It was dinner time on a Sunday evening. We were finishing up an early meal so that we could make it to church on time. There was giggling, food-swapping, and a little one attempting to tell a grand tale. I startled, as my phone rang with the specific ring tone that I had set. The room fell silent. You could feel the anticipation fill the air. Before I even answered, I knew we wouldn’t be making it to church that night, after all.
The voice on the other end of the phone was that of our placement coordinator from our foster care agency. She was calling to ask if we would take in an infant that was reported to be in a very dangerous situation, and she said that drugs were possibly involved. She didn’t have any other details as they were still trying to find this sweet baby based on tips from an anonymous citizen.
Was it a boy or girl? Did the mama know her baby was about to be taken? Did she care? And how old, exactly, was this infant? There’s a big difference between one month old and 9 months old Mostly, sleep comes to mind!
But we knew the drill. Our answer had to come before we were given the answers we were seeking. And our answer was an easy,”Yes.”
The next few hours were a blur. I texted friends to borrow baby gear, quickly googled ways to help drug-addicted babies, and sent out prayer requests to our church community. I didn’t know what that night would bring, but I was certain that it needed to be covered in prayer.
There was a knock on our front door. I opened it to two strange faces, and what looked like a 2 month old baby boy, wriggling in his car seat. The seat straps were not fastened correctly, and I remember thinking His poor mama was never even taught how to strap him in his car seat, how on earth was she supposed to get the rest of this right? I scooped him up and wrapped him in my arms.
He may not have been my baby, but I was going to love him like he was.
His clothes were soaking wet from what I hoped was just a leaky bottle, but I was torn over what to do. I knew from our previous placement experience, and advice from fellow foster parents, that the one hour you get with the caseworker at placement time is quite often the only time you will learn information about the case. But as much as I wanted to know the answers to all of my questions, I knew that this baby boy’s needs were above my own.
There was, in fact, another outfit in the ratty diaper bag that accompanied the infant, but the stench on the fibers was unbearable. I will never forget it. I went in search of our clothes bins to find something warm for this little guy, all the while straining my ears to pick up anything that was being shared between the Child Protective Services woman and the new caseworker standing in our kitchen. I only got bits and pieces as I set to work meeting the little man’s needs, but they were enough.
Young mom. Prostitute. Motel. Cocaine. Meth. Baby hidden in closet. Baby crying. Reported by client.
If you feel like vomiting right now, that’s completely reasonable. I did too. This precious baby boy went to “work” with mom and cried in the dark until her clients left. I wept over that part of his story many, many nights. And it still haunts me today. But his story is the reason we were asked to step in, and I am so grateful for every child that has walked through our doors. Each one has changed us forever.
I share this particular story with you because it is pretty close to the norm when it comes to kids in foster care. As foster parents, we take in kids from hard places, and help them navigate their trauma the best we can for as long as we have them. We aren’t superheros. You don’t need to praise us. We aren’t even looking for recognition. We are looking for friends to stand in the gap with us. As supporters. As encouragers. As listeners.
But there are some things we want you to know:
- When you meet a foster parent, don’t let the first thing you say be, “Oh, I could never do that.” You could. You do hard things all of the time. Some of you have to work, when you’d rather be a stay at home mom. Some of you have traveling husbands, so you do most of the parenting solo. And some of you have more than 4 kids, which means you are ridiculously outnumbered for life. The reality is, when it comes to our kids, we will always do the hard things in the end. Because they are worth it. The same is true when a stranger’s child is waiting for you at the front door, desperate to be held safely in a mama’s arms. Does it hurt to let them go after you’ve raised them as your own? Heartbreakingly so. The heartache is a very real part of the process. But I do it over and over again, knowing that it’s infinitely harder on them. So it’s not a matter of could you, it’s more a matter of do you want to?
- Don’t ask for the details. Our kids come from hard places, everyone knows that, but it is amazing to me how many people want to know their story as soon as they meet them. Hello, people. This is their story. Do you feel like sharing the darkest parts of yours as you walk through the produce section in the supermarket? I didn’t think so. Try not to pester foster parents to share private information, as interesting as it may be, because it puts us in a really difficult position. We are trying to protect our children the best we can, and part of that is protecting their story. We will all share what we feel is necessary to share with you, but trust us that the rest just doesn’t need to be shared.
- We don’t always make the best friends. It’s true. Most of us are so swamped with the realities of foster care that we forget to come up for air and call our friends. At one point, we had two unrelated foster placements, and they were both infants. One was the little boy I shared about earlier, detoxing off of drugs and showing devastating signs of drug exposure in utero. The other was a precious baby girl that had been beaten to the point of broken bones, and had been shaken out of anger. Just imagine the amount of doctor appointments these two required! And that’s not counting the separate therapists, the caseworker visits, the lawyer visits, the CASA visits, and the parental visits. Oh, and our other biological kiddos and their needs. I am not complaining about the ridiculous scheduling nightmare…okay, maybe I am. But my point is that we haven’t been ignoring you because we don’t like you anymore. We just forgot to make time for you. It’s not fair, but if you could take on more than your share of the friendship until we can create a new normal, it would mean the world to us. Because you mean the world to us, even when we can’t show it.
- Be a part of the foster care system. It’s broken, there’s no doubt about that. Terrible decisions are made every single day. It’s messy. It’s sacrificial. It’s draining. But we have got to take a stand for these kids that don’t have a voice of their own, and show them that there is still love in this world. I don’t believe that every person is called to take foster kids into their home, but I do believe that we are all supposed to play a part in the system. Have you considered opening your home? Go to your local foster care agency and attend an informational meeting. Do you want to take in foster kids, but don’t have the time to commit to long term placements? Get licensed for respite care, and give the other families a break for a weekend. Don’t want the responsibility of caring for someone else’s kid? Totally fair. Offer to bring a foster family a meal, or a pack of diapers. How about a coffee?! Don’t know any foster parents in your community? Offer to run a clothing drive for the nearest foster agency, or drop off some empty duffel bags for them to give to new placements. You don’t have to have the child in your home to make a difference in their world. Find a need that needs to be met, and go after it! It really takes a village to raise this village.