Foster Arizona Community Blog

Educating & Empowering Arizona's Families
21
Oct

My Journey to Becoming a Foster Mother

image2-11My desire to be a part of child welfare started at a fairly early age. It seems like I always wanted to help children who were in need, it’s hard to pinpoint when “I knew.” I guess it started when I needed community service hours for National Honor Society my junior year of high school.  I chose to volunteer at Marcus House, a children’s shelter for ages newborn to five years old. I was to go in and read to the kids, play with them, help them brush their teeth, etc. I really had no idea why they were at a shelter or any more details as to what had brought these children here.

Well really, it started even further back than that when the seed was planted. I was young and with my mother at a skating rink. It was nice spending some mother-daughter time together, holding hands and skating around the rink at my slow and clumsy pace. Then my mom noticed a young girl, younger than I was at the time, being forcefully dragged along on the floor by her mother who was yelling obscenities at her and saying derogatory comments while the young child was clearly struggling on her skates to stand up or stabilize. My mom stopped next to them at the rink and offered to help in some way, tried to connect with the mom and offer some kind words of encouragement from one mom to another trying to diffuse the situation. I always think back to that early memory, my mom standing up for that young child and advocating for her in her own way. The mom eventually calmed down and stopped her harsh treatment of the toddler. I was in awe and proud that, unlike all the other parents there, she did not just see it and continue to skate by, she stood up for the girl, gave support to a mom in need, and potentially changed the outcome for that little girl for the better. That’s the earliest memory I have of when I realized that not all parents were like mine, supportive, always there when I needed them, providing for my every need and want, offering structure and discipline and guidance. After that I wanted to learn more…

So back to the children’s shelter. I ended up spending more hours there than what was actually required of my NHS volunteering. I spent so much time there over the next couple years that once I graduated high school, they offered me a job! I loved it. I opted to work every holiday there so I could make sure it was a smiling face they saw when they woke up on Christmas morning. I wanted to work second shift so I could be sure to tuck them in and sing to them and give them snuggles for bedtime. I couldn’t get enough of their sweet faces, hugs, colorful pictures, funny adventures. I absolutely fell in love with each sweet soul. Their stories broke my heart. Working nights, when children would get dropped off by CPS and/or police, I was even more intrigued by the process of how children ended up at the shelter and where they went after they left. Every little face will stay with me; I remember each of them so clearly. I knew that there was more I had to do.

As I began college and focused on a career, I knew it had be in the area of child welfare. I knew that one day, no matter what my career ended up being, I wanted to do foster care. I hated leaving at the end of my shift at the shelter and told myself that one day, I would have a home to welcome them into, not a shelter, but a home with stable parent-figures, not staff who might bemoan the fact that they had to work an extra shift or a holiday.

I had multiple roles in the world of child welfare over several years and the idea of foster care always was on my mind. In my late twenties I attended an orientation to get licensed as a single foster parent. I wasn’t looking to get married or have biological children. It had never been on my radar.

image4-2Then I met a guy in February of 2012 when our paths happened to cross at work. Through his job as a detective he had heard of foster care but hadn’t given it anymore thought. I told him on our second date that I had attended an orientation to get licensed and whoever I married had to be on board with doing foster care as it had been a lifelong dream of mine. That would scare off any long-time bachelor, man-of-very-little-words, hardened stoic. Right? Wrong. We got married in May that same year. We got our first placement on our one year wedding anniversary. We’ve fostered 12 children since then and currently have five placed with us.

image1-8People ask if we have our “own” children. I know what they mean when they say that – our biological, birth children. But, let me tell you, I have cared for each one of these 12 children as if they were my own. I have stressed and worried and cried and prayed on their behalf until there were no more words to utter or tears to be shed during those sleepless nights. I’ve stayed up late working on school projects to make sure they looked nice, ironed clothes so they would always look and feel their best, learned how to style and care for ethnic hair for our African American children.  I’ve written countless emails and made innumerable phone calls, begged, pleaded, fought to make sure they had not just services, but the best services that could be offered, that their voices were being heard, their needs were being noticed and addressed immediately. I’ve been the squeaky, annoying wheel at the school until things were how I wanted them to be for my children.

And my husband who knew “foster care” only by name…these kids just adore him. They love to shower him with hugs and kisses and shriek with joy when he comes home from work. One boy told him “you’re the only guy in my life that’s ever been like a true father to me.” He has supernatural patience with them and fiercely protects them. They love that he’s a police officer and every kid we’ve had has said they want to grow up to be a cop just like him. And most of these kids came to us either hating cops or were terrified of them!

My husband and I have discussed it at length throughout our relationship, even at the very start of it. We’ve never felt a desire to have biological children. Once he heard of the need out there for children in stable homes, he said “How can we not?” We figure, there are already children – tiny, sweet, loving, hurting hearts — out in the community who need a safe, comforting, stable home, so why not welcome as many as we can in to ours? Because no child should feel unloved, unwanted, or unconnected to a family who shows them unconditional love and support.
“You may choose to look the other way, but you can never again say you did not know.” – William Wilberforce

Lauren Merkel

Foster Mom

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