Four years. This is how long we wrestled with the decision to become foster parents. We felt burdened by an overloaded foster care system in Arizona, but could WE actually do this? It was one thing to say that “someone” should do something, but it was an entirely different story to personalize it and say “we” should do something. We had two young kids at home, after all, so how would this affect them? How would we be able to let go of children who we grew to love? What would it be like to build relationships with the kids’ biological parents… weren’t “those people” scary and dangerous? Armed with these questions, and many more, we walked into a state foster care orientation for the 3rd time (yep, we backed out twice before), and finally took the plunge to become licensed.
In our first year of fostering, our family size grew from four to seven. We learned creative ways to share the space in our three-bedroom home, how to fit five car seats in a mini-van, how to manage the chaos of going anywhere with five little kids in tow, how to manage our schedules to accommodate lots of appointments, and how to handle the constant stream of social workers, therapists and other professionals visiting the house. Writing all that down sounds pretty overwhelming. Sometimes it was, but there were also many ordinary days, and even some incredibly rewarding days.
One ordinary day stands out to me in particular. Andrew, who was just 5 years old, had been in our home for a couple of months. He tried his best to keep his distance from us at all times, both physically and emotionally. Knowing his history, his cautiousness toward us made complete sense. I will never forget the day he made his first caring gesture toward me that was genuine and self-initiated. He plucked a little flower off a bush in the preschool parking lot as we were on our way to the car. He handed it to me backwards (over his shoulder), without facing me, and said emphatically, “HERE. I got this for you.” Ha! This memory of this ordinary day still makes me smile.
Fast forward more than a year later, we learned that Andrew was legally free for adoption. He was old enough to grasp the heartbreaking news of a judge’s decision that he would never return to his biological family. Having that conversation with him is one of the most difficult I have ever had. We cried together and talked about how it was okay to feel however he felt. In grieving alongside this little boy over time, his walls began to come down.
We made the choice to adopt Andrew and love him as our son, forever. What we didn’t realize at the time, was the significance of him choosing to love us in return. As adoption day approached, he made the choice to be called by a new name, “Andrew,” after my husband’s middle name. He proudly announced to everyone at school, church, the park, the grocery store (ha!), “My name is Andrew now, because I’m getting adopted!” On the first Mother’s Day after adoption (over two years since Andrew first walked into the door of our home), he gave me this drawing, which still brings tears to my eyes.
In the years we fostered, we encountered many other memorable and rewarding moments that will forever be etched on my heart. If I had the chance to talk to you today, I would tell you about taking my foster baby to see her birth mom sing in the prison choir, and about a little boy who couldn’t speak at age three becoming the top reader in his class in Kindergarten. I would also share with you about some of the hardships my biological child faced, sharing his home with kids who aren’t always easy to love – yet how much this has taught him about what it means to sacrificially love others and not give up when things get hard. I would try to describe the intense, conflicting emotions of having a bio mom relinquish her rights in court, because she believes it’s in her daughter’s best interest for you to adopt her. And I would share through tears about the heart-break of praying by that momma’s hospital bed, shortly before she entered heaven.
The children who have come into my life through foster care, along with their bio families, have forever changed me as a person. Today, there is a staggering 14,153 kids in Arizona’s foster system (https://dcs.az.gov/reports-data/dcs-reports). If you are at all open to the idea of becoming a foster parent, I would like to simply encourage you to take the “next step,” and find out more information (https://fosterarizona.org/foster-adopt/). It can be overwhelming to think about the entire licensing process all at once, especially if you aren’t entirely sure that foster care is right for you and your family. So, take it one step at a time. If you can, I would recommend going through the foster parent preservice training – you will learn more about the system, the children, and be armed with information to help you make the very best decision for you and your family.
You never know, one day down the road you just might find yourself with a foster license in one hand, and a small yellow flower from a parking lot in the other… placed there by a child, choosing to trust you.
Cover photo credit: Perfect Blend Photography https://perfectblendphotography.smugmug.com/