When we first started fostering we knew we wanted to be a resource to the kids, but also their family. Shared parenting is a relationship between the child’s parent(s) and a foster parent(s) where they both work toward the best outcome for a child. We weren’t exactly sure what it would look like, but we knew it was important. We wondered if it would be hard, uncomfortable, and maybe even unsafe, but we knew if it was in the best interest of a child we would go all in.
When we first got the two year old girl we now affectionately call “our girl”, we were not sure how shared parenting would work. But for 150 days we watched as our girl’s mom and dad fought hard to have their family back together. Over the course of those days, I learned to hold on to hope when it seemed impossible and there were days it seemed impossible. There were days that the odds seemed to be stacked against us, but we pressed on. All of us. Together.
I met her mom for the very first time at an assessment center. I saw her come in the hallway fragile, sad, and a little defeated. As soon as she saw her daughter, she came running over and scooped her up. Tears streaming down her face; she called her by a nickname I didn’t know. All of her attention was on her precious daughter. Eventually, I introduced myself and we started to talk. She shared a lot of things about her daughter in the short amount of time we had together. Hair tips, favorite foods, dislikes. I learned about her brothers, her dad, their family, and so much more.
I took it all in and then it was time to say goodbye. There were tears, words of encouragement, and a lot of hugs. We exchanged numbers. I knew that day that this mother loved her daughter more than I could put into words. I knew that together we were going to work hard to get “our girl” home. It wasn’t always easy. As a matter of fact it was frustrating. There were missed calls, missed appointments, moments of untruth.
It was frustrating not only for me, but for our girl. We knew that she belonged with her family. We knew that they were worthy of our support and that they loved her. We also knew that some of their choices didn’t appear to reflect that love and dedication. I felt helpless at times. I felt like I wasn’t doing enough and I felt like I was doing too much. I felt overwhelmed and under-equipped to get so far in the trenches and walk alongside this family.
As time went on we bonded over our common goal to see their daughter return home. On the hard days, I would try to remember the first time I met our girl’s mom. I remembered how she looked, what she said, and how fragile she seemed. I remembered that day because it reminded me of how far she had come and the many obstacles she had already overcome. I now saw a strong, confident, loving mom who was changing her life so that she could be the mom she needed to be. I saw a dad stepping up and providing for his family, making changes, and being the leader he needed to be. I remembered where this journey started so I could truly appreciate how far we had all come. Together.
Months passed and they were showing up consistently. They were learning how to be the best versions of themselves so they could best parent their little girl. They were not only doing the things that were mandated by the court, but they were going above and beyond. They showed up for Thanksgiving with our family, they spent Christmas with us, and they became a part of our family too.
If I could take away three things from this journey it would be:
- Encouragement Goes A Long Way. Especially for a mom and dad who love their son or daughter so much, but have just found themselves in a hard place. They need people to cheer them on, they need people who believe in them, and they need a support system.
- Hope Comes with Time. It may seem hopeless at first. You will get frustrated. We did. A lot. But over time you can look back and you can see the change, you can see the growth, you can see the work that has been done. That’s where hope rests.
- It’s Okay to be Honest. Hard truths are sometimes what we need to hear. Honesty leads to trust and trust leads to a relationship that will ensure that everyone is supported, heard, and loved. It also means there is a safe place to run if ever they find themselves in need.
After 150 days, our girl went home and since then we’ve had family dinners, visits, and even babysat for her parents. The relationship we established with her parents while she was with us made that possible. We held on to hope even when it felt impossible. We pushed through and we believed against all odds that they would be in one home as a family again. It wasn’t easy, but it was worth it and given the opportunity, we would choose to hope for the best in each of them again.