The most common question we hear as foster parents is, “So, how’s it going with the girls?” That’s a loaded question even though it’s meant to be kind and inquiring. We can’t tell most people how it’s really going because so much is confidential, but we’re fairly open with our inner circle of friends about how much we struggle some days.
Most recently, we were asked how we felt we were doing as foster parents. As painful as it was, I answered truthfully, “Well, we’re keeping our heads above water. It doesn’t really come naturally to us.” I continued to bare my soul and shared how I look around and see some people seem made for this thing called fostering. Not us. For us, it is hard. Perhaps the hardest thing we’ve ever done.
We encountered challenges raising our two bio kids who are now 21 and 22, but in the end, we felt we handled those challenges pretty well. We now have great relationships with them both. After raising two very different kids, we thought we’d developed a nice arsenal of parental tricks and methods, but as Frank recently said, “The illusion is over. We’re actually not that great at this parenting thing. Our kids did not prepare us properly.”
The concept of loving on traumatized and neglected kids sounds so grandiose and magnanimous. But it’s a lot harder for us than we thought it would be. I wasn’t prepared for kids to be so mean. Believe me, some of them know how to be really mean and push my buttons big time. Actually no one’s ever been that mean to me before, not even in high school. So, it’s taken me some time to develop a strategy to counteract the meanness without retaliating or getting hurt.
Late at night we lie in bed and whisper about strategy, trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t. Are we being too strict or too lenient? The doubt is exhausting as we struggle to create firm and loving boundaries, never sure what is normal adolescent behavior, what might be a trigger for certain behavior and what is caused by the trauma. I grow weary from the compounding issues that rear their ugly heads everyday: the lying, the sneakiness, the sassiness, the laziness, the endless desire for more and more material things and the sadness we often see in their faces.
We’ve been to the classes and trainings on kids from hard places, so we often know what to do, but we get worn down. When I am thrown into the 10th pouting, negative response in 30 minutes (not kidding), I forget the tactics and just want it to stop. I forget that it’s “normal” for my eight year old to act like a two or three year old. She needs to go through those stages. She’s finally got a voice and permission to feel her emotions.
But, we’re not in this alone. We have a band of brothers and sisters who bring us delicious meals every week, help with babysitting, pray for us and lend a listening ear when we grow weary. They love our girls and pour so much into them. And they love us really well, too. And on top of them, many friends and family cheer us on, encourage us and pray for us.
I shouldn’t neglect to share the many good things that make the struggles worth it.
Here’s a shortlist:
A big bear hug
Smiles where there were none
A genuine apology with remorsefulness
Laughing at the dinner table over long, drawn-out meals
These kids experiencing so many firsts in their young lives
A munchkin who “helps” me with everything: shopping, cooking & cleaning
While learning to play games, one of them drawing a picture with a thought bubble, “Remember – you have to learn how to be a good winner and a good loser.”
So, we’re not really that great at this fostering thing, despite what people think, but we are obedient to what God has called us to. And we don’t have to do it alone. We have a whole village of friends and family that love on us. Somehow, the sum of those things seems to be good enough.