Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Fostering Is Not For Us

Adoption. I have a heart for adoption. I knew this as a teenager. I was the kid who would order informational DVDs from organizations supporting adoption and watched them and cried and imagined the day when I would bring a child (or 7 if you had asked me when I was 16) into my someday family. 
I wanted to adopt, and Dustin had always been unsure. Over the years, I would bring it up occasionally, although I had always assumed we would wait until our biological children were older.  When we discussed it, he always landed on "maybe someday".   If I was on my own (which I would never choose to be!) there would be no "maybe" about it! I would always leave these conversations feeling a bit discouraged. My prayer would always be for God to change one of our hearts- his toward adoption or mine away, toward another way to serve orphans. 
As Dustin's work drew him closer to children in state custody dealing with trauma, the need grew harder and harder to ignore, and he began to feel a pull to use his gifts in our home with a child in need.  He would never tell you this, but he is really amazing at what he does. Though he didn't set out to specialize in counseling trauma children, that is where he has found the most growth, challenge and success. He is frequently requested at his agency by case workers who are familiar with him, and his young clients love the time they have together. Some days he goes to work and gets hit, yelled at- or both, and then he goes to bed, wakes up, and does it all over again giving every kid love, attention and a clean slate.  It's not easy, but I know he is making a big difference. He spends his free time reading up on therapies and strategies to help kids reach their fullest potential and jumps at the chance to go to extra trainings and workshops to improve his skills. One thing I have always loved about Dustin is the way he never stops learning, digging deeper, and growing. When something is important to him, he puts his whole self into learning all he can, and helping trauma kids is important to him. 
So. Fast forward about 8 months after he begins working with trauma kids, and Dustin and I decide to begin pursuing adoption through DHS.  We knew we wanted our max age to be 4 so that Lyla would be the oldest, and we called to get the ball rolling on an adoption. 
After speaking with the case worker who had been assigned to us, she made it clear that while we could apply to adopt for that age range, young children don't  usually become available to parents who are not fostering. She said it wasn't impossible, but it also wasn't likely and she was unable to give us a timeline. She encouraged us to consider fostering, which offers the possibility, but not guarantee, of adoption. 
At the time, I told her we would move forward with adoption only. When I talked to Dustin, I assumed he would be completely closed off to foster care. I had always said I couldn't foster, and I knew Dustin felt the same way (for different reasons). But, as you know, that isn't where we landed.   There were several reasons we believed fostering wasn't for us. And we had to address them one by one. 

The Heartbreak of Saying Goodbye

The goal of foster care is not adoption.  The goal of foster care is reunification between the child and their biological parents.  For this reason, foster care was never something I considered.  I have always had a heart for littles, and I love them with all of it.  As I thought about foster care, I knew I could go about it a couple of different ways.  I could love them fully and unapologitically because every child needs and deserves to feel fierce unconditional love in their home (even if it is a temporary one).  Or. I could try to love them at arms length.  I could take care of them, take them to appointments, and attempt to guard my heart and myself from heartbreak. It's embarrassing to admit that those thoughts actually crossed my mind.  To protect myself.  There's that word again.  "Myself".   It stopped me in my tracks.  Who was I even doing this for?  Whose life was I trying to improve?  Whose needs was I considering?  Which brings me to my next point...

What about MY Kids?

Adding a new person to our family would be an adjustment whether by birth or adoption.  However, with adoption, I felt confident that our children would adapt just as Lyla did when Karrick was born.  But fostering?  That seemed too traumatic.  Too hard.  Too inconsistent.  Would they pick up "bad behavior"?  Would they be overwhelmed and stressed? How would Karrick and Lyles cope with children coming and going throughout their early childhood?  This was probably the toughest hurdle in foster care for me to get over.  Our first thoughts were that we should just wait until our children were older so that they could better understand the coming and going of children they would undoubtedly grow to love, and so that they would be more grounded in their own sense of right and wrong.  
That's a valid concern, and a reasonable suggestion.  It's the only reason I still have second thoughts.  I love my kids more than anything, and I would never ever want to cause them unnecessary hurt.  But the more we thought about it, the more we saw the opportunity for countless blessings.  They will for sure gain new perspectives from the children we are given the opportunity to love.  They will definitely understand the importance of answering the call to care for orphans.  They will undoubtedly have a greater appreciation for their own blessings.  They will be given the chance to share, learn, love, and grow in ways that only come through doing hard things.  Of course we will protect them from as much heartache as we can.  But if Lyla has taught me anything as she asks to pray for her "sister" every night, it is that she is more kind and generous and compassionate than I ever could have imagined. 

