Kay Robinson has always felt a tug at her heartstrings to foster or adopt. Between a fulfilling but sometimes demanding career, becoming mom to Rex four years ago and community volunteer work, that dream had fallen by the wayside.
Then Robinson began reading this MetroFamily series celebrating foster families in the metro. Last fall, Editor Hannah Schmitt’s article about single foster dad Peter Habyarimana resonated deeply with Robinson, a single mom herself. For the next several weeks, it seemed every social media post, event invitation received and commercial on TV were related to foster care.
“I said, ‘I hear you, God,’” said Robinson. “I knew I needed to do it.”
Soon after, Robinson met with Angels Foster Family Network, through which she knew several people fostering, to learn more about the process to become a foster parent. But after a subsequent long weekend traveling with Rex, doubts crept in about her ability.
“I thought there is no way I could this,” said Robinson. “I can barely keep up with my one child.”
Upon returning to work at University of Central Oklahoma where she is director of student affairs, Robinson had a division meeting to attend but decided directly after she would call the team at Angels and explain she just wasn’t ready.
“But the final presentation at the meeting ended up being with two women starting an initiative at UCO to help foster care students,” said Robinson.
She started the process to become a foster mom immediately after.
“I felt at peace, knowing it wouldn’t be easy but also knowing it was the path God wanted me on,” said Robinson.
Taking the first step Robinson and Rex received their first foster care placement in February, a 5-month-old boy. Prior to that, she completed OKDHS’s online training for foster parents, pleasantly surprised by the professionalism, ease of maneuverability and reinforcement of important principles.
“You hear terrible things about DHS, what a mess it is,” said Robinson. “But this is excellent. Anybody who is going to be a parent should take this training. There were so many things I hadn’t even thought about for my own child, and now I am able to identify and call back on my [foster] training.”
Because Robinson requested placements younger than Rex, the training on babies’ development and how they are affected by experiences in the womb was especially helpful. Even though her first placement is so young, she was readily able to identify signs of trauma, which she said many people don’t realize babies so young can and do experience. In this case, the infant’s trauma stemmed from several moves in his first few months of life. He was delayed developmentally and he’s just now learning to cry to get Robinson’s attention.
“He was on a schedule and came with some clothes,” said Robinson. “Though it’s been a relatively easy first placement, I am not naive enough to know placements won’t be like this every time, and there have been hard elements to this.”
Because the biological mom signed over parental rights at the hospital, Robinson hasn’t needed to navigate visitations with biological family. But she looks forward to that opportunity with future placements.
“Most of the time, parents love their kids, even if they don’t know how to execute that love,” said Robinson. “They are victims of the cycles of poverty or foster care. But they want their kids to be safe.”
Robinson knows future biological parents may be angry or hostile with her because they associate her with the agency that removed their children, and that’s okay with her. She tries to put herself in the biological parents’ shoes, imagining how excruciating it would be to be separated from Rex but knowing his safety and happiness would be of utmost priority.
“I just hope deep down they will know their kids are safe with me,” said Robinson. “I want to be a safe, soft place for kids to land for a little bit.”
Robinson is focused solely on fostering, not adopting. As she cares for her first placement until an adoptive home can be vetted, she’s had time to ponder the statement she most often hears about why others don’t foster: ‘I could never foster because I’d get too attached.’
“But that’s the point, to get attached,” said Robinson, who sees her role as a bridge to children’s permanent homes. “If you are going to be sad when a kid leaves you, then you understand how this works.”
Power in perspective Robinson’s personal village has been instrumental in her success as a foster parent. Friends encouraged her to put together a registry of baby items she could use for current and potential placements, and within hours all items were purchased. Overwhelmed with emotion by the response, Robinson said she shouldn’t have been so surprised because the support mirrors what she received after giving birth to Rex.
She calls herself a single mom by choice, bringing her dreams of becoming a mom to fruition through artificial insemination. Knowing her friends, family and colleagues would support her gave her the courage to have Rex and then to become a foster mom.
“It reminds me that people want to help,” Robinson said. “I may be a single mom, but I’m not raising kids by myself.”
Robinson hopes she serves as an encouragement to other potential foster parents, particularly single parents who feel led to foster. But her biggest reason for fostering is her son. She is hopeful the experience will help them both appreciate the privileges they enjoy and open their eyes to the challenges others in the community face.
“I want to put a seed in his heart that will make him a little kinder, more understanding, more empathetic,” said Robinson. “I hope it gives him an edge to be one of the good guys.”
Robinson’s foster son laughs loudest for Rex, who eagerly accepted a sibling and has been a willing helper. But she admits she has struggled with the disruption of their everyday lives. Morning activities are limited because of baby’s nap time, and she and Rex can’t spontaneously go on a vacation or a local excursion.
“I miss spending time with my baby,” Robinson said. “Anybody with multiple kids can relate.”
Robinson has become even more intentional about one-on-one time with Rex, reading, cuddling and talking with him after the baby goes to bed each night. She’s made use of her alternate caregivers a few times to take Rex to their favorite local spot for dinner.
Reminding herself of the greater purpose and that, just like she experienced with Rex, as baby grows things will change, has given her needed perspective. So has hearing Rex explain to family and friends why they are fostering: “We have love to give!” the wise 4-year-old declares. The most rewarding part of Robinson’s foster journey has been watching a baby who has struggled begin to flourish in her home. The sight of his face each morning, even after the hard, sleepless nights, uplifts her, reminding her she is keeping him safe, nourishing his mind and body and loving him in this transitional stage.
“I have lost nothing, well other than sleep,” joked Robinson. “But I have gained everything.”
This is the last of a year-long series highlighting foster families in the Oklahoma City metro. For more, visit www.metrofamilymagazine.com/foster.