Last spring, my wife’s sister and her boyfriend came to join us on our trip to the beach, and they brought their kids.
Except they aren’t *their* kids. Not yet, at least.
They’re foster kids.
Specifically, they’re (now) an almost-five-year-old and a one-year-old pair of siblings who were in need of care because of unfortunate circumstances that are TMI (too much information) and WTD (way too depressing) for this post.
With no (biological) kids of their own (so far!), Aunt and Buried decided to foster for a variety of reasons – they’re good people who want to help, they’ve seen the impact neglect (and worse) can have on little kids, and they know there is more than one way to form a family. Unlike the human parasites who give foster parents a bad name, none of their reasons include “profit,” because, trust me, they aren’t making one. Instead, they are putting their hearts on the line, bonding with these kids and risking heartbreak should the sisters be yanked away by a broken system that values biology over suitability.
They know the risks, and they are still willing to make the commitment. That blows me away. What blows me away even more is their learning curve.
They didn’t take these kids home from the hospital. They didn’t have a nine-month on-ramp on which to steel themselves for the profound and all-encompassing lifestyle change that was about to slam into them like a tractor-trailer.
They applied to be foster parents and once they qualified they immediately got a kid. And then when that kid’s little sister needed help, they got another one. Not because they were seeking two kids, but because they didn’t want to separate siblings and saw little choice. And now they’re dealing with a little girl who won’t eat dinner, won’t sleep on a road trip, is smack-dab in the middle of the eff-you fours, and has a bucket of Southern sass to boot. And they’re caring for a baby with breathing issues that somehow don’t affect her ability to scream when she’s hungry.
Having been dealing with this stuff for years myself, and not always well, I wanted to laugh.
Over the weekend Mom and Buried and I heard them bicker over bottle-cleaning and diaper-changing, witnessed the then-3yo’s adorable, infuriating spunk, and watched the new parents’ best laid plans and idealistic visions of parenting disappear in the face of finding the best, most convenient way to get the kids stop whining and go the F to sleep! But I couldn’t laugh. Because what they’re doing is unimaginably hard and selfless and no matter their struggles, they deserve nothing but praise. Anyone who opens their homes and hearts and lives to care for someone else’s children does. FULL STOP.
There are times I consider abandoning my kids and they’re my flesh and blood. I can’t imagine the will it takes to foster someone else’s and weather the trials and tribulations that every child brings.
These are children with whom they share no DNA, children they weren’t exactly prepared for and who arrived more quickly than they anticipated (to be fair: not even the world’s best biological parents are prepared for parenting, on-ramp or not), children they’ve accepted – that they requested – as their own. They went from zero-to-60 in the blink of an eye.
As someone who is constantly sharing my experiences online, I get a fair amount of praise for being a good parent. But when I encounter foster parents, or single parents, or plenty of other parents in far more difficult circumstances and situations than mine, I feel like a fraud.
Aunt and Buried and her boyfriend – along with the thousands of others who’ve stepped in to rescue children in need of help and a home and a family – jumped into this thing with both feet. I bitch a lot about my kids but at least I had a slow and steady ride up the terrifying hill before the roller coaster plunged down into the toddler years.
The majority of parents get to experience all of that organically. Bit by bit. Step by step. Phase by phase. So much so that sometimes you don’t even register the incremental increases in difficulty. Not everyone has that luxury.
I had plenty of time to panic, to adjust, and I’ve been panicking and adjusting every step of the way ever since. I’ve been in the trenches with my kids from day one. I didn’t hop into the trench a few months or years in and suddenly have to figure everything out all at once. I leveled up, slowly but surely.
The foster parent does it like a boss – out of necessity – from day one. And thank god they do, because even in my sister-in-law’s small southern town, they’re overwhelmed with need. Even after taking two kids in, Aunt and Buried has gotten several calls seeking emergency placement for other endangered kids.
So if you have the interest, and the fortitude, to provide a safe, loving environment for kids in desperate need of one, please step up. There will always be someone who needs it. Maybe even my kids someday, if they keep trying my patience!
(P.S. The smiling kids in the pics with Aunt and Buried are mine, not hers; we’re protecting their privacy.)
This post originally appeared on my Facebook page.