On the fumbling art of foster parenting.
April 16, 2014

About a week after our foster daughter – let’s call her Polliwog for the sake of expediency – arrived in our home, I met one of her relatives.  Until that fateful moment I had always operated under a rather misguided belief that children became wards of the state because they were unloved.  They had to be, I reasoned to myself.  Because you don’t harm or neglect or molest or fail to provide a safe environment or WHATEVER for someone you love.

But then I met Polliwog’s relative and suddenly, in the blink of an eye, absolutely everything changed.

That night Donald and I sat facing each other in the living room, each of us holding a baby as they drifted to sleep.

“They love her,” I said quietly.  “They love her so much.”

Over the course of the next few weeks, this reality sank in.  I found myself experiencing an entire range of unexpected emotions.  Chief of all, I felt conflicted.  Sometimes even now when the babies are asleep Donald and I stay up late into the night discussing that there is no painless winning solution for Polliwog.  The profundity of the trauma and the loss she has already sustained cannot be underestimated.  And she has been with us long enough now that reunification would cause a second wave of upheaval and loss.

It kills me to think of her experiencing that.  She’s already gone through the trauma of loss once; doesn’t she deserve stability?  But it also kills me to think of her never living with her own family again.  Isn’t that her birthright?

For the first time in my life, I find myself embracing math.  I concoct all manners of math problems and spend every spare minute I can find trying to solve them.  I play logic games and sudoku obsessively.  When our social worker asked about it, I told her the truth: numbers and logic riddles are black and white.  There is only one solution.  I currently inhabit a world of uncertainty and math is comfortingly certain.

I am told that this is normal.  Foster parents often enter the system with an idealized version of how placement, birth family relationships, and the legal process will unfold.  Nothing prepares them for the emotional rollercoaster, for the lack of understanding in their community, for losing control over so many aspects of their lives, for the impact these experiences will have on their family.  They find ways to cope and my way is in numbers, however unlikely that seems.

After I met Polliwog’s relative, I wondered if fostering was really for us.  The price our family was paying seemed too great to sustain.  The price Polliwog’s family was paying seemed immeasurable.  I felt immense guilt at having her in my home, as though I were an accomplice to the blow dealt her family.  And I felt immense guilt for bringing such uncertainty into my family dynamic, which has always been very steady and predictable.  When I felt myself bonding to her, I fretted over it, as though it were something to be ashamed of, as if it meant I were stealing someone else’s child.

A few weeks after Polliwog came into our family, I ran into an old friend when I was out with all three kids.  She admired all three and kindly declined to comment on how frazzled I certainly must have seemed.  (I am always a bit out of my depth these days.)  Then she asked how we were acclimating to fostering. “I just do not know how you do it,” she said.  “If it were me, I could never give the kid back.  I’d end up on the news as some sort of crazed woman who’d kidnapped her foster children.”

As if we are more heartless, more detached, less loving, less feeling than she is.

It is turning out to be a great emotional tug-of-war, foster parenting.  One of the most phenomenal and enlightening experiences of our lives, something which has strengthened our marriage and taught us more about ourselves as parents than we could have ever imagined.  Oh, but it is emotionally trying.  As soon as I resolve one emotion, another pops up.  I cannot believe how touchy-feely I have become.

I want what is best for Polliwog, for her family, and for my family all at once and it seems like sometimes those are the same and sometimes those are not.  It feels paralyzing when those are at odds.  But giving all I can to her?  That feels right.  That feels certain.  That I can do.

Tonight she is asleep in the cradle my father built for me before my birth, beneath the quilt my grandmother made.  I feel all of the emotions and uncertainty crowding the space between us.  I feel myself slowly working through the emotions foster parenting has brought, slow and steady as Aesop’s tortoise.  I remember that night when I first met her relative.  “Polliwog,“ I whisper to her in the dark.  “Polliwog, I love you too.“

I hope she knows.

Related Posts with Thumbnails
twitter / becomingsarah Bookmark and Share

(17) Comments | Permalink
Filed as

  1. By on April 17, 2014

    Beautiful, touching and made me cry, love your writing and wish you and your family the very best always.

  2. By on April 17, 2014

    Beautifully written. It gives me much to think about which is one of the things I love about your blog. Try your best not to feel guilty about having her in your home. Easy to say, harder to do, I know. You are giving her love and stability that her birth family cannot right now. Polliwog’s needs take priority. One day, if not now, her family will be happy she was nurtured by you during this difficult time.  Thank you for being a foster parent. The need is so great.

