The day is here! After waiting for nine months (give or take) you finally get to hold your sweet little one in your arms. The pain and effort, worth it. The months of discomfort, worth it. The HOURS spent trying to assemble that monstrosity of a crib that seemed so beautiful in the store, worth it. You now have a precious child. They are yours, forever and always. It is a feeling of fulfillment, of peace, and that all is right with the world. You will now be able to watch that little one that you’ve already become so close to as they grow. You’ll watch their personality develop and teach them so many things. Thoughts flood your mind. The old way of doing things is forever changed.
That’s how I’ve heard it is, anyway. Those first moments of parenting in a bio parent’s journey are emotional to be sure. They are full of excitement.
Our first moments have been full of emotion and excitement also. I still remember the first placement we had so vividly. After long months of going through the training, home study, and background checks, we had finally been approved and were ready and waiting. We didn’t hear anything for quite some time, but one day the call came.
It was a unique placement, from the perspective that the child was being voluntarily placed into foster care. However, the thoughts and feelings we experienced that time are the same ones we experienced so many other times since then.
To compare accurately though, let me just write about the moments immediately following the child’s arrival.
A foster family’s first moments with a child are often awkward. As a foster mom, it’s my job to keep it from being awkward for the child as much as possible. After all, they are in a whole new environment, with all new expectations, and totally new people. The only person that they may already be familiar with is their caseworker who brought them to this strange new place.
In our home, there has always been excitement when we receive a new child. Whether a temporary placement, a respite for a weekend, or a long-term placement, we are excited to welcome another child to our home. We are excited because we will get to teach them new things. We are excited because we get to show them Christ’s love. We are excited for the potential that each of these precious gifts from God has.
However, although a new bio parent gets to show and share his excitement with everyone around, we foster parents can’t share or show too much. After all, to the child entering our home, there is nothing at all exciting about being there. Normally they are more focused on the reason they aren’t at their old home, and rarely is that a good reason. If we as foster parents are over-excited, it can cause the child to feel more awkward. Instead, we try to welcome them into our life and home by teaching them our expectations and going on as though life is normal, and has always been that way. . . even though we all know it hasn’t. Establishing routine is so crucial, so that’s where we start. We have a family meeting, go over rules and responsibilities, and start our new life together.
I am thankful for the friends and family that I can call or message to share my excitement. There are some of them that are so excited for us, and it encourages me so much. Some are full of questions, some of which I can answer and some I can’t. The ones I like to share with the most are the ones that just share our joy over welcoming our newest addition. Bio parents receive gifts and visits in the hospital and share pictures of their new sweetie-pie with the world. Foster parents buy gifts of clothing, toiletries, and other necessities for every new placement, have visits from caseworkers, casa workers, therapists and counselors, and can’t share pictures in any public way.
The first moments are emotional. Emotional for the child, emotional for the foster parents, and maybe even emotional for the case worker. I already addressed the emotion of excitement, but there are so many other emotions I feel when we welcome a new kiddo into our lives. I feel compassion. Most of these kiddos have very little control in their lives. They are tossing about like a cork on stormy ocean waves, just trying to survive. As I learn their stories and hear their pain, my heart reaches out to them. I feel hope. Now there will be a chance for these little ones to know Jesus. Now they will be safe. Now they will learn what it is like to live in a loving, nurturing environment. I feel insufficient. Will I be able to reach them? Will I be able to teach them the lessons they need to learn? Am I capable of making decisions in their best interest even when my heart tells me otherwise? I feel uncertainty. How long will this placement last? What issues will we face with this child? Will they be a picky eater? How soon can we get them in school?
For bio-parents, the first moments may be peaceful and relaxing as they take it easy for a few days or weeks and ease into life with a new addition to their family. The first moments for a foster parent are not moments of peace and calm by any means. There’s the busy-ness of getting the child enrolled in school, getting physicals and dental check-ups, getting medications regulated and/or prescribed, unpacking, doing a clothing inventory and shopping for necessities that are sadly lacking, getting therapy and other supports in place, and getting used to the new normal. All of that is in addition to dealing with a hurting child who likely is acting out, bedwetting, or having sleepless nights because they are reeling emotionally as well. As a foster parent, I generally have nights with very little sleep for the first few weeks after a new placement. I’m listening for tears or wandering in the night, because to many foster children, the night is a scary time when bad things happen.
Bio-parents get to see most moments of their kiddos life. Not so with foster parents. When we receive our new little bundle of . . . pain, they have already often lived through more in their short lives than many adults we know. We don’t get to see their firsts. We don’t get to know their stories and experiences. We only pick up bits and pieces of their life stories as they gradually begin to trust and accept us. There may be entire chunks of their life that we never know about. We struggle with filling out paperwork at dentists, doctors, and schools because we don’t have a family health history, school records, or vaccination reports. We don’t know about their traditions and customs. We sometimes don’t even know their full legal name. (I’m thinking of one placement we had that had 3 different last names on different legal paperwork.) Favorite foods are a mystery, and we have no idea what foods are intolerable to the kids either.
Bio-parents start their parenting journey at the beginning and grow their parenting skills as their children grow. Not us. We have to be a strong, unified team of parents, problem solving, counseling, guiding, and encouraging. We do learn as we go, no question there, but we don’t go from baby screaming to toddler tantrums to preteen puberty to teenage independence. We can receive any one of those stages at any time, and we have to learn to deal with them as they come. Fostering is not for the faint of heart, to be sure.
But some things are the same regardless of whether you are a bio-parent or foster parent. Every parent has those first moments. Every parent remembers them. Every parent learns from them. Every parent has a story. What about you? What were your first moments like? I’d love to hear from you!