energized for the next round.

“Don’t you worry how this will affect your other kids?

I worry that my two-year-old will hear words that I hope he never repeats.  I worry that my daughter will learn certain things well before she should.  I worry that my children will see me cry, or that they will feel like I don’t have time for them.  I even worried about the cat when she was the subject of a bad experiment.  Then I see the collective joy of my little son and his baby brother as they chase each other around the kitchen.  I see the little sparkles shared between my girls as they talk about things that girls talk about.  I see in my grown sons a sense of compassion and understanding that can only come from having experienced this side of life.

We do this, plain and simple, because that is why we are here.

Today was a sunny Sunday, close to thirty degrees, and I felt only slightly guilty for calling an officer to help me install a car seat for our one-year-old.  I waited in my van outside the police station, and as he approached, I noticed that he looked slightly familiar.  I wondered if he was one of the many officers who had come to the scene during one of the four times this year we had to call for help for an out-of-control child.  He had done this many times before.  He flipped the seat over a couple times, adjusted a few latches, gave me some safety tips, and gave the car seat a final tug.  At one point, I looked sharply at this young policeman, beckoning him to pull up the details to my story.  He didn’t.  He did his job.  He was pleasant, kind, and unassuming toward the almost grandmotherly woman that needed help with the car seat for her baby.

There really are no answers to these questions.  We do what we do because out of all of this brokenness and sadness, there is a light.  I have seen it.  There is another day, another sun, and another chance for hope and healing.

There is, indeed, another story to be written.

And for now, “Sleep, sleep, my little fur child…”


About 1maniac1989

From childhood, I have wanted to take care of children, to bake cookies, cakes, and bread, to hear music, and to tend to flowers in my garden. I am blessed and lucky, and I am able to do all of these things. I live with my beloved husband, Dan, and our many precious children, in DeKalb, IL, which, perhaps in my opinion only, is the most beautiful place on earth. Sincere thanks to anyone who has taken the time to visit my blog.

4 responses to “Foster Parenting 101

  1. Patty kirk

    Your posts always make my eyes water and my heart ache, I wish I could do so much for others.

  2. Donald Overbey

    I believe I found this particular writing to be reflective of the reality you face everyday in the development of children who have less predictability than most others – that is, except for not sleeping! Patty, I don’t know how you do it. I know that you prepared yourself for this vocation as well as anyone ever did but the challenges have to test you, in spite of that. I pray for you daily to have the strength, mentally and physically, to deal with all the predictable and unpredictable challenges that come your way. I cannot imagine anyone who can actually relate to the serious issues that seem to crop up for you on a daily basis. I will never understand how you are able to manage all you do. Your ability to cope with all this is, for me, the most fantastic miracle in my lifetime and I thank God for what you have shown me and others around you.


    Dad >

    • Dad, you always make such thoughtful and soulful comments to follow up my writing. I hope you know the kind influence you have had on me all these years. You always told me that everything works out for the best. I have carried those words with me every day, and I do believe they have helped to shape me in this work. Lots of love, always.

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