We are very excited to have Dana Thomas as a guest today on HerMamas. She is a foster parent and I have been following her journey for the last few years as she went through the necessary training and certifications to when her first foster child was placed with her. Dana shares with us a real look at what a foster parent goes through. Dana thank you so much for sharing with us.
I’m a foster parent. Reunification with the birth family is the ultimate goal – this was drilled into me throughout all of my training in those months I worked on getting my license. This is what I signed up for – it sounded easier to do when it was just “in theory”. But it’s not easy. It’s not easy to fall in love with a child, integrate him into your home, life, heart and family and then have to say goodbye. It’s not easy to live with the ambiguity related to time, circumstance, why they behave the way the way they do, and whether they might become adoptable. It’s not easy to straddle the fence between hopefulness that the family will resolve their issues and hopefulness you will never have to say goodbye. It’s not easy to parent and not really be a parent. It’s not easy to constantly worry that you do more good than harm to a child who is a victim of their circumstance (“will it harm them to refer to myself as mom?”, “will it reinforce some negative memory if I react in a certain way to their behavior?”). These kids have histories I can’t even imagine and it’s impacted them in ways which mean they need to be treated a bit differently than other kids. It’s really hard to send them home and hope that they don’t end up back in the system. It’s really hard to love them completely but reserve some armor for my own heart and well-being.
The emotional load of this endeavor is hard enough and then there’s the work of it. There’s the paperwork, reports, visits, check-ins, emails, conversations, coordination, rules to know and follow and new county employee after new county employee after new county employee who breezes in and out of your life – stealing snippets of your time and usually leaving you with more questions than answers. There’s services to apply for, delays to reimbursement, and not enough funds to cover all expenses which means I’m reaching into my own pocket – a lot. County employees work the same hours I work and so I am constantly being asked to take time out of my work day to meet, talk, transport, etc.
And at the end of my love, time, effort, over-analyzing and sacrifice – I send a child I’ve grown to love into the unknown. No crystal ball can predict if changes will stick, if parents will try their hardest, keep it together. No crystal ball tells me if this child will have a chance to have the type of childhood they deserve. If they will be raised to be a happy, healthy and productive member of society. I don’t know if I will ever see this child – who I’ve grown to consider is “my child” - again.
But I do this really, really…..REALLY….hard thing for a lot of reasons. First and foremost I’d like to adopt. I know there’s a perfect little soul out there who needs a forever home – we just need the powers that be to hook us up. And just as importantly I want to provide a safe place for a child to be while their family works on bettering themselves. I want to give a child in a scary, awful situation love, structure, time, joy and an invested PARENT. I want that child to lay their head at night knowing they are safe, secure and loved. I want that child to wake up and be safe, secure and loved. I want that child to be a KID – not an after-thought, burden or someone who has to focus on just surviving. Kids should have joy. And in the midst of the crisis they are in – that should be their priority. Let the countless county workers, their parents and me worry about the crisis. I do this because I have compassion for their situation, the heart to invest, the time to invest, the room to spare, the money to contribute and because I believe “it takes a village”.
But it’s hard. REALLY hard. And I lay awake nights. And my thoughts drift during the day. And I cry as much as I laugh some days. And I doubt my fortitude. I doubt my worthiness. I doubt my abilities. I doubt my instincts. And I pity myself when I have to give them back – all while being overjoyed and hopeful for their family.
Things move quickly in this system. I know this but it shocks me every time there’s a change – particularly when the transition home starts. It hurts like a slap in the face. Transition home has started for my current little one. And it makes me sad. And then he wakes up in the best mood, with the biggest smile and the happiest little chatter and I choose to ENJOY him while I have him. And send the most hopeful of thoughts into the universe for him and his future. And for me as well…