Is Our Marriage Strong Enough?

Marriage is hard. Change is hard.  Transitions are hard.  Since Dustin and I were married 6 years ago, we have had transition after transition after transition.  It was school, and then baby, and then more school, and then a move, and then a new career, and then baby again, and we are finally settling into our life as a family of four, but sometimes we argue.  And sometimes we don't like each other.  And I don't like that.  I don't like it for him or for me and I really don't like the idea of a child suffering from trauma having to deal with any additional stress that our imperfect marriage may bring.  When deciding to foster, we laid down some ground rules.  Monthly date nights.  Weekly breaks.  Renewed effort on both of our parts.  We know we won't be perfect, but we know we will both be here.  Loving each other and loving any children we are privileged to know.

Home Studies, Visitation, and Other Inconveniences

I mean, even the heading of this one sounds super petty to me.  But we thought about these things.  Staying home gives me the flexibility to get foster children to appointments and visits with their biological family, but I won't say it doesn't seem a bit overwhelming.  Thinking about having case workers in our home, judging our parenting, and taking notes is scary.  The 50+ page application, medical evaluations, fingerprints, background checks, 5 weekends of training (times two) and house assessment are only the beginning.  The real work hasn't even started.  When I think about our responsibilities as foster parents, I feel overwhelmed.  Until I start thinking about the biological parents fighting battles I can't even imagine to get their children home.  
My worst day. My longest checklist. My biggest stress is nothing.  I spend my days with my children in my arms.   In a house full of stuff we don't need.  With a full fridge and a pantry full of groceries (many of which I will eventually throw out because we won't ever get around to eating them in time).  While I worry about cramming in  a visitation between ballet and art class, there is a mother not knowing where her child is, or how she's being cared for.  She's alone with a hole in her heart and an ache in her arms for her baby.  The gravity of the honor of loving another mother's child while she is away from them cannot be lost on me, and it will be what moves me and shifts my perspective as we move through this process.
All of these points basically came down to the same thing.  Sacrifice.  Are we willing to give everything without the expectation of gaining anything?  Are we ready to love even when it hurts?  Can we put another family's needs in the center of our own?
We were called to do this. We weren't put here to further our own kingdom. We don't exist to serve ourselves. Our final decision on foster care took a perspective change.
Deciding not to foster wouldn't prevent heartbreak. Though it may blind us to it, it still exists for countless families and children.
Deciding not to foster doesn't gaurantee my children a life shielded from hurt, but fostering may teach them empathy and compassion.
Deciding not to foster won't make my marriage easier, but fostering my help us to lean on each other, and communicate our hearts more openly.
Deciding not to foster won't take away the feelings of being overwhelmed that comes with motherhood, but fostering may help me to see the blessings more clearly.
Instead of viewing foster care or adoption as a giant challenge or trial for our family, or even as a way to gain a new family member someday, we believe it will give us the opportunity to learn and grow and love more deeply than ever- coming to a better understanding of the love our Heavenly Father has for us, though we have absolutely nothing to offer.
We may not be strong enough for this. We may not be perfect enough. We may just plain not be enough. But that's okay. Because we aren't doing this alone. His grace is sufficient, and His love never fails. He doesn't give up. He doesn't leave us. He won't forsake us. So we will open our home and our hearts...for a week, for a month, for a year, or for forever. As long as they need. Because this is not for us.

"Have you never heard? Have you never understood? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of all the earth.  He never grows weak or weary.  No one can measure the depths of his understanding.  He gives power tot he weak and strength to the powerless.  Even youths will become weak and tired, and young men will fall in exhaustion.  But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength.  They will soar high on wings like eagles. The will run and not grow weary.  They will walk and not faint."
Isaiah 40:28-31

1 comment:

  1. We fostered and adopted. It's a grueling process, but can be so rewarding for the children and for you. The things I have to keep repeating are " no, i'm not their perfect parents, but God is helping me to become the parents they need right now" and "if not us, than who?" and the most important thing is " I can do hard things" God never gives us more than we can handle, He is there to walk with us, and these precious children, on our paths.