Things I Learned as an Emergency Foster Parent

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The moment I became a mother, I developed an instant drive to protect my children. Some call it the “mama bear” instinct. Whatever you want to call it- it’s there. For most parents out there, the same drive exists in them, too.

However, there are children born to parents who don’t have that drive. They grow up in homes where love is lacking, where fear runs rampant. I don’t know parents like that. Most of us don’t. We see those terrible stories on the news and think to ourselves “how can that parent do that to his or her child?” or “I would take those kids into my home in an instant”.

I’ve said that sentence before, and my chance finally arrived to help.

Things I learned as an emergency foster parentWelcome Home?

A few weeks ago, my husband and I became emergency foster parents. We opened our home to two young boys who, at the time, had no other options for safety. These boys stayed with us for about five days. In that five days, my eyes opened to a world I had only knew about from the news.

The boys opened up to us in snippets about their life prior to meeting us. As an EFP with no training or direction on how to handle their stories, I struggled with my responses. Every night after everyone went to bed, I cried for these boys that had been dealt this hand in life, I cried in gratitude for my own life. Selfishly, I felt overwhelmed at this job I’d been given, to care for these boys until we found them a permanent foster home.

On the fifth day, we finally got the confirmation we had been waiting for- there was a family that could take them in permanently. I breathed a sigh of relief that all of our phone calls and networking and praying worked. As much as we cared for the boys, we could not take them in for the long run. They needed a family that could give them every ounce of attention and help they deserved.

A New Understanding

As someone who has now spent time, though briefly, dealing with the system that is child and family services, I see these organizations and the people who work in them, and the kids in the system in a different light. The things I’ve learned will stay with me, will be present in my parenting moving forward, and are challenging me to make a difference.

What I Learned

  1. Your heart will grow and break at the same time.

The second the boys came to us, I felt myself adapting to their presence in our home. We bought more groceries, did more laundry, and in general learned to live with an additional two people in our home. It was the most intensely bittersweet feeling when they left us. I wanted to help them, to know that they were being taken care of, but I also knew that we could not be the ones to do it for the long-term. I cried when they left, just like how I cried when they arrived. My heart changed because of them.

2. Trained foster parents are invaluable.

As an emergency foster parent, I obviously did not have any training like licensed foster parents do. They have classes, and mentors, and intense therapy and training to prepare them for this job. I have a newfound respect for those who feel called to the journey of fostering.

3. It takes a village.

I’ve always said it takes a village to raise a child, and I saw that firsthand when we brought the boys home. In less than a day, the donations, help, and prayers rolled in. My mother-in-law was there as a secondary caregiver when my husband and I had other commitments. As a seasoned mom of four, she offered perspective, support, and guidance when we felt like we couldn’t figure it out. Our village showed these boys such kindness, and I am so thankful to be surrounded by so much good.

4. The foster care caseworker job is a thankless one. 

The day the boys left us, their caseworker had traveled to court in the city of Chicago in the morning, drove back to the office, worked all day, and then came and picked them up around 6:00PM to bring them to their new family. The caseworker likely didn’t get home until after 7:00PM– to do it again the next day. The caseload they carry, the tragedy they endure, the stories they hold in their hearts is beyond most of our scope. They take on case after case and work long hours and travel and hold little hands while walking into new homes. All for what? As one social worker told me– “Because someone has to.”

  1. Children are resilient.

When we found them a permanent home, my husband and I both worried that it would be too hard of a transition. The boys had adapted very quickly to their new life with us, and we were so concerned about sending them away again. However, several social workers and foster parents told us was that these kids, the kids that have to endure hardship, are resilient. They will adapt again. I saw that in the boys that they do have it in them to overcome the tragedy that was their life, or when they were outside genuinely laughing with my son, R or playing with our dogs (they loved our dogs). They will adapt and flourish again.

Changed By Children

As parents, we envision our lives spent shaping and molding our kids. Sometimes we don’t stop to imagine how they will shape and mold ours. It is even more surprising when those children that change you aren’t even your own.

I think about the boys often. I hope they are adjusting and adapting to their new home. They asked us as they were leaving if they’ll ever see us again, and I hope we do. Our story together, albeit brief, is deeply important to my family. My son still asks for one of them by name, but everyday he asks less and less.

I am confident they will be fine, though. After all, their new family has dogs.

For more parenting experiences, click here.

1 COMMENT

  1. Omg you have to be a special kind of person to be a foster parent! Many come from some pretty traumatic backgrounds:( and the bond you develop and then the heartbreak when they leave ugh!! We need more foster parents for sure, but I’m not sure I would have it in me!

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