After my first child was born, a question entered my headspace that I could never quite shake. It swirled around in there, never really landing, never really taking hold. Then my second was born, and with him came months of worry over medical concerns that thankfully resolved within his first year. But that premature birth had my husband and I wondering if we should risk trying for number three. Maybe a different path would be better the next go-round.
So, the question resurfaced – could we be foster parents? But before an answer materialized, we were pregnant again and awaiting the arrival of the almost Irish twin. When he was delivered, I looked at my husband and said, “That’s it! If we don’t do something, we’ll be on number 4 before we know it. The foster question will be irrelevant!” (although I’ve since learned that some of these mystical-unicorn foster families have like 27 kids, so in hindsight 4 isn’t that big of a deal).
But for us, four felt like a completely impossible deal, so off to the urologist he went. The resulting snip created a lavishly embellished horror story for my husband along with room for that nagging question to take root. Could we be foster parents?
Not should we. Could we? Because should you do this? Probably not.
The life of a foster parent is not all fun and games and cute babies. It’s more like a punch in the face meets suck-the-breath-from-you vulnerability meets your realization that people might actually be inherently terrible meets cute babies. In short, it kind of sucks.
While this choice is also lined with growth and learning and love and fulfillment sometimes, it is endlessly frustrating almost all the other times. It removes any illusion you ever had of control. It screws with your mental health, packs on pounds and lines your face with more wrinkles than your biological kiddos or the blistering sun ever could. It keeps you up night after night, your home ringing with the sound of manic cries, sometimes the child’s, sometimes your own. It changes your social circle as you cling to the people you need to survive and watch other relationships die on the vine. It depletes your capacity to care for anything other than what’s right in front of you. It reorders your priorities without your consent.
Becoming a foster parent tosses your life into disarray and brings your closest friends and family with you because even though they had nothing to do with the decision, you inadvertently involved them when you said “yes.” There is a level of guilt that comes with that which shouldn’t bother you as much as it does…but it does.
And we’re still navigating Foster Child Number One, a happy and giggly, super smart, gorgeous boy who, aside from depriving us of some much-needed sleep, has been nothing but pure joy. And yet, this journey has been rough – and unfortunately, as a foster parent, you aren’t even permitted to really talk about why. Specifics are confidential, and those specifics are the hardest part.
So, when the question is “Should you do this?” the answer is, undoubtedly, “Nope.”
But could you do this? Could you? Yes.
Because at the very core of the question, it’s easy. It’s simple. This decision, while obviously difficult, is at the very same time so stupidly simple. There are children who need homes. There are children, big and little, in search of homes, both temporary and permanent. They need adults to keep them safe. And we are adults who can keep a child safe. Simple.
The little boy snuggled in my living room, safe and secure, is exactly where he needs to be right now because we never asked, “Should we do this?” There will always be a hundred reasons why someone shouldn’t do this, but when you ask if you could, a door begins to open.
A year and a half ago, on a blustery evening just like this one, my husband and I opened our front door and welcomed our very first and, thus far, only foster child. We were nervous…and excited…and fearful…and emotionally wrecked waiting and waiting for his arrival. His case worker was running later than expected (which we quickly learned in the world of social workers meant she was actually on-time). Our family took turns rushing to the window, peeking out into the darkness each time a car passed.
When the anxiously awaited bundle finally arrived and was carried into our house, wrapped in a blue fuzzy blanket overtop a borrowed car seat, the big boys crowded around him, each one reaching out to touch his tiny fingers and tickle his sock-covered toes, our first peek into what amazing foster brothers they would become. There was a mountain of paperwork and a round of questions, a tour of our house and a timid good-bye. I remember rocking our foster son long into the night, looking down at his face, studying his nose, his chin, his eyes, trying to memorize this stranger-baby’s features like I know my own.
I remember whispering to him all sorts of things: how we would do our best to take care of him, how we would love him, how I was pretty sure we somehow already did. I kissed his forehead over and over and over again that first night, and I have kissed his forehead every single day and night since, through tantrums and fevers and all the ups and downs of infancy and now his terrible-adorable two’s.
For the past year and a half, our family has shuffled our lives around to make space for this little boy in need of a home. We have poured love into him, and it has been returned ten-fold. And every night – even the nights when sleep never comes and the wrinkles on my face burrow deeper, when I lose my temper and have to walk away to remember how I got into this glorious mess to begin with – every single night, I kiss this child’s forehead again and thank God we never got caught up in the very narrow world of should. We only ever thought that we could.