Sep 15, 2020

Five years ago, we welcomed a seven-week-old baby girl into our home. She was placed in foster care with a badly broken femur, an accident caused by the spring in the trundle bed she shared with her 17-year-old parents.

Shortly after, I started a foster support network, connecting foster families with others in their community. There were foster aunties, uncles, grandpas, and grandmas. Some dropped off hot meals, offered their skills as hairstylists, tutors, and carpool drivers while others donated gently used clothes and baby gear.

Here’s how I see it, it’s like a tall ladder, at the top of the ladder is fostering and adopting. Along the way, there are 99 steps we can take to support foster families. Not all are called to climb to the top, but many are called to take a step. Sadly, the rungs on the ladder show little wear in contrast to the ground below eroded away by those wanting to step up but instead scuffling around unsure what to do.

In the spring of 2015, we connected with a couple needing support with two tween girls. Over the next eight months, we became their foster auntie and uncle, falling deeply in love with them. We picked them up each week for sleepovers, went on long bike rides, adventurous hikes, and set up picnics at the botanical gardens. On their birthdays, we rented a hotel room, ordering up chicken tenders and a double basket of fries. We jumped into the plush beds and watched their favorite movie, Lilo and Stitch. All four cuddled under the blankets, and my heart overflowed with gratitude as I stuffed my face with salty fries trying to force the tears back.

The girls gave me an excuse to slow down, stop the chores, and the never-ending to-do list so we could just enjoy life. I wanted to give them the respect they deserved by being fully present with them. We were the fun auntie and uncle, they loved being with us, and the foster parents got a much-needed break.

Late that summer, we kept the girls for three weeks while the foster parents visited family in Spain. I soon realized I couldn’t keep up with being the fun auntie with pizza and movies each day. It was time for real-life, which means broccoli, chores, and minimal screen time. This was met with utter shock laced with bad attitudes I had never met. The honeymoon phase was officially over.

A few weeks later, I had all four kids to myself while Kaveh worked a 27-hour shift. It had been a challenging weekend, and I looked forward to church when I could check them into childcare and have an hour to re-center myself. Sunday morning came, and each of the four kiddos took turns having meltdowns as I struggled to get them out of their jammies and into the car. With baby Ryann on my hip, I packed the girls’ bags up, made breakfast, folded two loads of laundry, and fed the dog. I asked them repeatedly to get dressed and put away their pancake plates. This was ignored as they stalled for one reason or another.

Finally, I managed to herd them in the car, all feed and in their Sunday best. Meanwhile, I had an empty stomach, a breastmilk-stained shirt, and was unsuccessfully rocking the previous day’s eyeliner as the smokey eye look.

I quickly expressed my disappointment.

”Girls, I find it ridiculous that Greysen, who is four, managed to get dressed, find his shoes, and get in the car before you two.”

Erica* loudly slammed her car door, and with a snarky voice, exclaimed, ”Well, I changed Ryann’s diaper, and it isn’t even my job to take care of her.”

Erica was soft-spoken, often using a baby voice and puppy dog eyes to get what she wants. This undoubtedly never worked on me, but somehow it worked on her older sister and bio-mom. They named her the baby in the family. She was ten and milked this to her heart’s delight. In our home, I encouraged her to use her strong voice, reminding her that she is worthy of being heard. This, however, was not the time for her to be stretching her vocal cords.

I unbuckled and turned to her. With a scowl and a stern voice, I said, “Erica, I love to hear you using your strong voice, but I suggest your use it wisely and with respect. This is not just your Sunday morning. I am not here to pick up your breakfast plate, brush your hair for you, and find your shoes. In this house, you are family, and you will help out, and sometimes that means changing little Ryann’s diaper!” With that, I buckled back up, and we headed off to church.

That afternoon they had a visit with bio-mom. Now, it isn’t uncommon for bio parents to dislike foster parents, and as a foster-auntie, I was no exception. Erica told her mom that I had raised my voice to her. Mom quickly contacted the social worker and demanded that they never see me again. I know that this is not what Erica intended. She is human and wanted to vent and for her mom to be on her side. But the damages were irrevocable.

The social worker was tired of hearing mom complain about me for various ridiculous reasons, so she decided we could only be used for emergency respite care. This was devastating to us as we loved having the girls often, and they had become part of our family.

My ego instantly flared up, and I was embarrassed, keeping it a secret for fear that others might judge me for raising my voice to a child. I sat with the shame for two weeks but then I was reminded that EGO is short for Edging God Out. The truth is that I stand by my actions, and I would likely do it again, maybe with a softer voice, but I am human. I allowed the girls to be human, and I expected the same in return.

Unfortunately, this was a final straw for the foster parents as the bio-mom had gotten her way for two years, manipulating the system in her favor. They were to be transferred into a new foster family, new home, and new school. My heart was broken for them.

The girls came over to gather all their clothes and toys. We loved on them for one last time, and then they drove away. There was nothing for me to do but believe that God had a plan for them.

The pain I felt in those days doesn’t come even close to the joy, laughter and love shared between us. We were never perfect, but we were real, honest, and vulnerable, and we were given a beautiful opportunity to love on each other.

Do you feel called to take a step up for children in foster care? Here is the chance you have been waiting for. Here are the first steps up the ladder. Remember, you don’t have to get to the top. Just stepping up will make an impact on the life of a child.

For today just pick one step.

  1. Connect with a foster family and ask how you can support them.
  2. Vote for candidates who will back good bills to fix the system.
  3. Connect with your local foster community center.
  4. Donate to a foster organization. Many states, including AZ, allow a $500 tax credit per person. That’s a TAX CREDIT, not a deduction. You get % back as a refund. It’s a no-brainer.
  5. Register to be a CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) for a child.

The key is to find what I call your sweet spot of service when it’s a symbiotic relationship that fills you up. Trust me; it’s better than any antidepressant you could ever get your hands on. Your life will be forever touched.

May you be a channel of love,

Shea

*Names have been changed.

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