Last week I said the words aloud, “my daughter does better with everyone else but me. My daughter doesn’t love me yet.” Instead of peace and a sense of healing, I felt more wounded. Her typical behaviors this week felt like they salted a now-exposed wound. Any little roll of her eyes, any toy heaved my direction, every huff when given a direction exposed my irritation towards her even further. They say that identifying the fear and the emotion is the first step. But what is the second? As I prayed over our home, toiled over the frustration, spoke with my husband and observed our family this week, I found it difficult to determine a next step on this foster journey. How do I move into finding reconciliation and peace in our home with my newfound realization?
I know the “why” behind her actions. I am putting forth every effort to not to take her behaviors personally. I am thinking through all the strategies I know to use. However, it does not seem to be working. Instead I am left with unfilled expectations, building frustrations, and continued exhaustion. I feel stuck in a place lacking the love and empathy from me she deserves.
In this season where connection and attachment is difficult, when I wake up and feel more like her babysitter than her mother, I think of why I need to keep going. When I pray in desperation what comes to mind are the faces of my three sons.
I wanted to take a little time to speak to the fear of fostering and the effects on birth children in the home.
Let me say upfront, as our boys have walked this path with my husband and I the course has not always been easy or pleasant. My boys have had to give up portions of their few short years as our family ventures forward in this endeavor. They have had to share their home, their toys, their parents, their schools, and their friends. Our sons have had to say goodbye to children we wanted to stay, they have helped me pack suitcases, and watched tearful goodbyes. They have witnessed multiple tantrums and meltdowns. They have met dozens of social workers and heard difficult stories of others’ past trauma, and all before setting foot in kindergarten.
My children have relinquished hours from their “childhood” so that we could sit in therapy offices, have counselors in our home, and work through challenging behaviors from siblings who have come and gone. As a family we have dealt with fear, loss, anger, sadness, resentment, frustrations, and all those feelings they have had to process at a young age. Our children have articulated feelings across a broad spectrum that have shown their difficult journey. I have heard phrases such as:
“This is not fair.”
“I just want my space back.”
“Why did she have to leave?”
“Does she have to stay?”
I thought about how the notion that many of us are taught as parents. We are told in this day and age that our culture is all about doing what makes us feel good. As parents, I think our culture communicates that our job is to shield our children from obstacles, protect them from pain, make their life easier, and make their childhood feel good at all cost.
I am going to challenge that way of thinking for a minute. As a mother, I believe my job is in fact quite different.
I do not believe my main parental calling is to shield my children from obstacles, but to brave the path with them while they are still young. Walk with them during a season where they are still willing to take my hand when they are scared and look to me for all the answers. I want to show them that uncertainty and obstacles are chances to grow and learn and find strength. As my children become adults, they will face obstacles in relationships, in work, and life overall. It is inevitable. When those challenges come, I want them to face them head on. I don’t want them to start off feeling defeated, but instead to find strength through faith and family to keep walking forward with courage.
My children are in a fallen world, I cannot always protect them from pain. We will experience trials and loss. Not even the most sheltered families are immune from cancer, divorce, loss, diagnoses, pain, and trials. While I cannot fully guard my children from hardship, I can however teach them through these trials how to react in healthy ways to the best of my ability. I can try to process loss and hurt in a way that teaches them to cling to the things that matter most. We can find beauty and strength in and after moments of loss by creating new traditions, finding a different routine, and teaching them to find joy even through profound loss.
I want my sons to be strong men of faith, who stand for what is right, who are hard-working, who care deeply for others, and who are humble enough to strive above all to love others more than themselves. When I think of men who exemplify this, men of the Bible and those in history, none of these men walked easy paths. If I want to create men of character, I believe those qualities will come through being refined through their moments of pain and weakness. I believe that children develop resiliency, eyes that see the needs of others, and more compassion when they are forced to encounter hard things early on. The key is that while they walk through experiences that may at times be painful they have the confidence that beside them are loving adults to walk with and teach them in the midst of the journey.
I see our daughter, and I think to myself. This is hard, not just for me, this is hard on all of us. But I cling desperately to find hope when I see my boys extend extra grace to her or give above and beyond what I initially expected from them. I smile when I see our boys look at pictures on the walls and talk about those children who have left. I hear them speak about children from hard places with an understanding that surpasses what others would expect from children from our middle class, sheltered, quiet neighborhood. My boys know that not all children go to bed with a full belly at night, their sisters have told them first-hand. My sons see public tantrums and don't see spoiled, but see unmet needs because they have lived this. My children have seen that families look different and we don’t have to question or judge, because we don’t know their story, and they don’t know ours.
For today, that is enough for me to keep walking forward. We have had three girls in our home over the past year spanning from middle school to infancy. Each foster case has brought unique challenges into our home in various capacities. But each child represents opportunities to teach my sons compassion and mold their character into men who will stand up for the vulnerable. To show the power of prayer, the strength of standing up after a painful loss, and the courage in overcoming obstacles. In moments of loss and heartache while I parent our daughter I look to my sons and remind myself, they are watching me and my responses to her. At young ages, my little men are starting to understand what compassion, empathy, patience and grace can look like. That is in the moments we get it right.