For the most part I keep my work blog and personal blog separate. At work I blog about cloud computing, technology and the future of accounting – all things I am passionate about. But as I wrote this blog post today about our foster parenting journey, originally intended for my personal blog, something told me I needed to share it more broadly, if for nothing else to remind everyone who reads it that it only takes one person to change the world, one person at a time.
In June of 2014 my husband and I learned of the dire need for foster parents in Georgia. I realize this need is not unique to Georgia, but the stats in our state alone are staggering: over 10,000 children are in foster care and every night 150 children sleep in hotel rooms with adult ‘supervisors’. Our foster care agency alone turns away about 40 kids a week because they have no more capacity and are so short on foster homes. It took very little convincing for us to want to learn how we could help.
On June 19, 2014 we took the first step and sent an email that would change our lives forever. An email that simply asked how we could help with this crisis situation. On June 15, 2016, 593 days after our first foster kids moved in with us, they moved out to live with the incredible family who is adopting them and becoming their ‘forever family’. It’s what I learned between those two dates that I want to share with you.
After months of classes, learning, certifications, home preparation, interviews and home studies we were officially approved as foster parents and on October 31, 2014 – Halloween night – a beautiful boy and girl (brother and sister) came to live in our home. I can’t share the details of their story for obvious reasons but I can tell you that for the next 593 days, we learned more from those children than I have from any course I’ve taken, which I’ve attempted to summarize below…
- Everyone has a story you know nothing about. Many times as we stood in the middle of a mall with our foster son having a meltdown, we would receive looks from disapproving people who were silently judging our parenting abilities. They didn’t know he was a foster child struggling from the insurmountable loss of being taken away from his parents and knew nothing about his past, his triggers or his emotional trauma. From the outside it simply looked like we had a child we couldn’t manage. As foster parents, you are constantly judged on so many levels for so many reasons. I even received a letter from a distant relative telling me she didn’t think I was fit to be a foster parent because I traveled too much for work, and this came after only having met me a handful of times in my entire life. As a foster parent, I constantly had to remind myself that it was okay to be judged by people and that I was doing this to serve our foster kids, not to make other people happy or to be accepted. It was very tough, especially because I am naturally a ‘people pleaser’, but it was (and is) a constant reminder to me that there is so much going on behind the scenes with everyone you meet and you need to handle every person and every situation with care, a big dose of grace and avoid judging others at all costs.
- I (we) have it pretty good. There is no doubt about it; life can be stressful. A long day at work, times when making ends meet is challenging, a hectic pace that leaves you wondering how you can possibly get it all done. But all of that pales in comparison to what many children I’ve met over the last two years while foster parenting have experienced. In many cases foster kids are accustomed to having only one meal a day (when they are lucky), have never had a parent attend a parent teacher conference or a school concert, haven’t been able to shower when they need to and don’t have clothes that fit or don’t have holes in them. They often come from homes where the consequences to their actions are unspeakable and they live in constant fear. These are not kids from a third world country, these are kids right down the street from you and I. The perspective I gained from the humbling and heart-wrenching stories of kids in the foster care system reminds me every day how fortunate I was to grow up how I did and how fortunate I am to have a roof over my head, a fridge that is always full, a safe place to sleep and be surrounded by people who love me. In a world where everyone seems to be fighting for more and trying to get the next big thing, I keep reminding myself to stay grounded and that what I have today are the very things that someone else is praying they can possibly get access to in their lifetime.
- Everyone deserves someone that doesn’t give up on them. I don’t know about you, but I have always had someone in my corner that I knew would be there for me no matter what. Growing up, that person was my Mom and it never occurred to me that if I did something wrong, she may give up on me. That simply wasn’t a possibility. But that is not the case for many children in foster care. In many cases, these kids have had many people in their lives give up on them… again, and again and again. The emotional toll this takes on these young people as they grow up is astounding. In our journey, we learned that when a child experiences (for the very first time) the feeling that they have people in their lives that simply won’t give up on them no matter what, everything changes. Their behavior, their mental capability at school, their ability to just be kids. Everything. There is someone in each of our lives who feels as though they have no one in their corner and that life-changing person they need could be you.
