I am passionate about recruiting foster parents, but I can't do that without sharing this story. This story addresses the deepest fears of anyone who dares to consider taking on this messy beautiful life of fosterhood: the fear of getting in over your head; the fear of harm befalling one of your children; the fear of failing miserably. If you've ever considered foster parenting or adoption, this story is for you. It is real and it is mine, and I am taking a great risk by sharing it.
The sibling moved in with us and life became even more hectic. This newest child was a sweetheart and I fell in love easily, but the addition of new school meetings, doctor appointments, extra laundry, and special behavioral needs was more than I felt capable of handling in my already depleted state. It wasn't long before there was an incident. The impulsivity that so often follows children from hard places, combined with my inability to properly supervise everyone in our busy house, led to one of my kids being hurt at the hands of our newest child.
I had long held the belief that you only disrupt a foster placement when you can no longer keep everyone in the home safe. Deep inside I felt relief - I finally had an out. I called our agency and demanded that the newest child be removed from our home immediately. The caseworker explained that they can't find a new foster home the same day - it will take time. And then I said the words that will haunt me forever, "Then take this child to the children's shelter. That's what the shelter is for." I will forever be ashamed of who I became in that moment. Tossing this child away like an unwanted pet.
I wish I could say that I came to my senses and we figured out a solution, but unfortunately that's not how this story ends. In my desperation and exhaustion I could not see the forest for the trees. I couldn't see any other way out of the mess and chaos that had become of my life - and the lives of my children. I was terrified of my kids being hurt again, and I felt that in my present state I couldn't be counted on to keep everyone safe any longer.
Please understand this: although I had gotten in over my head with too many kids and too difficult of issues and I was desperate for a way out, I was genuinely heartbroken over sending this child away. Heartbroken in a way that few will ever understand. I know that to the outside world I look like a monster. You look at this story and you see someone who gave up too easily. Someone who re-homed a child as though I was re-homing a dog. So while you may never understand, and never quite believe me, I still need to say that sending away this child caused me to hurt in a way I have never hurt in my life.
When you become a foster parent you expect it to be hard. Harder than hard. I was prepared for that. But you always figure that at the end of the day you'll know you've done some good for the world. You'll know you helped a hurting child. You don't anticipate being in a position of adding to a child's pain ... of knowing that this one particular child probably would have been better off had we never met.
This child did go on to move in with an adoptive family and they are all very happy together. But not before spending a few weeks at the shelter waiting in limbo. A few weeks in the life of this child with no goodnight cuddles. No "I love you"s. No one to kiss boo-boos on the knee. And that's my fault. It's a guilt I will live with forever. Having loved and parented children who've been through loss and abandonment I know, better than most, just how deep and lasting those scars can be. And I know that now there is one more scar on this little child. A scar that is there because I didn't know my limits, and I didn't ask for help when I should have.
I was certain that I would never foster again. I would never risk failing a child again. I told myself it wasn't worth it. It wasn't worth the pain I endured, and certainly wasn't worth the damage my failure would do to another child.
So where's the beautiful in this messy beautiful story? For a long time I couldn't find it. It was the first time in my life when all I saw in every direction was messy, messy, messy. But slowly, with time, my heart began to heal just a little. With distance I gained perspective and saw a bigger picture. I was able to see where I'd made mistakes, and devise a plan for what I could do differently next time. After much soul-searching and intentional life changes here I sit today, excitedly awaiting the next phone call asking me to take in a child who needs a safe home and a loving family.
I've risked a lot in sharing this story. I risk the judgement, shame, and guilt I feel with a spotlight cast on my greatest failing. But I share this story with the hope that you will read it and somehow, miraculously, consider fostering. Because, yes, you might fail. Your children might get hurt. You may even unintentionally add to the pain of an already traumatized child. Some days you may feel like you're a part of the problem instead of part of the solution. But if you don't try - if you don't even consider it - then you'll never be a part of the solution. If no one was ever willing to risk everything, then these kids would never know what a safe and loving family felt like. For me, that's worth all the messy beautiful risk in the world. I owe it, at the very least, to the child I failed.
This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!