Let’s Lift Each Other Up: A Special Shout-Out to the Foster Moms
Foster care changed my life forever. I’m not a foster mom or a former foster youth, but the concept and practice of foster care has shaped my life as a parent.
Because my younger son was in a foster home for four years before we got to him. That’s a rare blessing in China, where most orphans grow up in state-run orphanages. That family’s love, time, and attention saved him from more trauma and suffering than we will probably ever know.
May is Foster Care Awareness Month
Most moms get a little extra love in May (well-deserved), but May is also National Foster Care Month—so we wanted to give a little extra shout out to a group of mamas doing some insanely difficult and awesome momming.
Because foster moms don’t always get the same recognition and appreciation.
Even in the midst of a whole month set aside for foster care awareness, the foster moms are the ones (alongside the agencies and the non-profits) driving the awareness. They’re the ones writing and posting and talking about the need. They promote the non-profits, lead the fundraisers, and pour their hearts out about the kids—without ever shining the spotlight on themselves.
And they never will.
They’ll tell you that the kids and the caseworkers are the heros, not them. They’ll tell you about their mistakes and their fears, before they’ll brag on their positive influence. They’ll tell you about their kids’ wins and breakthroughs without ever mentioning their own.
So someone needs to sing their praises.
Proof of Awesomeness
In case there is any doubt how amazing these mamas are (although I don’t suspect there is), we got in touch with a few former foster youth to ask about women who helped them.
My last foster mom never seemed concerned about making a profit off of me. She made sure I had what I needed to succeed. She just sacrificed so much for me and was an amazing example of God's love. - Tori Peterson, @torihopepetersen
While living in this particular foster home there were so many voices that it was easy to tune out my voice and only listen to the social workers, and case managers, and therapists, and everyone else who had second-hand information. This foster mom was different though, she listened to me and gave my voice some power. ... she truly took the time to see me and listen and advocate for me in a way that no one else was doing, and for that I'm incredibly thankful. - Christie Savino
“Why did you decide to get involved?”
Sometimes the best way to let someone know you value and appreciate them is just to listen. (And as moms, we often do a lot of talking without anyone really listening.) We chatted with a few foster moms so that you could hear from them as well.
The first question we asked all of them was, “Why?”
Foster care is not an easy decision, so what made these ladies (and their husbands) decide to do this? Their answers are humbling:
I grew up in an alcoholic home where neglect happened at different stages of my life. I got to stay with my family, but the realization that many don’t was, and is still, really hard for me to accept. Our hearts shifted around adoption. Our goal is to help preserve families first and be a blessed backup plan if preserving can’t happen. - Jade Nicole, @jadeeenicole
About 12 years ago we heard about the need for foster parents one Sunday at church. We decided to go to an informational meeting just to check it out. Our minds were literally blown. The numbers, the statistics, the need, it was overwhelming. We decided to foster “just for a bit” ... We went on to foster for the next 9 years. - Shannon Henson, @hensontribe
My husband and I have always been involved with serving in some capacity, but it was always separate of each other. We really felt the call to serve together as a family, and volunteering as a host family for Safe Families allowed us to do that. - JeanaLe Marshal, @jeanale
In high school I learned about the neurological impact of neglect from a child development course. Then I read “A Child Called It.” It broke my heart to know what some children endure. I decided then that I would try and be a positive influence in the life of foster children. - Liz Richardson, @lizinthemotherhood
We decided to financially narrow down our options to domestic adoption, but it felt weird to be one of dozens of families waiting to be picked when there were hundreds of waiting kids in the foster care system. When we signed up to foster, our licensing agent said, “Foster care is families for children, not children for families.” It took several months of training for me to come to terms with the decision God led us to: We may never adopt from the foster care system, but the call to care for vulnerable children was still the same. - Emily Lawson, @lawsonannemily
The foster mom hustle
Being a mama is hard. Period. But in addition to diaper blowouts and irrational toddlers and common core math homework, foster moms have even more to deal with.
Not being in control (is the hardest part). Not having much say or control about what will happen to the little ones in your care is so hard! Everything in you wants to hold them close, to protect them. - Shannon
Most parents feel the sting of circumstances and situations beyond our control, but when a mama doesn’t have legal custody or authority over the small person she loves, that sting is so much sharper.
The hardest part is realizing how trauma can reach into every aspect of a child’s life. What a child goes through can cause ripples of pain that touch not just them, but everyone that loves them. - Liz
We’ve been thrown into an ugly court battle for the child we were told we could adopt—not with the biological parents, but with a former foster parent. … Being pitted against another foster family because of legalities has been really hard and heartbreaking for us. - Emily
Foster moms are a picture of sacrificial love. Any mama would give everything up for her littles, but these ladies are opening that piece of their hearts for kids who may never be “theirs.”
And yet, for all the difficulties and heartache, foster moms are so quick to add, “But it’s worth it.”
Stepping outside of our comfort zone turned out to be the best thing we could ever do. We have experienced more joy and more fulfillment even throughout the hardest times, and we know it is because we were right where God wanted us to be. - Shannon
One of the best parts has been watching our (biological) kids interact and form relationships with the children who've stayed in our home. Our kids are learning first-hand what it means to serve and love sacrificially. - JeanaLe
As you build trust and overcome obstacles—get over the honeymoon period, and the rough period following (where they test you to see if you are who you said you were, and if they’re really safe). After all that, you get to see your children come alive, and it’s such a miracle to be a part of. - Liz
Saints, people. These women are saints.
