Our little guy turned 1 a few weeks ago. It was a sweet day, full of mixed emotions. Our friends offered to host a party, where he ran around chasing balloons and went to sugar-heaven with his first ever cupcake. I remember when he first came to us, I thought his birthday seemed so far away and I wondered if he would even still be with us by then. I would think how much easier life would be having two toddlers instead of two infants. Some of you laugh, but they were both tough babies! So here we are at the one year mark and we've been raising him for 7 months as our own son. Is life easier now? Yes, in many ways it is...but also no. He is doing really well in our home, many people remind me of the transformation he's gone through and it actually helps me gain perspective when all I can see are the meltdowns and hard days. It's easier in the sense that we have built that love and trust with him, we've learned each other and it's been a process, he's a tough cookie. We have so many memories together now and have really become a family. Our daughter sees him as her brother and truly loves him, even if they push each other over and take each other's toy every two seconds (I'm pretty much a referee by day.) We've witnessed many first milestones, comforted him when he's sad, been by his side for sicknesses (which seems to be wayyy too often!) and injuries...the day-in day-out nitty gritty parenting stuff that children need to thrive. He's been with us over half of his little life, his first word was "dada" and I know he sees us as his parents. But honestly nothing about this has been easy. I still cry often and feel like I'm spread too thin. We are nowhere closer to knowing what's going on with his case, but we've had a heck of a lot of drama and shenanigans that I can't speak of for privacy reasons. He still has a lot of anger and fire in him that is unsettling for his age and daily tantrums that make me cry out to Jesus for help. Our marriage has never been tested like it has in this season, but it's also never developed the strength it has either. We recognize that foster care is battle. There is a brokenness and heaviness that just comes with it, you're knowingly stepping in and saying this child is worth my fight, worth my prayers, worth my love and pain.
I think one of the hardest parts of foster care is having a heart for the biological parents. I so desperately want to see them through the lens of Christ and commit to praying for them and being their cheerleader along the journey. In our training and classes you repeatedly hear the term "co-parenting", which is the ideal scenario where the foster parents come alongside the biological family and give them support and help them succeed and be able to parent again. I loved that idea and I still do, the thought that families can be redeemed and get their children back and have a happy ending. That we could play a part in that and actually see the change firsthand. It definitely can happen, but the truth is it's SO incredibly difficult. Often the parents see you as the enemy and want nothing to do with you. Or you give it a try and realize you are being tricked or manipulated. Recently we were burned pretty badly and I still have feelings of anger and distrust that I need to surrender to the Lord, or I can get pretty snarky. It's such a tangled mess of emotions! Here is this child that you love, and part of that child is his or her parents. You want what is best for them, and of course God's perfect design is for families to be together, to STAY together. But something happened that severed that, and that thing can't be ignored. That is why they are with you. So as a foster parent you have to be careful, to guard your heart but don't close it off. I don't want to be naive, my number one job is to protect this little baby and advocate on his behalf any way I can, even if that means hurting the parent's feelings or saying the hard truth in court. But I also don't want to stop showing the parents love and grace, the same that I have been shown. Unfortunately that is SO much easier said than done, a lot of the time I'm just trying not to cuss or go off on a 2 hour rant to my husband on all the reasons they suck and how unfair this whole thing is.
I've been realizing I have an opportunity to pray and stand in the gap for these families that are lost and hurting. As a foster Mom I get a lot of comments from people on the daily that can come off rather offensive or ignorant, whether that is on purpose or not. Sometimes they make me angry, but most of the time I try to use it as an opportunity to just talk about my own experience or thoughts on the subject. A lot of them are along the lines of "wow he is so lucky to be with you, his parents must be such awful people. They don't deserve him". Or "how can his parents not love him?". But the truth is, he's not lucky, he has been through more in his short life then any child should. Yes, we are so thankful he is here and it's a blessing that he is being loved, cared for and safe. But the whole reason foster care exists is just downright sad. And no, his parents are not awful people, and they do love him very much. They are super young and have had hard lives themselves, and they are making bad choices, they're in pain. If I even step into his mother's shoes for a second and imagine having Eleanor taken away from me, it is almost too much to think about. I wish more people would encourage me to love them, rather then jumping to conclusions. It is far from easy, I think those same thoughts about them often and sometimes I just want to scream "look at what you are missing! Your son is so worth it!". It's heartbreaking and sad to see people choosing other things over their child. Sometimes parents aren't able to get better and then adoption becomes the goal. I would love to adopt one day, but until that is on the table I almost don't want to let my mind go there.
For now I'm called to love him day by day, and use this time to cover him and his family in prayer, and let Jesus do the work. Happy Birthday big guy, God has incredible plans for you!