(Our foster son isn't pictured because his picture isn't allowed to be shared on social media... rightfully so)
On August 26th, 2019, my partner and I received our first foster care placement. A quiet and nervous 12 year old boy walked into our home with about four packed bags. I haven't shared anything about our journey so far with the Live Light following because until very recently, the experiences seemed pretty unrelated.
I didn't give birth. I didn't have a baby. I wasn't breastfeeding.
And while I don't want to minimize the unique struggles parents go through during pregnancy, birth, and the fourth trimester, I realize that my experience has taught me some universal parenting truths.
1. There Isn't Enough Support for Parents
I know parents with biological children could talk a lot about how the "let me know if I can help in any way!" never, ever becomes actual tangible help when you really need it. But I think this is slightly exaggerated as a foster parent. As foster parents, people are constantly telling us how amazing we are and how saintly our decision is. And like.... yeah, it's hard and I'll take the props, but when we actually need some help we, for the most part, hear crickets. I'll forever be grateful for the people that have followed through on their offer to help, but this extends beyond our direct support system.
School is impossible. Our kiddo is struggling in school because.... foster care, but keeping track of 6 different classes and keeping up on 1-2 hours of homework per night is a full-time job in itself. Add on football, emotional meltdowns, and quality time, and it's a miracle that there's any me left at the end of the day.
Parents need more. Parents need programs. Parents need spaces. Parents need opportunities to dig through the emotional parts of parenthood. Parents need date nights. Parents need flexible jobs. Parents need time for self-care. Parents need people who they can rely on. Parents need someone asking: how are you doing?
2. Bonding Doesn't Happen Over Night
This one has hit me the hardest, and it's humbled me the most. After all the times that I've looked new parents in the eyes and compassionately told them that it's okay and normal that they don't feel instant love for their baby, you'd think that I would have been more prepared for the reality of bonding in my own life. For the last two months, I've been coping primarily with the idea that this kid is pretty much responsible for everything I'm not doing but wish I was.
That's hard to write. But it's true.
But of course, I'm reminded that love is a verb. Love is built. Love is a process. Love is an investment. I am optimistic that time will lead to love. And it seems that as soon as I'm completely doubting my ability to be a loving parent, the universe has a way of showing me that I'm feeling much more than I realize. I remember how I almost cried when he made his first touchdown because I was so excited about how happy and proud he would be.
The fact is, because parenting is so tough and there isn't enough support, it's really easy to resent it. It's a constant effort to see the good you're doing for your child. It's a constant effort to stay connected to yourself. It's a constant effort to remember all of the positive things your child brings to your life.
3. Never Ever, Ever Judge Parents
If a kid is on a tablet. If the kid is eating from a bag of sugar. If the kid is running around like a lunatic in the grocery store. If the parent is yelling. If the parent is using formula. If the parent skips an event. And so on.
I don't care what you see a parent or child doing, keep your judgements to yourself. Parents carry enough guilt and self-judgement without your shitty comments or glares. Every single parent is doing their best. Every single parent would do the "better thing" if they had it in them.
* I need to shout out my amazing partner (in the picture), Steven, who steps up when I am depleted and assures me always that I'm not alone. I also need to shout out my parents and the Live Light collective as a whole who all have, in different ways, supported us throughout this journey so far.