I first became a foster parent six months after graduating college - I received a call in the middle of the night letting me know that one of my brothers had been in a car accident and was hospitalized. My grandfather had been killed in the accident, and they needed someone to come be with my brother.
My mom has been an alcoholic for as long as I can remember - the abuse I grew up with eventually pushed me to move out when I was 16. Since I had moved out, my mom had had two more babies and was getting more and more mentally unstable. My grandfather was essentially my three younger brothers' soul caregiver, even though my mom lived with them as well. He was the dad they never had, their provider, their stability.
My mom was super abusive to me growing up, but I always thought it was just me...so when I discovered on this night that the abuse had leaked out onto them over the six years I had been out of the house, I was devastated.
I rushed to the hospital and left with the oldest of my three younger brothers in my care that night. The next day I picked up the other two. Young Buck was 12, Young Cub was 7, and Little Cub was 2.
I literally became a single mom to three kids overnight...at just 22 years of age. Not only just a mom, but a foster mom, and all the responsibilities that come with that.
I took care of my three younger brothers for nearly two years as their foster parent, but because I am also their sibling, it got a little complicated both in court and in the home.
On the home side, even though my bio-mom isn't someone I associate myself with (when I was 16, I was given the gift of an amazing family that raised me from then on), the boys are easily triggered by how I say something, or a look I give them-simply because of our genetics.
On the court side, the first time I had the boys in my care, there was concern, and accusations, of me trying to get back at my birth mom by taking care of my brothers - this was my moms' attorney's approach to rushing reunification.
The two younger boys ended up being reunified, and we (my husband and I...yes, I met a man, got hitched, and then had a baby in the midst of all this!) were able to adopt the oldest when he was 15 (he's now 17!).
We support reunification if it's in the best interest of the child. Unfortunately, after two years having the boys in foster care, we saw no change in behaviors, so we did not agree with this decision.
Just one month ago, I was in my office and received the call I had been waiting for and dreaded all at once...I hadn't turned my cell phone off in two years. I had cried myself to sleep regularly, and my stomach dropped every time the word "PRIVATE" popped up on my caller ID...But, here it was: It was time to pick Young Cub and Little Cub up from Orangewood - the Children's Home here in Orange County.
They had been put back into the system. It had been two years since we had last seen the boys.
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Our experience with foster care has shown me how precious life's moments are. I remember going to the grocery store one time, the first time the boys were placed in our care, and having the cashier laugh at something the boys were doing. He looked at me and said "Embrace every moment because it will be gone before you know it." He obviously didn't know our story, and he was speaking from his own experience as a dad, but I remember thinking, because of the instability we faced daily, "you have no idea how fast it can be gone."
Foster care, from the foster parents' perspective, is filled with so much uncertainty. I would have the social worker tell me the boys were staying, and the attorney come in an hour later and tell me to prepare myself for goodbye, on a regular basis. It's so unpredictable. But I've learned that nothing is more precious than the moment we are in. Instead of wishing the boys would just fall asleep when I'm tired, I’ve learned to embrace the privilege to read their bedtime stories, or get them that one last glass of water.
I have also learned that, just because something is not attractive, instantly gratifying, painful, or difficult, does not mean we are excused from stepping in.
The heartbreak of having the boys reunified was lethal - but I would never ever not have stepped in for them, regardless of the pain it caused. I hear a lot of people say that they can't be foster parents because they can't imagine saying goodbye...and it just kills me inside because that is not the child's fault. There are thousands of kids waiting for someone to read them a bedtime story, teach them to brush their teeth, and play soccer with them. To tuck them in at night, and to tell them they love them. But we are too afraid, in our humanness, of heartbreak and goodbyes that we can't bring ourselves to do something about it. Just because something is difficult and will (I guarantee) cause many nights of tears and anxiety...foster parents have the opportunity to shed those tears and carry the fears so that the child won't have to any longer. We get to sit in the uncertainty for them.
Foster care is difficult and beautiful and will cause you more pain and give you more joy than anything you will ever experience in your life.
If you ever gift a foster family, ask what the children like, before dropping off things you just don't have need for. Even though they often have nothing when placed, they do have opinions, and are entitled to such :)
Also, there’s a whole population of siblings taking care of siblings that get zero to none support from the state in terms of resources, financial assistance, etc. For more information on how you can help this population of foster parents that often don't get addressed as such, please check out our friends over at Ezrah's Hands.
(Photos above by: Valerie Denise Photos)