I talked to a foster mom this morning who recently finished parenting a couple of kids. Now that they are in another home, this mama is having time to recoup. This was her first time fostering and she was surprised by how difficult it was to care for these kids and to deal with the county foster system. My friend is an awesome mom. She has a bio kid, she took the classes, and she talked to others who have fostered before. She, like all of us, thought she was prepared to take in children who needed a home. But it was harder than she had ever imagined.
She asked, "Why didn't anyone tell me?"
I think we all wonder this. I thought I was prepared. Our preparation included three different series of classes from different agencies, reading, doing respite care, talking to others who have fostered and adopted before, and years of parenting our bio kids. I thought we'd be one of the best prepared people possible, and it was still harder than I could ever imagine!
No one could have possibly told me how difficult fostering could be!
My expectations were far different than reality.
I expected some paperwork and red tape, but I didn't expect so many rules and regulations that we had to follow, even though they made no sense for our situation. It was as if someone at one time had a problem with something, so the state made a law for everyone. You can't restrain a child, but what do you do when your foster child is getting a filling or his blood drawn? You need to teach an older child to do his laundry, yet you have to lock all detergent away so that child can't get to it. You need a doctor's signed release to give your child some Tylenol for a fever. Babysitters needed to be CPR trained, over eighteen, and fingerprinted. And everything, every little incident needed to be written down. If I had written down every time a child hit me or someone else, I would have been writing more than parenting! Even worse, many of the county social workers seemed to have lost their love of children and had become overworked and uncaring bureaucrats. I'm so glad we had a private foster agency that gave me so much support. I couldn't have done it without them!
I expected some behavior problems with my children. I had done respite care for a few families and knew that the kids in the system had a lot of hurts. But what I didn't expect was that many kids with attachment problems behave far better with strangers than with the mom figure. The other moms told me that their kids were harder than it seemed, but I could not have imagined the fury unleashed on me when I was the foster mother. At first I didn't know the effects of alcohol on my children, and our state seemed to be oblivious to alcohol's effects on children too. I also didn't understand how wearing it would be to care for the kids 24/7 for years. It's difficult to parent the children from foster care, and it's even more difficult to do it for long stretches of time.
There were other difficulties that were bigger than I had imagined. There are so many appointments, you spend a lot of time in the car. I had callouses on my hands because I was driving over a hundred miles a day taking the kids to the doctor, Head Start, school, therapy appointments, specialists, dentists, eye doctors, and visits. Even getting sick was a challenge. How do you keep a house clean and the kids fed and taken care of when you and the rest of the family have influenza? How can you tell people what you are going through without others making judgements? How can you bring your three year old to Sunday school if you know that child will teach the other kids some choice language? The isolation that happened in order to protect our family or others was unexpected. And I won't go into the birth family interactions that made things a lot harder for me and the kids. That would take a whole other post!
So why didn't anyone tell me what it would be like? Why didn't I tell my friend? I think I told her some, but it's one of those things that are impossible to tell all. The closest thing to compare it to is labor. How do you tell someone who hasn't experienced labor what it would feel like? Also, everyone experiences labor and fostering differently. What may be the most difficult for me may be a breeze for someone else. Though there may be similarities, no two experiences are the same.
Knowing how difficult it was for me, would I do it again? And would I encourage others to foster a child? What would I tell others who are thinking of going down the same path? Is it worth the difficulties, the exhaustion, the isolation?
As I look at my kids, where they are, and where they could have been, I get my answer. Even though it was the most difficult time of my life, they are worth it!