To all the foster moms: We see you, and you’re amazing
To the foster moms: This is all of us raising our glasses (and coffee mugs) to you. You are doing an amazing work, and we see you.
From moms to moms, we see you saying, “Yes” over and over (and over) again to children who need you, even though they don’t know they do—even though they sometimes don’t want anything to do with you. Even though saying, “Yes” adds instability, stress, and strain.
We see you choosing to love where love has been denied, to give to those who have nothing, and to hope for those that others have given up on—children as well as biological parents.
We see you living in the tension of supporting reunification but also falling in love with the kids in your care, of simultaneously hoping for two things that can’t possibly coexist. We see you trying to be a mama bear but with an open hand, and hiding tears of sorrow and frustration even as you put on a brave face and tell everyone around you it was best for the child.
We see you fighting and advocating for people that most of the world doesn’t see, and doing your best to work within a system that is flawed but full of people trying to do their best as well.
And while no one sees all the little things that you do in every quiet (or noisy), normal, messy, simple, day-to-day moments … we know that you’re there. We know you feel invisible most of the time, but we see you.
How to help the foster moms
The last question to our new foster mom friends was about how normal people—friends and neighbors—can help. I expected a long list of ideas and tips, but most of them actually said the same few things:
If you cook, it’s easy to make extra once in a while. Freezer meals are handy. There are also online services that let you set up a shared schedule, and even have ready-made meals delivered.
Dinners happened a lot with a newborn, but when he was about six months old and (we were) in the thick of two to three visits a week, an hour away, we could’ve really used the help! - Jade
It’s important to view foster placements similarly to families having newborns, in the sense of bringing them meals and checking in to see how you can help. Most people have nine months to prepare for children coming into their home; foster families sometimes have two hours or less. - Emily
2. Gift cards
Some people are uncomfortable giving gift cards, because it feels impersonal, but let this serve as official permission from foster moms.
Gift cards to places like Amazon and Target. Kids show up with nothing a lot of the time, and buying everything at once can be overwhelming. - Jade
3. Simple chores
If money and grocery budgets are tight, there are other ways to help. Sometimes it’s as simple as showing up with an extra set of hands.
The most helpful person in my life ... hops in to help with whatever she can. Sometimes it’s loading my dishwasher, other times it’s taking my kids for a walk so I can have a few moments of quiet to get my thoughts together. - Shannon
4. Encouragement and support
For some people, encouragement is felt in a helping hand, and for others it’s felt in a kind word. Taking a minute to send a text or a card can really help some mamas get through the hard days. If you know there’s a court date or a visit coming up, make a note and remember to reach out to that foster mom on those extra challenging days.
Those tangible needs are so helpful, but so are affirming words. Some days you just need encouragement and the reminder that you're obeying a good call from a good God. - JeanaLe
Stand with us through the wins you can see and the losses that we can’t fully explain because of confidentialities. - Liz
5. Respite care
Kids in foster care cannot legally be under the care of just any babysitter. Foster parents can’t call their favorite local teenager, like so many of us, when we need a date night. Only people who are licensed respite care givers can babysit for a foster family.
Although we have a great community of help and support from friends, neighbors, our church, etc., if a few families in our network were licensed for respite care it would help immensely when we need a quick weekend away for a family emergency. If you feel the pull to care for vulnerable children on a greater level, but aren’t sure you’re ready for foster care, become a respite family! - Emily
Some tips on honoring foster moms
One more really interesting insight that came from talking to these moms was their passion for helping people understand foster families. When we asked about practical ways people can help, so many offered insights on how to talk to and treat foster moms.
Lastly and most importantly in my opinion: Don’t ask about drug exposure. Don’t ask about birth parent stories, or if we are going to keep him/her. Don’t ask why they are in care. Just listen, and if you are so lucky to be one of the very select safe people to be on the other end of the experience at that level, try your very best not to be judgmental. It hurts me the worst to see my guy’s birth parents being criticized for their mistakes. - Jade
See us as “real moms.” I can’t tell you how many times someone compared being a foster mother to being a babysitter or a nanny. Celebrate our children and include them, but don’t judge them or expect them to look and sound and act like kids that had healthy homes to grow up in. Lastly, give us grace. Loving children from hard places is really tough. It can be incredibly challenging to maintain relationships the way you once did. - Liz
Moms supporting moms
Foster moms: You’re amazing.
Thank you for being a part of the healing and not the hurting. Just do the next thing in love. - Tori Peterson
I know most days you question whether or not you're doing enough, or doing a good job, but to that I would say you have no idea how much of an impact the seeds you are planting in this child's life will have. You are preparing them to grow! It's hard being the one to plant the seeds and to water them and pick out the weeds and do the hard work, but by doing that you are preparing us for a future that we never could have dreamed of from the situations and statistics we came from. So to that I say Thank You! - Christie Savino
If you’re not a foster mom, and you want to help, they’re easy to find. You can call a local foster care agency, Safe Families office, or non-profit foster care support organization. Many local churches often know a foster family, or can get you in touch with someone who does. And National Foster Care Month is a great time to establish that relationship and get started.
Let’s lift each other up.