  3. By on April 17, 2014

    “As if we are more heartless, more detached, less loving, less feeling than she is”

    This bothers me. It is not that you are more heartless, it is that you are braver, stronger, more willing to expose yourself to the pain of possible loss. You are willing to take a hit if necessary so that you can provide loving care for Polliwog. I think your friend is saying she knows she is not up to coping with these difficult emotions and is awe of the fact that you are.  At least that is what I hope she is saying. Because if she doesn’t believe that, I do.

  4. By Sara on April 17, 2014

    I have a very good friend that recently adopted her daughter - it wasn’t a foster situation, BUT she and her husband went through all of these emotions because it wasn’t just a black and white, the biological parents didn’t love their baby situation. It really opened my eyes to how difficult and courageous it is to foster / adopt children. Keep up the good work, and in the end Polliwog will end up in the best place for her, and your family will be stronger for it (whereever that may be).

  5. By on April 17, 2014

    This sounds just like our most recent adoption.  So many emotions, so many hearts involved ! I too found solice in sodoku. Keep on loving that little one !

  6. By sarah russell on April 17, 2014

    This is so eye opening. I have a friend who fosters and she was just talking about this the other day. I don’t think people understand that some parents mess up really bad, but that doesn’t make them bad

  7. By on April 18, 2014

    I have a family member who has made his share of bad decisions. He and his now ex had a son whom is now in the custody of his grandparents because they were unable to care for him. It is sad to see two people who truly do care about their child, but just can’t get themselves together enough to provide care for him. You talk to this guy and he’ll show you pictures on his phone of his son, he’ll tell you his plan for getting him back (working hard! Saving money! Getting a place of his own! Getting clean!) and then you see his real actions… Falling into the seeming hopelessness of his situation and perpetuating the cycle. It’s so hard to watch. But at least this child is in a living and protective home… At least there are people like you who can provide that love and attention, for no matter how long the child may need it.

  8. By on April 18, 2014

    I have to comment just to agree with what mitzi said above me. I do not think your friend meant that you are less than her, I believe that to be a compliment. You are strong to foster, not weak. Many wonderful people do not foster because they don’t believe themselves to be good enough, to be strong enough. They don’t want to take that risk and they don’t want to fall in love with a baby who they eventually may reunite with the family because they are scared. You weren’t. You and your family are taking that leap to care for a baby who needs extra love. It’s a compliment that you can put yourself in that position, help raise a child, and possibly reunite her with her family. Not everyone could. Not everyone is strong enough to deal with the emotional rollercoaster you described (and that, I’‘m sure, all foster and adoptive parents go through).

  9. By on April 19, 2014

    I agree with the above comments that you are strong and giving!  (and not emotionless)  I recently overheard a foster parent wishing the “birth parents would just screw up” so she could keep her foster child forever.  That is not a good foster parent.  YOU sound amazing.

  10. By on April 25, 2014

    You are a super hero!

  11. By tara pollard pakostsa on May 16, 2014

    I am so proud of how you have grown and stretched and given so willingly. you are a beautiful person in many ways.

  12. By Megan R. on May 19, 2014

    Still following along / checking in on your story. Nothing but best wishes coming to you and your family on your adventures in the every day!

  13. By Troy on June 02, 2014

    Great blog! I’m going to send you an email this week about a baby topic I’m researching.

  14. By carolina on June 03, 2014

    What you’re doing is Amazing :-)

  15. By Web Designing Companies India on July 03, 2014

    Beautifully written. It provides ME a lot of to concerning|believe|consider|suppose|deem|trust|admit|accept|have confidence|have faith in|rely on|place confidence in} that is one in all the items i like about your diary. attempt your best to not feel guilty concerning having her in your home. simple to mention, tougher to try and do, I know. you’re giving her love and stability that her birth family cannot right away. Polliwog’s wants take priority. One day, if not now, her family are going to be happy she was nurtured by you throughout this tough time. many thanks for being a foster parent. the necessity is thus nice.

  16. By carolina on October 03, 2014

    Wow! Loved this post plus the whole story! I really think you are pretty amazing… I have had the same kid of feelings of wanting to help, to give love to a baby that needs it, and even though I really want to do it, the feelings that you describe in this post are so overwheming just when I think of it, that I don´t really think I can do it.
    So, really… you are amazing, and I do think the world needs more people like you!

  17. By best nba mt pc seller on October 31, 2016

    How do you work here ?





Remember my personal information

Notify me of follow-up comments?