Trent often jokes "Texas was crazy to give us kids. What were they thinking? We don't have a clue what we're doing." While we have what sorta kinda looks like a clue nowadays, we sure didn't in the beginning. That first month with the kids was hands down the hardest of our life together so far. Sometimes I think back to that first bitter cold evening when the kids were brought to our house and I see the situation as outsiders see all this: crazy. Two very sick, shocked, tired babies were plunked down in our living room, we signed a bunch of papers and were left alone to just...figure things out. The stress level was high and so was the cluelessness. But, so was the support. We couldn't have made it through those first weeks without the help, advice and physical presence of our parents, friends and our church family. Our village stepped up and we couldn't be more thankful.
So here we are, half a year later. It has flown by. I am amazed by how much these kids have grown and we are blessed every single day by their smiles, silly quirks and incredibly sweet hugs. We have good days and bad days. Heck, we have good hours and bad hours. Most of the time we rock along day to day like a normal family and only every once in a while do I get a little low, remembering that we aren't.
Things I'd Do Differently
Get kids' rooms set up and personalized within a month
We've had these kids for half a year and only in the past few weeks did this:
Send pictures, artwork, etc to parent visits at least every other week
There's a fine line here between documenting the growth and experiences of the child while they are away from the birth parent and inadvertently boasting about the quick, healthy growth and the exciting experiences of the child...with the foster parents...that they otherwise likely would not have had. Will the birth parent be happy to have these interim pictures of their children or will they just be saddened to see their kids doing fun things with another family? (Note: these pictures would NOT include the foster family members, just the kids, or else it would tip over solidly into the boasting arena) Nevertheless, I have stunk at this. I ordered a few prints of the kids at Easter, sent one or two scribbly pieces of Brother's "artwork", but that's it. I should have been better about this and I intend to order prints sampling their time with us so far and send them to a visit soon.
Allow myself to get angry
I've tried my best to go with the flow and be a good, tame foster parent this whole time, but there have been a few times I have found myself squelching anger that I should have just let ring true. When our schedule gets moved around yet again. When we get conflicting information and don't know what to rely on. Also I think I try too hard to be a cheerleader for their mom in my head and heart when that is not actually my job. When she says or does things that sting, I can allow myself to privately get annoyed. When she makes a big deal to the social worker that Brother throws fits at visits...um lady, he's two...he throws fits everywhere. When she says from the witness stand in court that she has in the past doubted the suitability of their care because, among other things, "one time at a visit there weren't wipes in the diaper bag"...um lady, you can bring a whole diaper bag if you wish, complete with wipes and whatever else your mama heart desires for your children...CPS would probably consider that a stellar show of initiative. We don't find ourselves running low on iffy, sometimes completely crappy situations these days and, while I don't need to pop off immaturely at anybody involved, I don't need to feel like I have to constantly be all rainbows and sunshine about it in private.
Use "that's confidential" as my go-to response when people want nitty gritty details
Few people know any details about this case, why the kids came into care, how the mom is truly doing, etc. Very few people know the couple whopper aspects of the case that could make or break it. Even so, I fear I have overshared at times when faced with curious questions, people just wanting to understand what's going on. I should have practiced my canned responses in the mirror I guess, in order to be able to say them with confidence when needed and leave it at that. "That's confidential" or "We're not really supposed to share those details" would suffice. We're really not. Texas says so...
Things I've Learned
Don't count on social workers to do what they say. Follow up.
The original investigative social worker who removed the kids and brought them to us was supposed to file the paperwork to get the daycare subsidy in process. She didn't. The kids' caseworker said during our June meeting, during a conversation about Brother's speech, that she would refer him to Early Childhood Intervention for a speech evaluation. She didn't. Social workers mean well, but they are overloaded.
Take everything with a grain of salt and pencil it in. It will likely change.
We heard "Their mom is doing really, really well. I can really see these kids going home" one month and the next month sat in a Permanency Conference that revealed this case is not at all as clear cut as we thought. Our hearing time got moved the day of. Meetings with the kids' social worker have had to be rescheduled on occasion. You just never know. You just gotta roll with the punches and be flexible.
We are really cut out for this
Funny how God leads you to something through doubt and fear along the way, only for you to realize it is exactly what you are supposed to be doing. Sometimes "right where you're supposed to be" is actually a weird place to be. Really weird. Taking care of a stranger's kids full time while that person is trying to correct some iffy choices or situations...is just weird. It's not natural. And yet somehow it comes completely naturally to us.
We have explained to some folks that there is "head knowledge" and "heart knowledge" in this foster care arena. The head knowledge is the ability to root for the birth parent(s) rather than judge them, the willingness to roll with the changes and logistical requirements, the understanding that the ultimate goal of all this is reunification until it's proven that it cannot be. The heart knowledge is the humanity, the worry, the struggle, the realization that the heart might break. The heart knowledge would come easy to anyone in this situation. Who wouldn't worry, wonder and struggle? The head knowledge...not so much. As I mentioned above, the situations foster parents find themselves in fly in the face of the way families should naturally operate. So how does the head deal with and reconcile the craziness? Or can it? Somehow we find ourselves able to and can only chalk it up to sitting in the palm of God's hand, right where we're supposed to be.