I’m No Saint: Confessions of a Foster Mom

I am not a saint…and frankly, it isn’t even something I aspire to be. But this is the go-to description when people discover we are foster parents, and it occurs to me that as compliments are showered upon us, onlookers might get the impression that in order to foster, one must be extraordinary or special or saintly.  We are none of these things.

With a trucker’s mouth and the temper of a rabid dog, I am no vision of holiness. I enjoy my fair share of cocktails, have thrown a few punches, and may or may not have chucked a high heel at my husband’s head in the romantic glow of an Italian alley. I vehemently deny said assault but multiple witnesses assure me I have great aim.

I’ve seen the inside of more than a few strip clubs and have destroyed countless brain cells all in the name of “fun.” Everyone knows I talk way more than I listen, can be hopelessly self-involved, deeply desire that everyone like me (nay, love me), and wonder every day if I just do nice things because it makes me feel good or because it makes me look good…or both.

I am a universally flawed mess divulging all these ugly truths to let you in on a little secret – I am nothing special. I am any woman, any mother. I just happen to be one who found herself an equally flawed and tender-hearted husband and an oversized home fallen into foreclosure with some space to fill. I also have a soft spot for babies and a career that took a sharp right turn into a parking garage when my second child was born.

And now I am a foster parent. That’s it.

There was no conversation with God. There was no epiphany. There was no traumatic experience in my life that I needed to work through, no higher calling I felt compelled to tackle. Nothing remarkable happened to put us in this situation. We just said “yes.”

And so can you.

That is not to say you have to or need to or even want to. These ramblings I pen while hunkered in a Panera with my bratty eldest child (who tonight I really couldn’t bear to inflict upon the babysitter), they are not intended for everyone. There are plenty of people who have no pull toward fostering, and that’s okay, we can still be friends (although you might not want to be; we are kind of a circus).

Not everyone should do this, but if you have ever wondered, “Could I do this?” my guess is “yes.” Because so many of us could – and even if all the people who could do this did do this, it would still never be enough. There are more children placed into the system every day, more children than there are homes, and I’m not trying to pull on your heart strings. It’s just the reality of it.

So, if the thing stopping you from asking the next question or taking the next step is, “I just don’t think I could do that,” don’t believe it. You could.

If I can do this – me with this bleeding heart on my sleeve, cling to everyone I meet like a snuggly leach, recovering Type-A perfectionist, rage and regret, erupting volcano of emotion – so can you. Do not forego that conversation or skip that foster care orientation or fail to at least try this wonderfully painful, beautiful opportunity because you think you can’t.

This is not the stuff of saints or steel-skinned men and women built of stronger things than you are. I am made of the same sadness and heartbreak that exists in you, the same fears and doubt. The same “I could never let them go” line you say to me, I say to myself every day. I just have a face and a name to go with it.

But then logic (or sometimes my husband) chimes in and reminds me, “That is not our challenge today. Our challenge today is to take care of this child. Can we love this child? Can we enjoy this child and help him grow stronger, smarter, healthier, happier today?” And the answer is so clearly “yes.” That other question, the big scary one, can be dealt with on a different day when all the facts have been gathered and decisions must be made. Today is not that day.

Today all I can do is what is right in front of me, so I make an extra pancake for the hungry baby in the high chair. He babbles at the big boys, parroting everything they say on this winter morning, and I cringe when he tosses his juice cup into the air. My challenge today is to not finish that obscenity rushing to my lips when I see the sticky purple droplets rain down on my kitchen floor. But I fail, and my foul mouth wins because I’m no saint. I wipe up the mess and whisper another string of profanities under my breath, and the big boys go back to teaching their foster brother his ABC’s while calling one another “buttholes” and “diarrhea faces” and kicking each other under the table.

Our house is made up of gloriously naughty people, big and small, and maybe yours is, too. That doesn’t make you ill-equipped for the job. It actually lines you up perfectly with this crazy path, one that is crooked and bumpy and sometimes embarrassingly chaotic.

We have to stop perpetuating the falsehood that foster families are all comprised of super-human, amazingly wonderful people. My husband and I are not that. He is arrogant and critical. I am controlling and ill-tempered. We have a second grader who tests our restraint on a daily basis, a kindergartner who aims only to please (a habit I am trying desperately to break but also think I am simultaneously reinforcing) and a pre-schooler who looks angelic but balances his cherub face with the seething fires of hell.

We are not raising perfect children because we are not perfect parents, nor are we perfect people. We are eternally flawed in our own unique ways just like everybody else. But our littlest guy, the newest love of our lives, our foster son, is not concerned with that. He is secure and happy in this family of faults, and any level of sainthood we should ever reach will be a direct result of his impact on our lives. Our goodness will come from the lessons we are learning through him and the light he brings to our home, a home with an extra crib and a couple of tired, run of the mill thirty-somethings that might just look a lot like you.

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