We are smack dab in the middle of the holiday season. Thanksgiving has just passed and Christmas decorations dominate every store. There is something about this time of year that changes people’s rhythm just enough that we take time to be grateful. We teach our kids about giving and helping those less fortunate. We sit around the table with people we love. We sing songs about joy and hope.
I’ve always loved the thrill of the holiday season. It helps that there is a crisp chill in the air and you can snuggle up with your family for hot cocoa. There is something that feels magical about it all. Of course, it’s hyped up with commercials that show happy homes, festive parties, and all the need-to-have seasonal gifts for everyone you know. But foster care has completely changed the way that I experience the season of gratitude.
Being a foster parent has opened up my eyes and my heart to a world in my own backyard that I didn’t know existed. I mean, even as a kid I knew there were people that had less that I did, but I didn’t know what that really looked like. I certainly couldn’t imagine what it felt like. I couldn’t comprehend that while I was laying on the couch in a food coma, there was someone going hungry. While I tore open more gifts than I could ever play with, there was a kid who had never received a gift before. And as a kid, maybe I didn’t need to fully understand all of that. But, I’m not a kid anymore.
Inviting foster care into our home means inviting all that comes with it- the good, the bad, and the ugly. It often means living with the discomfort of knowing very real stories of hardship. These precious kiddos are resilient, hopeful, smart, compassionate, kind, and dear. Yes! But, they really have lived through some devastating circumstances. Many were loved dearly by their families; of course, some have experienced love in unhealthy ways. Most were cared for by people who would give their lives for the child; still, we know that some were neglected and mistreated. All of them have been torn away from the life they knew.
Amidst the messages of gratitude, giving, and gathering this holiday season, I’ve found my heart struggling to adjust. I’ve found some bitterness tucked away that is slowly exposing itself in ways that I’d rather ignore. These kids in my home, in your home, in the group home down the street- they deserve everything. They deserve love, and comfort, and family. I am grateful that they are (hopefully) getting that in foster care. But I’m angry when the case worker cancels at the last minute. I’m frustrated when court doesn’t go the way I think it should. I feel unheard when I try to advocate for resources that are hard to access. I don’t feel grateful. I don’t want to give the benefit of the doubt any more. I don’t want to sit quietly.
But when I let myself be consumed by those feelings, I have it all wrong. The case worker cancelled because there were kids that needed to find stability in a home immediately. Court didn’t go the way that I wanted it to because there were pieces of the story that I hadn’t heard yet. The resources that I was trying to advocate for were readily available, but I wasn’t asking for it in the appropriate way.
I’ve learned that when I start to feel ungrateful and bitter towards foster care, towards the system, towards all the people working hard to make it better, I need to take the advice I give my kids. Be kind. To be kind even when I don’t feel like it. So, I’ve started intentionally doing acts of kindness when I get upset about a change in the plan or an inconvenience to my schedule. I stop and reassess. I buy coffee for the person behind me in the drive through. Send a text of encouragement to another foster parent. Thank the Guardian Ad Litem for their service. Write a note of appreciation to the supervisor of a case worker that went above and beyond (recently or in the past.)
When I go looking for ways to be kind, to show gratitude, I find that I actually feel grateful. My attitude changes. My perspective changes. Foster care has opened my eyes to a whole new world, a whole new way of living. I am going to choose gratitude. Gratitude for the moments I get with the people at my table. Gratitude for all those still to come.