When we decided to become foster parents, we agreed to co-parent with the state. This means we have a whole set of standards (which vary state by state) that have to be met. Prior to receiving our foster care license, we participated in multiple trainings, submitted a background check, got fingerprinted and underwent interviews regarding our physical, emotional and mental stability.
Now that we have children in our home we have stacks of paperwork that have to be filled out every month. We cannot give our foster children medication, over the counter or prescription, without reporting it on a form. We cannot leave our children with a babysitter unless that person has passed a background check, been fingerprinted, and completed both CPR and transportation training.
There are conditions for our home as well. We have to do monthly fire drills and have a fire extinguisher that meets weight regulations. We have to do exterminations quarterly. We have to post an emergency escape route on the wall of our foyer. All chemicals have to be in a locked cabinet. All of our medications have to be double locked. We store ours in a padlocked toolbox inside of a cabinet secured by lock and key.
These are just some of the many requirements for foster parents. I cannot tell you the number of times that I have mentioned one of these standards in passing to friends, family and acquaintances in casual conversation only to be met with their horrified expressions. The responses I receive are usually varied in verbiage with a similar underlying theme.
"I could never do that."
"That is so ridiculous."
"All of that paperwork is such a pain."
These responses never fail to make me wince internally. Do you know what message the words above convey to my three children, to the 400,000 children currently in foster care and to the 100,000 children currently available for adoption through the state?
You are not worth the trouble.
I wish I had words to adequately convey what trauma foster children experience. The grief at being separated from their biological families. The pain of being abandoned by those that they love. The fear at being sent to live with strangers. The sadness of sleeping on the floor of a CPS office because there are no homes available for them. The hopelessness of being lost in a system that is overwhelmed, over worked, understaffed and under resourced. The lack of self-esteem that comes with the absence of a loving family.
My friends, children deserve to be in loving homes. Even if those homes are temporary.
Orphans are easier to ignore before you know their names. They are easier to ignore before you see their faces. It is easier to pretend they’re not real before you hold them in your arms. But once you do, everything changes. (David Platt, Radical)
When I look into the eyes of my three babies, there is no limit to the sacrifices I would make on their behalf. My prior hesitancies when reviewing the daunting list of foster care requirements seem trivial and selfish when I compare them to the inherent worth and value of the three little lives in my home. As we live out our lives as a family of five, I hope my children are constantly bombarded with these messages from myself and my husband.
You are worth it. You are valuable. You are loved. You are wanted. You are cherished.
These are the messages that every child deserves to hear as they grow up. These are the messages that, sadly, many foster children will never experience.
There are many aspects of foster parenting that I don’t particularly enjoy. Court dates. Visits with biological families. Getting up in the middle of the night to change wet sheets after aforementioned visits. Case managers in my home. Social workers in my home. Lawyers in my home. Getting up in the middle of the night to calm night terrors after aforementioned people are in my home. Reactive attachment disorder. Oppositional Defiant Disorder. Lying. Stealing. Entitlement.
But there are also other aspects that have brought me more joy than I ever thought possible.
The first time that my youngest stopped struggling to get away from me when I attempted to rock him to sleep. The way he now reaches for me and presses his cheek against mine whenever I walk into a room. The excited way he jumps up and down and squeals “Mama! Mama! Mama!” when I pick him up from Sunday school.
The first time my middle child wanted me to comfort her instead of whoever was closest (including strangers) when she fell and scraped her knee. The way she clings to my hand when I drop her off at school as I reassure her I will not forget to pick her up at the end of the day. The way she gently touches my head and says, “You were always supposed to be my mommy because we have the same hair!”
The first time my oldest said “I know I have had a lot of mommies and daddies but I just want you to know you are the bestest ones I have ever had.” The way I cradle her tall 6 year old body in my arms when she asks me to rock her like a baby since I wasn’t around to rock her when she was born.
There is something very beautiful in being loved by children, especially when those children come from hard places. When I see my kids open their hearts to us after they have been let down by so many people who claimed they loved them it feels like a small miracle is taking place in my home.
Double locked medications are a small price to pay for the honor of witnessing a miracle.
Emily is an accountant married to a pastor and lives in Central Texas. She is an instant mom to 3 beautiful foster children who will become a permanent part of her family through adoption in the fall of 2015. Emily can often be found in her local library, nose in a novel, while her children play. She loves numbers, motherhood, boy bands and discounted holiday candy. Find her on instagram @emfaith