When our daughter was just 4 months old, our foster/adoption agency called at 8 p.m. on a Wednesday night and asked my partner and I if we would be able to take an emergency foster placement. We had signed up with the agency specifically to adopt, but we had been licensed to foster, too, so we said yes and became accidental foster parents. It was the single most transformative thing I've ever done. Not only did being a foster mom teach me about parenting, but it also taught me invaluable lessons about society, about my own strength, and about what my unique family values.
It's hard to believe, but 19 months ago this week, my husband and I met our daughter. She joined our family through adoption and she is downright magical. Her adoption was simple and straightforward, and although becoming a mom was one of the most momentous occasions in my life, fostering is what stretched and changed me in the last year. Because we were able to bring our daughter home from the hospital when she was only a few days old, I have often felt like I actually gave birth to her. No, I wasn't ever pregnant and I didn't go through labor and delivery, but it feels like she's been part of our family forever.
In the course of a year, my partner and I had two emergency foster placements that lasted a few weeks, and we had one foster placement that lasted two months. Meanwhile, we've walked alongside foster families in our agency and have learned so much about the foster system thanks to those relationships. All of those situations have taught me so much about parenting, including the following:
It's OK To Live In The Grey
Before I became a mom, I lived in a sort of black and white, right vs wrong world. After fostering, I have learned that so much of what we do as mothers lives in that weird grey area in between. Honestly, that's OK.
Just because my child or my foster child does something "wrong," doesn't mean they're a bad kid. Likewise for birth parents. Bad choices do not mean you're a bad person or completely unredeemable or unlovable. More often than not, the odds were stacked against them from the very beginning.
Compassion Is Key
Compassion is an enormous component to parenting. I want to have compassion for my children, foster children, and everyone involved for as long as I can. I want my kids to know that I will try my hardest to come from a place of empathy whenever we're dealing with tough situations.
It Takes A Village
It really does take a village to raise a child, and you have to be ready to ask for help. As a parent, it's hard to ask for help and hard not to feel like you're expected to do it all on your own. Foster parenting usually means you can't function as a family without asking for help, though, and it breaks down all the pride of doing it yourself.
There's no shame in needing help so you can go to a doctor's appointment, and there's nothing wrong with needing a night off to recharge your batteries. We should all remember that, foster parenting or otherwise.
Babies Are Resilient
We didn't foster children, so I won't speak for those situations. I will speak for babies, though. In my experience, and for the most part, babies are remarkably resilient.
Our first short-term foster placement was a 6-week-old baby girl who was still 6 ounces under her birth weight. She had had so much smoke exposure, she sounded like an 80-year-old woman with emphysema when she breathed. She had a herniated belly button and blocked tear ducts from "excessive crying," according to the pediatrician. She's now a healthy, bubbly 18 month old, and you'd never know she experienced such trauma so early on in her life.
The Basics Are Really Important
An expectation of regular meals, being changed in a reasonable time period, and a whole lot of unconditional love, are expectations for a reason. The basics are so important, and definitely more important than what swim class your kid will take or whether they have the perfect organic wooden toys to play with. Focus on the basics and quit fussing over the rest.
Babies Thrive On Routine
Within a week, my partner and I were able to get each of our foster babies on simple sleep routines just by working with them and helping them find the best way to sleep.
For example, when all of our foster babies arrived, they were attached to bottles to fall asleep. We started there, and slowly nudged them away from using their bottles to fall asleep. Within a week, they could fall asleep peacefully on their own.
Things Take Time
Most of the time, foster care cases take a very long time to come to fruition. Likewise, sleep training a baby can take a long time, too. Foster care taught me to be as present as humanly possible when dealing with the unknown, because things will take a long time and worrying isn't going to change that.
Infant CPR, Trauma-Informed Care, & Attachment Parenting
In order to be licensed as a foster parent, you have to go through an insane amount of training. Honestly, I'm so glad my partner and I went through it. I'm glad I sat next to my husband as he performed the infant Heimlich on a terrifying and way-too-tiny mannequin. I'm thankful I learned about trauma and the ways it affects brain development and attachment, because that knowledge can only help to explain situations we'll be in in the future. Whether my partner and I adopt more children or simply remain foster parents, I know we'll be prepared.