- A million excuses can’t change the world. Although I don’t like the word “busy” I think I can confidently say I am a busy person. I have a demanding job (which I love) that has me traveling at least 50% of the time and working longer than average hours. My husband teaches golf and because most people want golf lessons in the evenings or weekends it means that typically when I’m off work, he’s working. We have no kids of our own and no real experience raising kids. We have no kid ‘stuff’ (clothes, toys, furniture, etc.), and the list goes on. What we did have was a whole list of excuses why foster parenting just didn’t make sense for us and our lifestyle. But I can say beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am so glad we looked past all those excuses and took a leap of faith that what we needed would come together and we could make it work. In today’s world, it’s easy to come up with a million excuses on why you shouldn’t do something, whether it’s going for a dream you have or helping those less fortunate than you. But at the end of the day, a million excuses simply won’t change the world. You need to move past your fear, past your doubts and past your excuses and dare to do something big, bold and life changing for you or for someone else. It’s what makes for a richer life and will give you moments of joy that you won’t otherwise be able to experience.
- You are not alone. I’m a fairly independent woman and as a result, when I take on a project, job or challenge I often assume I’m the person who will be driving a lot of the activity or getting things done. With foster parenting, that was not the case. I quickly realized I did not have the skills, knowledge or experience needed to really help these kids alone and I would need to surround myself with people who could help. It was incredible to watch our friends and family step up to support us and the kids, even though it was a journey they have not personally experienced. It was also incredible to see our network quickly build out with dozens of new friends, case workers, social workers and others… all there to support us and the kids. It always had a huge impact on me on days when we had court when I’d look around the courtroom and see so many people there advocating for these precious children. The key takeaway for me is that it’s amazing to see how many people are prepared to support you when you step up to make a change in the world. You don’t need to do it alone and you don’t need all the answers. You just need to surround yourself with people who will be there for your journey and be willing to accept their help.
- Do for one what you wish you could do for everyone. I first heard the quote “Do for one what you wish you could do for everyone” from Andy Stanley and it left a mark on my soul. Many people don’t bother tackling a challenge or epidemic in the world like homelessness, child hunger, poverty or another cause because they don’t think they can really make a difference; they are just one person. It’s true – the problem is massive. But if you just do for one person what you wish you could do for everyone, you have the ability to change someone’s life and one life saved or changed is worth it. The changes in our foster kids in the 593 days we had them made me realize one person has the power to make a life-changing impact, one person at a time.
- There is a whole world out there “we” know nothing about. When we began our foster parenting journey we underestimated the amount of learning that was ahead of us. Yes, we had all the learning you’d expect as first time parents to an eight and nine year old, but we also had to learn about a million other things. How the court system works, how the Department of Family and Child Services (DFCS) works, the rules and regulations around caring for foster kids, the thousands of people who are involved in ‘the system’ to help protect kids (and people) who need protecting… and the list goes on. It was an incredible eye-opening experience to be able to become part of entirely different world than the one we were accustomed to; not for a day, not for a month, but for almost two years. I would encourage anyone to find a cause they are passionate about and take the time to learn the ins-and-outs of how to affect change in that area. The perspective it will bring is a beautiful thing.
- It’s not about me. Without a doubt, the number one comment we heard from people who learned we were foster parents was “I could never do that. I just couldn’t say goodbye at the end, it would be way too hard.” And let me tell you, it’s a thousand times harder than you can even imagine. Saying goodbye to kids who called you Mom and Dad for almost two years brought months of tears, many conversations with the kids that ripped my heart out and a goodbye that made all other goodbyes pale in comparison. But you know what? It was worth it. We didn’t do it because it would be easy. We didn’t do it for fun. We did it because these kids (and so many others) deserve a chance. And we’d do it again for the exact same reason.
The last 593 days have been life-changing to say the least. We experienced being called Mom and Dad for the first time, falling in love with children who were not our own, watching them grow, change and heal in many ways and at the end, saying a very painful goodbye and closing this chapter in our lives and thinking about what is next. I am beyond grateful we put a million excuses aside and opened our lives and our hearts to a whole new world. I’m not sure who changed more through this journey, the kids or us, but it has enriched our lives in a way that I could not have imagined possible.