by Jill Rippy
06 Mar 2015
Many years ago I sat on the deck of a beach house with my step-brother. We were enjoying an adult beverage, watching the sunset and catching up. This brother is the quiet one, so having a deep conversation was never really our norm. This night was different. On this night he began opening up just a bit about his volunteer firefighter position. Though he opened up for only a bit, he shared some graphic scenes that he witnessed firsthand…images he can never un-see. The stories were horrendous. These tragic scenes changed him. Without a doubt they hardened him, kept him up at night and haunted his sleep.
I began to view my brother and firefighters differently that day. I realized how much firefighters protect us. Yes, they put out fires, but that is just scratching the surface. They protect us from so much more. They arrive on the scene of horrific tragedies, take that scene in and it sears into their soul. They shield the general public from this pain. They bear the weight of witnessing and handling this thing that 99.9% of the rest of us could never do. They are scarred protecting us from these images. Then they do it all over again and again and again while trying to maintain their own sanity. They are the very essence of heroes. They’re not just rescuing victims and extinguishing fires, but they are heroes to society whom they shield from the pain of this reality.
There is a darkness with foster parenting that foster parents rarely verbalize. I imagine it’s the same reason firefighters rarely share their darkness. The reason we don’t talk about it is because to verbalize it means to hear from others, “Well, you should just stop fostering,” or “You are too stressed out. You need to focus on yourself and your own kids.” To verbalize the darkness is to invite people to discourage you from doing this thing that you know you are meant to do even though it’s hard.
If you don’t foster, then you just don’t get it. Sorry. Truth.
To be a foster parent means to take the brunt of many burdens that others can’t handle. Just the mention of “a little girl with rape wounds,” “a baby with throat injuries due to sexual abuse,” or “a little boy who was stabbed with hot needles” and society cringes and says, “That’s horrible. Someone should do something to help those kids. But I couldn’t be a foster parent.” That’s three out of dozens of equally horrifying stories I could tell you. Foster parents shield society from this reality.
The darkness that sets in for a foster parent feels much like that look I saw in my brother’s eyes that evening staring out at that ocean. We are handed these fragile little souls with physical, emotional and psychological wounds and we are asked to love and care for them while their situation is being “fixed.”
Their initial story is terrible enough. When they begin to trust me and more of their story begins to surface, sometimes all I can do is hold on by a thread. When I tell you that I have lost faith in humanity many times over, that is no exaggeration.
Their story emerges and when the depth of the damage they have endured becomes apparent, I often sink into a sadness that overtakes me.
When the rest of the world hears a tragic story on the news, their hearts ache for a few minutes. Maybe they lay in bed and think about it for a night or look at their child and are reminded of this sad story, but to hear from the mouth of a tangible, in the flesh child that you are beginning to love…the darkness hits hard and runs deep.
To know this child is to love her. She is silly, funny, loving, quirky and full of life. How in the world could someone who is supposed to love her, hurt her so deeply? To imagine my foster children enduring the pain that was inflicted on them is something I struggle with. I can’t always allow my mind to go there. It would drive me over the edge and I fear I would go all Dexter on someone. You see, I love them. They aren’t “that foster kid” or a number. They are mine. They are this gift that has been given to me even if for a short moment in time.
So here it is.
Don’t tell us to quit. Don’t tell us that we are in over our heads. Don’t tell us that you would “send that kid packing.” Don’t ever try to discourage us. We get down. We get angry. We may need to vent. We may slip into a dark place for a few days and we may even appear fragile during that time.
But don’t be fooled.
We can bear this load.
We are strong.
We help change lives.
This is our calling and quitting isn’t an option.
Yes, there is a time and season for everything. I won’t be a foster parent for the rest of my life, but for now, this is exactly where I am supposed to be and exactly what I’m supposed to be doing. Please encourage me rather than tell me to quit. It’s okay that you don’t understand it. And I know that it brings you pain to see me go through the darkness, but this is my choice. I own it.
All the sadness, muck and darkness is temporary. In the end, I help change lives and every ounce of garbage I may face while working to inspire change is worth it if I impact my kids for the good. And the truth is, I am better for having known each of them.
Don’t get me wrong. Fostering isn’t all dark and depressing. That’s maybe 3% of it. The rest is awesome! I have wonderful memories that I will never un-see that make it all worth it.
-Seeing her walk across the stage in her cap and gown. Her falling into my arms after the ceremony, weeping with pride in herself that she did it! She was told it was near impossible, but she did it! AND she’s going to college.
-Receiving an email from a teacher stating that they have never seen this child so happy. She is participating in class discussions, her confidence is boosted and she looks so healthy.
-The A on the Spelling Test…for the first time in her life
-Staying on “green” ALL WEEK at school
-The late night chats
-The quiet 10:30 giggles that come from their room when they should have been asleep thirty minutes ago
-The kitchen full of laughter
-The Perfect Attendance Award for this semester…for the first time ever
-Tears and deep conversation after watching the heartfelt movie
-The random email thanking me for loving her even though she doesn’t think she deserves it
-Five kids and a Mom jamming out in the minivan to Aerosmith’s Dream On
-The first Honor Roll
-The first time she tells me she loves me
-Trusting me enough to tell me that her friend is cutting and needs help
-The first A on her report card
-Receiving a donut from her because she wanted to thank me for helping her learn math and she just passed her first math course ever
-When our eyes met with tears and I realized how much I loved her when she opened her “Home” ornament on Christmas
-The first time she referred to me as her mom
-When she admitted to me that she messed up, and she needs me
-The tears that well up in my husband’s eyes because he is so proud of her
-Hearing how much fun she had at camp along with a tearful smile sharing how much she missed me
These moments will be forever etched into my soul. These are the moments that refuel me and keep me going strong.
It’s hard and sometimes the journey is fierce. But it’s worth it. And when you send her off to college or send her back to her family equipped not only to survive, but thrive, you feel the most immense pride in this thing that you’ve accomplished.
For the foster parent who is reading this…good job. Keep fighting hard, loving harder and don’t allow yourself to become discouraged. The darkness won’t last long. You know this.
Remember…the end result is worth the long journey.
Thank a Foster Parent HERE
Thank a DCS Professional HERE
Being a foster mom is one of the biggest blessings of my life. Bio mom of two and foster mom to many, I count myself lucky to be on this foster journey. My mission is to change the lives of children who enter the foster care system and to recruit quality foster parents to join in this life changing work. I consider it a blessing to be a mother, foster mother, teacher, author and inspirer.