“And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency[a] in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.” 2 Corinthians 9:8
There are a lot of very unique challenges to being a foster parent, but there are also a great number of privileges that most others will never experience. This past Sunday I celebrated my first ‘official’ Mother’s Day. It was incredible. My daughter, and my two younger siblings were dedicated at church Sunday morning. My little girl picked out a very special mother’s day gift for me all by herself. She got me a silver heart split in half with one side engraved “Daughter” and the other half engraved “Mother”. It might as well have been made out of the most precious stone in existence. I cherish it! I spent the whole day surrounded by family and friends, and two extra special visitors. Beginning last Wednesday, I had the pleasure of experiencing what it is like to parent a family of three little girls! I have been very fortunate to have kept in close contact with my daughter’s previous foster mother, and from time to time she calls me for respite (temporary placement for foster kids, short term) care for her other foster children. For 5 whole days I was mommy to a one year old, a two year old and my six year old little girl.
What a dramatic shift it is to go from parenting one mostly independent six year old to changing diapers, assisting with feeding and making mad dashes to the potty with a potty training toddler!!! I remember turning to my husband at one point in the midst of pure exhaustion and saying, “Maybe three is too many!” Like I said, it can be challenging when your entire world shifts like this in one day! I found it difficult at times to figure out how to balance my time between all three of them. They all have really unique personalities, needs and interests. At times I felt like there just wasn’t enough of me to go around. We managed to work it out pretty well though, and it seemed like it was smooth sailing into the weekend. Sunday morning the children’s classes were pooled together so that they could make Mother’s day crafts. Of course it HAD to involve paint! I valiantly offered to stay and help since I was contributing three little busy bodies to the class size. I also LOVE kids crafts! I was blissfully unaware that my sweet little one year old who hadn’t cried a peep the whole week was about to have an emotional breakdown that threatened to crater my confidence and all my newly honed super-mom skills. She did though, and an hour or so later she wasn’t the only one in tears. When the Sunday school bell rang to dismiss classes I made a mad dash down the hall way to find my husband. I’m sure I looked desperate and frazzled when I handed her over and said, “Your turn!” and then ducked back into the classroom. To my surprise I peeked back into the hall to see her happy as lark just staring at him like she’d been looking for him all day and was relieved to be in his arms. My friend, who is more like a sister, must have sensed my distress. Ladies, we all know that it merely takes someone asking, “Are you okay??” and the water works just go into over drive. I stood there blubbering like a whipped puppy telling her how frustrated and inadequate I felt. I felt guilty because at some point it felt like my attitude became less about the babie’s needs and more about me just wanting her to stop crying and grant me a moment of peace! What kind of mother gets frustrated with a crying child that clearly needs her? She just smiled and put her hand on my shoulder and said, “Every mom that ever lived.”
The time we have with these foster kids can be so short, and as a mom I have this deep rooted desire to make as much of a difference in their little lives given the time that I do get to share with them. You never really know where they’re coming from, or even where they’ll end up. They have emotional challenges that we mistakenly think are beyond their capacity to really experience, and it’s hard to understand when they react to things differently or just can’t be consoled. Like any good foster parent I just want to make sure that they know love and affection and the security of a safe environment. I often feel I’m unworthy of such a big task, or that someone else could’ve done a better job than I did. Fortunately, God has blessed me with a level-headed, spiritual husband who is always available to reassure me that giving all the love we can while we can is all they really need and want. He reminds me that we didn’t become foster parents by chance, and that God chose us for this special purpose. Knowing that God has led us here reminds me that He would not have done so without providing all that we need to fulfill this calling to service. You see, so many people have told me coming into this that I need to “guard my heart” so that I don’t get burned out or crushed under the pressure of the system. Some have said to “hold tight to my heart strings”. The truth is that it would be easier to rely on myself, to not trust, and to hold back and be hard and distanced. I believe God had a greater purpose in mind for us to love these children, and to not withhold ourselves no matter what the emotional price tag may be. No matter how frustrated or worn out I am, or whether I’m struggling with self-doubt, I love them through it. When they’re scared, or upset and can’t decide what they want or who they want, we love them through it. When little minds are anxious about their future, we love them through it. Clearly there will be times when we aren’t enough, or we are less than we hoped to be, but God loves us all through that and pours into us all that we need and ask for in prayer.
It’s always hard on “take-back” days. It’s kind of like the midnight hour when the magic fades, carriages turn back to pumpkins, and reality checks in and reminds me that my time with them has come to an end. I know that without faith in God’s sovereign power this privilege would be impossible, and the fear of what their future holds would consume me entirely. I try not to mourn their departure, but my humanity often gets the better of me on days like these. It was an emotional challenge to go from one young child to three in one day, and to subsequently go from three to one five days later. The house is always especially quiet when we get back. The beds are still unmade from when we woke their sleepy heads up that morning, and toys are still strewn out all over the house. Sippy cups are still being pulled from the most random of hiding places, and it’s not uncommon to find a stray piece of cereal or pop-tart stuck to the floor or the wall or the dog :). The little one is not sure what to do with all her companions gone, and only us boring adult types left to entertain her. All around us there are all these little remnants and reminders that someone is missing. But then….I stumble across a popsicle stick glued together to look like a wand that’s covered in stickers and crayon scribble. I smile because I think about the good memory I have of us all gathered around the table making crafts for each other and laughing about the two year old who giggles and says, “You silly Ms. Carly!” I see the ripped up construction paper and recall the sweet one year old that would rather eat the craft supplies than assemble them, and how she barely knows any words but would perk up and say, “Daddy, daddy!” every time my husband came near. People have commented, “Why get so attached when they were never really yours to keep? When you barely even knew them?” My response is this – they are my temporary forevers. My time spent with them is fleeting, but the memories we create are lasting. The lessons I learned from them about how to be a better mom are enduring. The way they unknowingly point me back to faith and trust in hard times is everlasting. They may only be with me for a brief temporary time, but they are in my heart forever.
Please take a moment to pray for children in need, and for those who aid them in finding their way to reuniting with family or being adopted into forever homes. Join me in giving thanks to a God who fulfills the needs of all His children in His perfect timing.