Steph and I got our first foster care placement on December 31st. I was at the grocery store, choosing a perfect avocado, when my phone rang and I saw who the number was from….
The call was for a respite placement – a foster mom had a death in the family and needed to go out of town for a week. Could we take an 18 month old, a 2 1/2 year old and a 5 year old sibling group while she was gone? YES! SIGN US UP! I was so excited, and immediately called Steph, then posted on Facebook. Tons of warm wishes came flowing in and I walked around Publix humming, busily filling my cart with all kinds of kid-friendly foods. I checked out at Publix and told the cashier what was going on. We laughed because I had come in for 5 things, and come out with $200 worth of groceries. She wished us luck and I walked out beaming. We were ready to do good work!
We were going to have FIVE children in the home! This was the minute we’d been waiting for – what all the hard work was for. Our house was about to be filled with laughter and joy!
Oh dear. The reality and my vision couldn’t have been more polar opposites.
I’m not sure what I was expecting when we signed up to become foster parents. But I might have had an image of a busy, bustling, happily noisy home, with Steph and I taking time out to attend, sequentially, to each child. A loving gesture here, a firm but kind redirection here. All the while feeling like we are good people and we have this.
What we were not prepared for was for our house to feel like a war zone. I don’t want to speak for Steph, but this is definitely the hardest thing I’ve ever done. So far, there are very few happy moments. Mostly, it’s just hard. Really, really hard. We’ve been told that being a foster parent is one of the most rewarding things you’ll ever do, and honestly we’re not feeling that. People tell us it will come.
Kids do well with routine and structure, and when their little worlds are turned upside down, all hell breaks loose. I joked with the caseworker that we had more screaming in our home in the first two days than I had experienced in my entire life. Except it wasn’t a joke. It was real. Poor August hates loud noises and every time T (2 1/2 year old girl) would start screaming, it terrified him and he’d melt down. Liam got pushed, hit and screamed at that first week, which had never happened to him before. And the kids were unpredictable – one minute Liam would reach for a toy and it would be fine. The next minute he’d do the same thing and they’d whack him on the head. Poor little guy.
In one of my low points, I told a friend what we were going through. She said words that really resonated with me. “You must feel like your family has been hijacked.”
We almost didn’t take the kids on long-term, because we felt way over our heads and because we were worried about what it would do to our kids. But the foster mom they were with was worn out. She was a single woman, worked full-time and then came home to take care of the children. She was exhausted and wasn’t wanting to do it long-term. And, it seemed like we were making huge progress in the one week we had them. So, Steph and I had a long talk and decided we could do it.
With the behaviors and intensity of the children, and the sheer number, we knew we couldn’t do it on our own, so I turned to Facebook and asked for people to sign up for shifts to help us with dinner/bath/bedtime routine. Within a day, I had 15 people reach out and sign up for their turn to help! It feels so good to know that we’re not doing this alone, and when someone walks in the door at 5pm, I feel instant relief like someone strong is here with fresh energy.
On the hardest day, when the oldest had a meltdown at the hospital where I had taken my son August for a check-up, I came home and felt defeated. We weren’t strong enough to do this. The kids needed someone who could give them more. That night a friend came over armed with kid-friendly food from Publix (apparently my idea of kid-friendly and what the kids would actually eat were very different!) and helped whip everything into shape. We sighed and knew we could do it for another day.
Having these kids have given the phrase “one day at a time” new meaning for me. Every day it’s a new challenge and I’m not sure we’re the ones to do this work – maybe someone else could do it better – be more patient – or have better success. But we hate to have the children move yet again to another home. We don’t want them to feel like they’re being given up on. So each day we start new and gear up to do it all over again.
Things have started getting a little easier – we’ve engaged with their mom and met her twice out at a park and restaurant before having her come to our home last night for the first time. She helped with T’s hair, and did the dinner/bath/bedtime routine with us. I may or may not have had a glass of wine while she handled her children and did “mom” duty. It actually went great. The kids act better for her than they do for us.
I also asked for a behaviorist to come into the home to help us with some of the troubling behaviors. Specifically, the oldest “Z”(5), is defiant, and won’t do things like…oh, go to bed, get up in the morning, get dressed, put his shoes on, etc, etc. That has been really difficult for us because in order for us to keep a household of 7 running smoothly, we need for the children to help us out. We also wanted help with the two younger two and their aggressive behavior. I’m not trying to get my throat grabbed and scratched again….The behaviorist came in today for THREE HOURS and met with me to go over each child and the behaviors that are a problem. We have a good game plan and are going to initiate a token system for the two older ones to help give them immediate feedback for good behavior. I also felt like all I was doing was penalizing and taking away privileges for bad behaviors, instead of turning it on it’s head and rewarding for good behaviors. So, the therapist is going to help me do that. I’m so thrilled!
That’s a snapshot of our first two weeks. Everything changes from day to day, so I’m going to try to do a better job of posting to the blog – even if it’s just short snapshots of how our days went.
For now, we’re barely holding our heads above water. Every time I think “I can’t do this anymore” I literally get a text, phone message or Facebook message telling us that we can do this. Yesterday I had four people randomly reach out to us, including one message that started out “You don’t know me, but…..” After I finished reading that message, I smiled, and knew we could do it for one more day.