Did you ever go to camp as a kid and make friends that you felt would last a lifetime? Or maybe you went on a missions trip or overseas with friends and you achieved this incredible bond. Perhaps it wasn’t a summer experience, but it was a semester or two or three with an amazing person in college. Whatever it is, you can recall that feeling of great camaraderie that perhaps led you to write back and forth for years, or ask them to be in your wedding party, or maybe even put them on your will as a godparent. In the same vein, maybe you’ve really gotten attached to a child you babysat on a regular basis or a friend’s child you watched for a weekend while they were out of town. You are connected still to that little one and enjoy watching them grow, perhaps liking all their pics on Facebook, or if they are old enough, now watching them develop a life of their own.
I’ve sensed others misjudging what I do and who I am as a foster parent, and so it’s my desire to clear a few things up. Those feelings of camaraderie and affection and enjoyment I described above are simply a reminder of what it feels like to care deeply about another person. We’re all capable of those feelings and most of us experience them. Some of us are parents or aunts or nannies and we intimately understand that deeply powerful bond you can have with a child. And that, my friends, is exactly what it’s like to be a foster parent.
Being a foster parent is not like having a job. As in, I don’t punch a time sheet and put on my Foster Parent apron and get to work on this kid. No, being a foster parent is fully parenting, going in the deep end of child-rearing with a child that more than likely will never bear my name, a child that will be reunited with his mother or father and then grow into adulthood in a house that is not mine. I don’t parent a foster child in a way different from parenting my permanent child; I can’t do that. It’s either all in or all out.
I’ve had people give passing glances to my foster baby and then ignore him. I’ve had people boldly inquire about my permanent child and not about the foster one. I’ve had people make assumptions about him and assumptions about the way our family operates. So let me unmuddy the waters: this kid is fully part of our family. We fully love him. And we fully support the efforts for him to be reunified to his biological family. We are not confused about that.
I shop for clothes for this child and I dress him multiple times a day, always wrestling him down to put on shoes and socks because holding still is apparently the Worst Thing Ever for a walking 10 month old.
I wash out those five Avent bottles a bazillion times a day—or so it seems—and they dry alongside the pink plastic cups and wine glasses the rest of the family uses.
I call and make a WIC appointments because formula is expensive and the state helps pay for his nutritional needs. I visit the health department every few months, sometimes disrobing the little dude and discussing his growth with a registered dietician. I then load up seven canisters of formula and 16 plastic cartons of fruits and veggies and then remind a Super Target employee how WIC checks work.
I sing hymns and lullabies to him at night because I want him to be comforted with music. I pray over his blessed baby head and ask the Lord to keep him safe always. I rock him in my arms and delight in those baby snuggles that come only when he’s tired enough to hold still. And I settle him in his bed at night, worry about the room temperature and will he be warm enough on this cold Nebraska night? I listen to the cries of rolling over and the sharper cries that summon me to his bed to pick him up and cuddle him once more.
This thing I do, this foster parenting, it is not somehow a separate conversation from my everyday life. It IS my everyday life. This child is as real a family member as any of us. Can you see how his life is not worth less than another Tredway’s life? He is real. And he is a foster child. Both things are true.
So whether you’re a visitation worker or a caseworker, a family support specialist or the head of a fostering agency, a friend or a neighbor, know that this child is part of our family. Know that he is fully embraced as one of us and that in our hearts he is our son, our brother, our grandson, our cousin, our nephew. He is our people, our clan. We will shower him with love as well as with ridiculous amounts of attention and praise. He may be here for a short time, but he is LEGIT. And whether you have advice on how he is raised or what kind of diapers he should use or feel like you should be allowed to touch his cheeks because they are full and chubby, please respectfully remember that you honestly cannot love him more than we do. For a time, we are his parents and sister and grandparents and aunts and uncles and we are committed to all that entails.