“How long have you been my mom?”
This is the question my daughter asked me the other day. To most, this would seem like a silly question from a small child. But, she’s not a small child – she’s nine-years-old and beyond the age of asking this question. That is, if our circumstances were “normal.” But as is life, nothing has been “normal” for this kid, she’s been in the foster care system a long time and has been through a lot of trauma.
The question could have caught me off-guard, but we often talk about that day. “It’s been three years, next week, that I’ve been your mom!” Her big smile and laugh in response are enough for me to be thankful for this sweet kid and her sunny disposition. It’s the greatest sign I could get that she’ll have the ability to overcome anything life ever throws at her.
Don’t get me wrong, things haven’t always been so much like a Hallmark movie – it was rough for a long time. We still have our tough moments, fears, and worries, like any family does. But I can’t fully describe what a privilege it’s been to watch this little kid grow from a six-year-old who was (rightfully) angry about the lack of control over life, to a nine-year-old who is so loving, happy, and excited about all the new things she learns every day. She’s learned the value of stability, rules, and routines, and she thrives off them.
In contrast, her seven-year-old brother, who also lives with us, recently got angry with me because he did something he shouldn’t have and faced a consequence. “This is why I wish I lived with my real mom,” he shouted in anger. After three years of being a foster parent, not much shakes me anymore, but my heart still breaks for these kids because, I too, wish their biological parents would have been able to provide the life that they deserve.
I wish he knew that facing a consequence is a reality that all kids face, not just ones that live in foster homes. And I wish he knew how loved and safe he is, because no matter how many times you tell him, I’m not sure he believes it. He’s a sweet, loving, funny little boy who still pushes you away to see if you might bail on him. It’s hard on all of us, but especially on him. I hope he’ll grow out of it, but I’m not positive he ever will. He’s got a lot of great people who love and care about him and we’ll do our best to help him believe, for as long as it takes.
As kids mature, they start to see things differently, sometimes more clearly. When you’re dealing with trauma, that can be difficult. As a 6-year-old, my daughter had a much different understanding of what has happened in her life than she does now. Different ages, maturity rates, and life events bring up questions that we need to revisit to help her through. It’s hard watching her go through trauma over and over again as she ages and matures. However, it’s part of the process, and as their mom, I’m committed to helping her and her brother through.
My son has been in foster care almost half his life. He’s dealing with the fact that his memories of his parents are less vivid, and he doesn’t remember as much as his sister does. He relies on her to talk about the happy times they all had together, and that’s been hard for him. How to do you accept that loss at such a young age? And how do you grow up with a mom who doesn’t know what you looked like as a baby, what your favorite toys were, when you started walking, and all those other questions that most kids have the answers to? It’s hard to help them keep the identity of who they were before they met you, while trying to build a new future for them.
It can be easy to write off foster kids as “bad kids” but I hope anyone reading this will understand the loss and trauma these kids suffer daily and how truly resilient they are to even be functioning in a society that sometimes disregards them. Being a foster parent is so much more than giving them a safe place to sleep, food to eat, and clean clothes to wear. In fact, most of these kids couldn’t care less about those things. It’s about helping them grow each day, dealing with every hard moment they go through that other kids don’t have to, validating their feelings while teaching them how to move on from them, and making it a priority to show them how worth it they are. It can be so hard, but it is so worth it every single day. And I promise, for all the bad moments, there are a thousand good ones. People often say how lucky these kids are to have me, but they’re wrong – I’m the lucky one. They’ve taught me more than they could ever imagine and I am forever grateful to be their mom.
This blog article was contributed by a Nexus-PATH Foster Parent. Nexus-PATH is an agency of Nexus Family Healing.
Nexus Family Healing is a national nonprofit mental health organization that restores hope for thousands of children and families who come to us for outpatient/community mental health services, foster care and adoption, and residential treatment. For over 45 years, our network of agencies has used innovative, personalized approaches to heal trauma, break cycles of harm, and reshape futures. We believe every child is worth it — and every family matters. Learn more at nexusfamilyhealing.org.