Top of the 1st
Every time a foster child comes to my house, there are some things I know I must do. Every time, my world is turned upside down. So is the child’s. There are some things that must happen for a win/win. Batting practice is over and the game has begun!
- Get through that first week. That includes doctor’s visits, IEP meetings, social worker visits, and meeting the teachers. It also includes getting to know the mindset of this kid I didn’t teach or train. This kid doesn’t think like our kids did, and doesn’t usually respond to authority like our kids did. If it’s a boy, it’s double-trouble, because no woman is going to tell him what to do (he thinks). I’m not his mama, and most kids let me know that I don’t need to try to act like I am even though they like my hugs. It’s likely there has been little or no father figure in his life, so he has to figure out what to do about Dave, whose mere look demands action. His world is upside down, and so, right now, is mine. My world is different from his. I can’t understand his world because I’ve never lived there. Even though it would seem that my world is more secure, it isn’t to him. At this house we might (oftentimes) have better healthy food choices and focus on cleanliness, but this house and my world is not his home. He’s been given a new bat; it doesn’t feel right, and he most definitely doesn’t like the swing.
- Make it through the second week. Get a semblance of order in my home – and figure out a new laundry and cleaning schedule since (often) our household size has doubled. Plan to spend a lot more time in the kitchen because most of these kids can empty the cupboards quicker than an umpire can yell “Strike one!” They also eat like there won’t be any food at the next meal and there are no concession stands in the stadium. The new bat might be nice, but they miss the old one – and hardly attempt to make contact with the ball.
Bottom of the 3rd
- Get in his corner. That means recognizing that home is what is familiar. Even if home doesn’t have mended clothes, plenty of socks and underwear and toothbrushes, it’s still home. Even if the adults are too occupied with their own world to remember to fix food, it’s still home. It’s where these kids belong and it is what is familiar to them. Even if I think my place is better, it isn’t home. It isn’t security because mom (or dad, or grandma) isn’t here. I need to figure out how to give encouragement when he’s in the batter’s box without being obvious.
- Stay in his corner. This means visits to school or to teachers. It might mean connecting with a parent or two – or a grandma or cousin. Sometimes it means letting a mom come to my house to do her son’s dreads. It can also mean helping take care of the baby who comes along with the mom and all the cousins who have permission to visit. Staying in his corner can include court visits and being asked to testify. It also means understanding the loss a parent feels when she hears her child call me Mom. It means that even if he calls my place “home”, it still isn’t really home. Some days this means he’ll cry on my shoulder or act out when he comes home from a visit with mom. It doesn’t mean he doesn’t like his mom; it means he doesn’t know what to do with his emotions. By allowing the teenage boy to cry on my shoulder while I rub his back without demanding answers, I am in his corner. By clearing my schedule to rock a toddler for hours after a supervised visit, I am hanging right there in his corner. I stay in his corner by helping him bat to get another player home. Sometimes we step up to the plate and hit a long fly ball just so he can get to base.
Top of the 5th
God’s best plan is for families to be intact. Too often, that doesn’t happen. It should happen, and it could, if we as parents only became the people He wants us to be. More parents could make it happen if they had people in their corner, encouraging them when they’ve struck out, or sacrificing a base hit by bunting a ball so they can actually make it to base.
I’ve had to wrap my mind around this truth. I’ve had to open my hands that are clinging, holding on, thinking what I have to offer is better than what he had. While it might be true that my home provides structure, clean clothing, plenty of food, sheets on a bed and a pillow of his own, we’re not really his home. Even if he never goes back home, he will still grieve the loss of that home. I stay in his corner by recognizing that grief and allowing him to process that grief.
Bottom of the 6th
The goal in foster care is to return the child(ren)to the parent(s). It’s a good goal, and sometimes it works.
Sometimes it works well.
Sometimes it doesn’t.
Our job as foster parents is to help social services and the parent(s) move toward that goal. Our job is not to try to stifle what social services and the parents are trying to do. When we attempt to circumvent in such a way, we are wrong.
I think every child needs to be safe, and secure, and loved. Sometimes it’s not safe for a child to return home. I get that, and I’ve seen it more times than not.
Yet the greatest disservice we can do to these kids is to fight for them to stay with us when the adults in their lives are doing what is necessary to get their children back.
Somehow, we think that some parents don’t “deserve” getting their kids back after what they did. You know something? If it were not for the grace of God, I could be one of them.
How does it happen that I was blessed to grow up in a home and a church community that fostered good parenting, child-rearing, and ample budgeting? How does it happen that I’ve learned consequences of actions when the biological parents of my foster kids have not? How come I’m the one who is blessed and not them?
Top of the 8th
It’s easy to critique other parents when I’ve been blessed. It’s easy to think they don’t deserve to get their kids back when I’ve never had the humiliation of being consistently walked to first base. Shame on me.
I’ve had those thoughts. I’ve had to practice saying words of encouragement because I knew it was the right thing to say when I really, really, would rather have clung to a baby that wasn’t mine and dared a parent to “deserve” getting him back.
Sometimes the parents don’t get them back. If we as Christians love Jesus like we say we do, that should make us sad – because redemption never came, because the parent never went to the foot of the Cross.
Yet, what about the parents who made mistakes and want to correct their past? What do we do when they want to crawl up out of that self-dug ditch? Do we ignore them or try to push them back down, spouting thoughts to social workers or counselors in hopes of influencing the decisions they will make about these, “our” kids?
Where is forgiveness?!
If Jesus had left us where we were instead of going to the Cross, where would we be?!
Bottom of the 9th
I can think of no better example of a redemption story than when a parent wins back the “right” to have her child returned to her because she took the steps necessary to get her child back.
For some parents, the steps are a long-time coming. Sometimes it’s months; sometimes years.
It might mean going through substance abuse counseling, which also includes submitting to random drug testing for months. For some, it includes parenting classes and having a parent coach. The parent coach supervises visits and then makes visits in the home after the children are returned to help parents learn new parenting strategies. For some parents, it involves finding another place to live or making repairs on the place they are living now before their child is released to them. For some moms, it means choosing between a boyfriend, a spouse, or her kids. For all of them, it means supervised visits initially and then being trusted to have their children unsupervised for a few hours at a time.
How humiliating is that?!
For parents who regret their mistakes, the greatest gift a foster parent can give them is encouragement and hope.
If you’re a foster parent, then practice getting in their corner with them. Practice having their backs.
Practice stepping up to the plate and giving your all in a grand-slam home-run so your foster kids can make it safely Home!
If you are wondering, here are some facts about us. We have done foster care since 2011. Since that time, we have had over two and a half dozen kids in our home. Some of these were “our own” foster kids, ages 6 months to 16 years. Others were children for whom we provided respite for other foster parents or Social Services- sometimes for a day and other times for as long as three weeks. Our journey into foster care happened because we wanted to find a way to give back to God for sparing the life of Dave. You can read about that here, here, here, here(p. 28), or here.