Sometimes a foster child walks through the door (or is carried in, if they are too young to walk!), and a sense of familiarity immediately kicks in. There seems to be a connection that makes both the foster child and the foster family feel as if they have known each other forever. The initial transition goes smoothly, and although there are hiccups and hurdles while getting to know one another, there is an unexplained kinship that overcomes all.
Other times, things could simply get off on the wrong foot. The child has undiscovered problems that manifest while in our care, they do not feel ‘at home’, no matter what we do to show them hospitality, or they miss their original family so desperately, that they feel as if they have nothing to give this ‘new family’. No one is at fault really, it is just the nature of the foster care system and getting ourselves introduced to each other with all of our quirks and idiosyncrasies.
With Coconut, our youngest, yet first foster son, it was Mother-Lioness-and-Her-Cub-kinda-love at first sight for me, and my husband and teens were not far behind. Even though he was only 2 at the time, he was so severely damaged by abuse and neglect, that it would be hard to imagine a foster parent on this planet who would not instantly feel a til-the-death protectiveness of this little guy. Yet, it wasn’t until after all of the outward wounds had healed, the sleepless nights and traumatic days were becoming fewer and farther between, that we knew that there was nothing on this earth that could squelch our love and devotion for him…….even if he goes home or to a relative. Caring for him in his darkest hour, knit our hearts together in a way like nothing else on earth.
Any type of abuse, whether it be physical, sexual, or emotional, tends to make most foster parents overlook behaviors that would otherwise need correcting (at first…….because after an abused child has been in your home for many months, and the initial trauma is over, behavior correction is just as necessary as with a non-abused child). On the flip side, sometimes normal habits and unsavory behavioral tendencies will not show up in these kids until they know for certain they will not be ‘harmed’ by the new family. We have heard many foster families refer to the initial days and months of getting familiar with each other as, ‘The Honeymoon Period’.
This period is just like the newly married couple that it describes. Everyone, most foster parents included, is on their best behavior. The child wants to be liked and accepted, if they are old enough to understand that, and even children as little as 1, will hold back normal exploration and tantrums, unsure of what the consequences will be (as they are sadly unaware that correction should not be doled out in beatings, or worse). The foster parents and siblings might hold off on showing their less-than-perfect sides as well, wanting the new youngster to feel comfortable and secure……..but, also because they want to be liked and accepted too! Who doesn’t? However, after a time, the honeymoon is over, and real things must be addressed, accepted or corrected, for all parties involved.
Goldilocks was not abused. In fact, she was quite adored by her biological parents…….just not enough to keep the almost two-year-old from going into the foster care system. Yet, she came with a whole host of problems, none of which were attributed to her home-life, but simply due to being removed from her family. This is quite common for all ages………they want to be home, they don’t care if someone as great as Mary Poppins was taking care of them, they just want their parents (or other family member) and NOT YOU. As hard as it is, foster parents cannot take it personally, nor should they allow the child’s behavior to affect their decision to keep fostering them……..like we did.
We knew that it wasn’t us, per se, but her behaviors seemed too much for my family to handle, especially so soon after getting Coconut settled down. She was a biter, and Coconut’s bite mark wounds (and I mean physical bite mark puncture wounds here people………many of them) weren’t even completely healed yet. If Coconut was playing with something and didn’t want to give it up to her, she would kick, hit or scratch him, making it impossible to allow them to play together unless closely supervised. She laughed or smirked in a very knowing way whenever we asked, and then ultimately insisted, that she do something. Screaming at the top of her lungs or flinging herself around the room, sometimes physically hurting herself in the process, was her reactions to not getting her way. Finally, she would not stay put in her bed at night or during naps, no matter the baby-proofing mechanisms that were put into place……..overall, making this little girl a full-time job! So, after a week, we decided that she had to go. We weren’t mean about it, and we felt as if we weren’t making the decision lightly, but she just didn’t seem like a good fit. The Agency asked us to please keep her until they could find a therapeutic home for her, and we agreed. It was during that week, the second week that she was with us, that the bond formed and I was back on the phone with her social worker, but this time making a desperate plea to keep her.
Had we more experience with foster children, we would have known that this is a common occurrence, and one that social workers are used to dealing with. Goldilock’s social worker was awesome, she didn’t hold it against us that we flaked out for a little bit, and informed us that it’s not always love at first sight. Unless the foster family or the foster child is in imminent danger, the Agency tries to soothe the new foster family and impress upon them the importance of giving adequate time before displacing a child. I am so glad that we didn’t give up, as we would have missed out on knowing and caring for an amazing little girl. With God’s Grace, a lot of patience, and a devotion to the ministry of foster care, we were able to take Goldilocks from being a tiny tyrant, to a loving and obedient sweetheart. She just needed to know that she was loved, and that she was safe. In these cases, forget Honeymoon……..this adjustment is called the “I-Want-To-Go-Home-and-If-I’m-Bad-Enough-Maybe-You-Will-Let-Me” period. Doesn’t quite roll off the tongue as nicely, but there it is.
Besides the two babies that we have had in our home, and who both were only with us less than a month, Coconut and Goldilocks have been our only source of foster child experience. So, when we got a call about a possible adoption, we thought, “Well, here’s another new experience!”. This little guy is a sweetheart who wants a forever family so terribly bad. He is very aware of his situation, and he just really wants things to be finished………..desperately needing a family that will be ‘The One’. He ran right to his new bed, plopped his stuff down, gave me a hug and a kiss, and said, “So, you are going to adopt me, right?”. Unfortunately, I cannot give him that guarantee, as parental issues are still in play, but if he becomes 100% adoptable, then he’s ours! It’s so sad that he doesn’t even know if he really likes us yet, but he his already professing his undying love. Time will tell how he works all of this transition and change out in his head, and how we as a family will deal with it. He starts Kindergarten next week, and he is already shedding tears because he doesn’t want to go………homeschooling everyone else probably doesn’t help matters. However, his social worker assures me that the initial reaction for these kids (who are so close to adoption) is to have a strong desire to be with their adoptive family non-stop for the first few weeks, a reassurance measure if you will. We just keep huggin’ him and lovin’ him, and pray that a decision will be made quickly.
The best medicine for all of these types of kids is patience, love and a flexible mind. We believe that foster care is a wonderful ministry for families to display and practice God’s beautiful love. Here are some verses from God’s Holy Word that give me peace and inspiration when we are faced with this sweet babies and their many needs: