Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Fostering: Finding Joy in the Little Moments

I’ve been a foster parent for a little over two years now.  I’ve experienced many joys and many struggles.  I’ve learned to open my heart and love 100% despite the fact that I may not get to love my little ones for long.  I think most people are afraid to become foster parents because of the loss.  I won’t lie.  That is one of the hardest parts.  But today, I don’t want to write about the loss. Being a foster mom, being a mom period is hard. Because it would be easy to let the weight and pains of life erase the memories of the good times, I want to share some of the joys that I have experienced along the way, the memories to which I cling when the tantrums seem too much, and the knowledge that we are making progress even though the behavior is regressing.  We must cling to the joy, if nothing else but to keep us sane.  

When my first set of girls came to me, I gave the oldest the option to call me Miss Sheryl or Mom.  She chose to call me Miss Sheryl.  Actually, the first week I believe she called me "Hey you".  LOL In that first month with me though, she went from calling me "Hey you" to "Miss Sheryl" to "Mom" all on her own.  I remember the week she slowly started calling me "Mom".  It melted my heart.  I told her that I loved hearing her call me that.  It was a sign that she was slowly beginning to trust me.

The youngest called me "Mom" from the first night.  She was so little and mom was the easiest thing to say.  As time went on, she would look at me, put her hand on my face and say "my mommy".  Tears came to my eyes the first time she said those words.  After that, it kind of became a game.  She would say "my mommy," and I would say "my Z".  I treasured those moments.  Every morning she would greet me with a huge grin and a hug.  I must say, since I had to wake up early, that was the best way to make the morning better.  Every evening, when I picked her up from daycare, she would race to the doorway and leap into my arms.

They had a special way of slowly opening up to me and wiggling into my heart.  It was the little things like when they would want to snuggle next to me while watching a movie or want me to put my arm around them during story time that showed me they were allowing themselves to receive my love.

When the oldest would get grumpy, I would ask her if her Love Bucket was almost empty.  I would scoop her up and give her a big hug and lots of kisses. Her Love Bucket emptied quickly so it took a lot of quality time and hugs to fill it back up. But it was very much worth it.  The first time she told me she loved me, I cried.  I knew it was genuine.  It came without prompting and totally of her own free will.

I remember the very first night that my second set of girls came to me.  The baby woke up and looked at me with huge eyes.  I could tell she was confused and scared.  She didn't know who I was or why she was there.  It wasn’t long before she started calling me "mommy" and running to greet me every day.  She would tell me that she loved me.  Those once scared eyes became filled with love and joy.  She had my heart.

When I had my second set of girls for 6 months, I began to evaluate how far we had come. I'm pretty sure I didn't sleep for the first eight weeks that they were with me.  I literally was either sitting on the floor next to the bed of one child or rocking back to sleep the other child almost all night.  I was averaging four hours of sleep each night, and they weren't consecutive either.  After a few months, they began to sleep in separate rooms; and if they did wake up, it was once and back to sleep in a reasonable amount of time.  I called that progress! :)

These little girls had blossomed so much!  I loved watching their personalities unfold.  They loved music and dancing.  It would crack me up to see them "dance".  It usually involved a lot of bouncing, jumping, and falling down.  If a song came on the radio that they didn't like, they felt free to voice their opinions.

The older child struggled with expressing her needs/desires.  For the first couple of months, it meant meltdowns and very long tantrums.  It took several months, but she finally started using her words to let me know how I could help her.  She came a long way from those first few weeks of 30+ minute tantrums! Whining continued to be an issue for a while, but I was proud of her progress.

Bonding took heaps of work.  It takes effort.  Letting them know they are loved and safe is a daily task.  Due to their situations and circumstances, they don't naturally trust right away.  I get that.  I've been hurt in life too.  Trusting isn't easy for me either.  I don't have a plethora of friends because I too have issues allowing people into my life.  I get it.

Knowing this causes me to work harder to show them love and safety.  Hugs and kisses are given freely.  Books are read while they are sitting on my lap, not beside me.  Every once in a while, something happens and you know they are beginning to receive that love.

One day after having my second set for a couple of months, I arrived at daycare to pick up my little ones.  My 16 month old baby saw me at the door. She RAN across the room smiling and laughing.  She practically fell into the baby gate trying to get to me.  I picked her up and she laughed her precious laugh.  It made me incredibly happy!  She was showing me in her own little way that she was happy to see me, that she knew love.  I almost cried tears of joy.

When my 2 1/2 year old asked to stay home from daycare, not because she was sick, but because she wanted to be with me, I knew she was learning that I loved her.  We had conversations almost daily about how much I loved her and how smart/precious/beautiful she was.  I could tell those words were sinking into her soul.  She began to sing songs about Jesus' love because I told her constantly that He loves her.  She was learning the truth of His love as well.

I currently have an interesting relationship with my last set of foster daughters.  They are with their bio family; however, I have been able to stay in touch with them and even baby-sit them a couple of times.  It has been bittersweet.  The last weekend that I had them, we had several precious moments.  The oldest girl asked me if we were a family.  I said, “Yes, a very special family.”  Her response was “good”.  Her younger sister told me all about Jesus and how He died on the cross for us.  It blessed my heart more than words can say.

It is by these moments, these heart-felt moments, which I’m reminded why I allow my heart to be made vulnerable to children who come and go.  They are worth it.  They deserve to be loved 100%, no matter how much it costs me. And it costs me everything.  They need to be loved, cherished, and shown that there is more to life than pain and chaos; that there is a God who loves them more than they can ever imagine; and that no matter what happens in their life, THEY ARE LOVED.   

This is why I am a foster mom.  I can’t imagine going through life not knowing the love of my Abba Father. It is my goal and my desire to see that every little one who comes through my door knows their worth and value.  This task isn’t easy, but it is worth it. Because they are worth it. 

For all of you moms, who struggle finding the joy because of the mundane or because of the difficulties in life, remember the hugs and kisses.  Remember the first time they said “mommy” or the first time they apologized and meant it.  Those moments will carry you through the dark times.  Don’t lose heart when the tantrum is going on an hour or the sensory issues seem to be over taking your world.  You are making a difference in their lives by showing them love and keeping them safe.  You are doing a good job!  Look for the joy in the little moments, and you will find a way to keep going.  It still won’t be easy, but it is worth it.

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