The first time I attended a retreat for foster and adoptive parents, I cried through most of it. For the first time in months, I felt understood and it overwhelmed me. I could tell the people around me “got it” and I felt a connection with a room full of strangers because we shared the common experience of foster care.
So when foster parents across the state of South Carolina were asked to describe in just one word the experience of fostering, it’s not surprising to me many of the same words were echoed. While fostering is unique for each family, there are things that you just “get” as a fellow foster parent. For each word that was shared, I find myself thinking of a face or a memory with a child who lived with us for a season.
When I see the word profound, I instantly remember a drive to school with a little guy in a booster seat, his feet not yet reaching the floor. He spent the entire ride talking about the things he had learned since coming into foster care. He was so proud and confident, and the things he said showed how much he had grown in the last few months. It was both a profound and poignant moment for me.
Memories like this humble me, so without a doubt the word humbling is one I relate to when it comes to foster care. To be able to enter a family’s story—to know what they have struggled with, gone through, and experienced—has opened my eyes fully to what I’ve been given. Many of my foster children’s parents were in foster care themselves and never experienced a healthy, loving family like I did. It humbles me to care for another person’s child who was not given all the advantages and privileges I was in life. When the children in my home have gone hungry and seen things no child should see, when their parents are trying to kick drugs or find a safe place to live, I realize how unimportant many of the things I sometimes value are. It humbles me to my core.
Some of the words can be linked together for me, like emotional and unpredictable. People often compare foster parenting to riding a roller coaster, with all its twists and turns, ups and downs. I have experienced the low moments of holding a sobbing mother outside a courtroom, and highs like seeing a child’s proud smile when she brought home her first positive report card. It is impossible to welcome a frightened child into your home or say goodbye to one you have come to love as your own, and not be overwhelmed by emotion at times.
But of all the words South Carolina foster parents chose, trust is the most important one for me. For kids in care, it can be a hard word and with good reason. Trust in adults has often been severely damaged and many children have conditioned themselves to trust no one. That is why I work hard as a foster mom to be consistent, routine to the point of being boring and above all else, honest. When a kid in care begins to trust an adult again, they also become open to giving and receiving love. That’s huge! As the foster parent, I have to trust as well. I trust that while I may have only had a child in my home for weeks or months, the care, experiences, lessons taught and love given will live on inside my former foster child. I trust none of it is wasted— they carry it with them.
And that is deeply rewarding.