Do you know what it’s like to live with real fear? I’m not talking about typical anxieties that we all face… like fear of failure or fear of not being “enough.” I’m not talking about life struggles. The real fear to which I’m referring shapes who you grow to be. It shapes your personality. Have you ever gone to sleep at night with a fear of waking up and losing everything you’ve accepted as your normal? Have you ever lived with the fear that a stranger might bust through the doors of your house and drag you away from your mommy and daddy? Have you ever lived with the fear that you could be taken from another home, another family you love, and the only safe home you have ever known? Have you ever lived in fear that the only people who really know your heart and your struggles (your siblings) could be ripped away from you? The answer for you is likely, “no,” and I’m grateful for that. Unfortunately, this fear is a real one for foster children across the country, and this fear is real for the three little humans I love the most. This is a story about fear and anger.
When my husband and I chose to enter our adoption journey through the avenue of foster care, I was prepared for struggle. I was prepared to receive countless evening phone calls from social service workers stating, “I know your home is already full, but we just need somewhere for this child to stay for one night,” when there was no realistic plan for said child on night two. I was prepared to meet children with major developmental and intellectual delay requiring special services and attention to succeed academically and socially. I was prepared to meet children whose trauma resulted in odd and disturbing behaviors, such as hoarding food under mattresses or urinating in the corners of bedrooms. I was prepared for tough struggles as I entered a relationship as a foster-to-adopt mother to three children under eight years old.
I was beyond ready to face parenting nightmares constructed by behaviors of children, but the nightmares never came for me. My three daughters are the result of my first and only call for a placement by a social service worker (unless you count the other call on the same day before the girls had officially been placed in our care). My three daughters are all above average intellectually and easily achieve academically. My three daughters have never exhibited odd and disturbing behaviors. Instead they build relationships and friendships with ease, sleep well, and eat well. The expected nightmares never came but loving these children who live with intense fear of instability has grown into a nightmare of its own for our whole household. I was not ready to face parenting nightmares constructed by incompetent adults.
The exact date my girls were taken into state custody is a little blurry. The paperwork is full of discrepancies, and major legal documents are missing, but we know it occurred over five years ago. There’s a shortage in safe, licensed foster homes (I can only speak to the condition of the foster system in my home state as it is the one with which I have both professional and personal experiences). As a result, a kinship placement (living with a relative who has been quickly licensed as a foster home for an individual case) is the preferred placement for children who are removed from the care of biological parents due to neglect and/or abuse. My children spent years in an unsafe, overlooked kinship placement that resulted in continued neglect and/or abuse. They finally met their parents (my youngest describes my husband and I as her “real parents”) at seven, five, and two years old. That was nearly two and a half years ago.
The past two and a half years have overflowed with love and good memories. We have taught our daughters practical life skills, such as proper hygiene, tying shoes, tidying up, and how to ride a bike. We have taught our daughters our values, such as prayer, work ethic, spending time outside, and placing importance on relationships over possessions. We have consistently provided hugs and kisses, balanced meals, family fun, and appropriate structure and discipline for our girls. We have had countless kitchen dance parties, built the best blanket forts, thrown the most ridiculously over-the-top birthday bashes, and regularly hosted “framily” cookouts. Even with all these good, “normal,” and balanced family blessings, the nightmare continues.
Every time one of my children has a panic attack, flashback, or anger outburst due to intense fear of losing her “normal,” I face this fallacy: “I am not enough. I have no control. I am less than mediocre.” I mask this feeling of inadequacy with anger over the social injustice children face at the hands of incompetent adults. I cannot look my children in their eyes and promise stability. This makes me unbearably angry. This floods my soul with self-doubt. It feels excruciatingly unfair that my babies still go to sleep at night in fear when all my husband and I want is to put an end to the instability that being a “foster kid” brings. Friends, the reality is I am enough, and I am creating change. I am doing all I can do to help my three favorite people beat the odds and live their best lives in spite of a broken system far larger than us. Today I encourage you to invest in the lives of the people closest to you. Even if you feel powerless and mediocre, your love and faithfulness in another human being’s life is important. Create change even when you feel like you can’t. Just paint the room black. There’s a loud beauty within the mediocrity. Find it. Bust the speakers. Never turn it off.