My life for the past four years has been consumed with foster care. My husband and I had nearly completed our certifications with DHS adoptions when we began to feel uneasy and decided to put the whole adoption endeavor on hold. Days later, a dear friend introduced us to Angels Foster Family Network. We met with their president, Jennifer Abney, a week later. There was just something about the tremendous need for families that caught me. Every fiber of my being wanted to help these children. All my worries about finances, child care and our tiny home were addressed. Space didn't matter. As long as each foster child had a safe space and their own bed, we could be approved. Child care would be paid for by the Department of Human Services and finances would be no issue because there was a monthly reimbursement that would cover everything we needed for the child.
Every excuse I came up with had a counter. The only thing holding us back was us. So we had to make the choice. We jumped in, and we were placed with our first foster child three months later. The next 18 months were flooded with every emotion a mother can think of, and I learned very quickly that being a foster parent is one of the most challenging experiences I will ever have the privilege of being a part of.
When our first baby was placed with us, I was selfish. We signed contracts saying we would be the bridge between the child and his birth family, constantly making efforts to reunite them as long as it was in the child's best interest. But for me, along with many new foster families, I wanted my home to be what was in his best interest. So I fought for him. And I fought hard.
For months I told myself there was no possible way that a mother like his would be able to care for him. He was better off with us. We were more educated, more financially stable, and for lack of a better word, we were “better” than she was. My desire to keep this child all to myself clouded my view of this tired, physically and cognitively disabled woman who showed up for every appointment, every visit and every court date on time or early. She would bring her son clothing every week to the visits, and for the hour they gave her, sit and play with him and hold him and talk to him. And every time they took him away from her, she cried. Shamefully, I still didn't attempt to feel her pain. Shamefully, I still only wanted him to be mine. I had forgotten how important my role was in being a foster mother and in being an example of true empathy to this woman. She was giving all she had, and I was too entranced in the hope of being an adoptive mother to remember that adoption wasn't what I had signed up for.
If you do a Google search for a description of the word “foster,” you will find two definitions. The second is “[to] bring up (a child that is not one's own by birth).” But becoming a foster parent is something much more, and the first definition of “foster” describes this journey beautifully: “[to] encourage or promote the development of (something, typically something regarded as good).” The Oklahoma Department of Human Services, along with Angels Foster Family Network and all other agencies who contract with it, are meant to stand for that something good: family. They do their best to offer services to struggling birth parents so their children can come back and continue to be a part of their own family. Sometimes unfortunate events take place and family ties are severed forever, but it can be beautiful and joyous to see them reunite. I missed out on my very first opportunity to feel that joy when my first foster baby was reunified with his mom after 18 months in our home. Instead I chose to be hurt, angry and even place blame upon the very organization that set out to help my foster son in the first place for my own feelings of loss and heartache. I was wrong.
The importance of remembering why there is a need for selfless foster homes will make all the difference in our journey through foster care. We are meant to encourage and promote the bond of a child with his birth family, if at all possible. We are there to be whatever the child needs us to be, as long as they need us to be. Only when we strive to do what is best for our children, leaving out any hint of our own selfishness, can we truly accomplish what it means to be a foster parent. And every second of it will be worth it. It has been three years since our boy went home, and the one thing I wouldn't change is how much I loved him. But if there was one thing I could do over again, I would have loved his mother.
Carrie is a stay-at-home mom of five who is blogging about her foster care experiences for MetroFamily. Learn more about her and our other bloggers here and check out all our foster care resources here.