*You don’t want to miss the first lesson on Effective Fostering. Go to Lesson 1: Know Thy Self and be on the road to smart and effective fostering.*
The telephone rang.
“Please bring Johnny to the DCFS office within an hour. The court has ordered reunification.”
“I’m sorry what?! I thought you recommended against reunification? I thought you thought it was really unlikely it would be reunification.”
“Yes, we recommended against it, but the court is going against our recommendation. Please bring him in an hour. Thank you.”
Click and the conversation ends.
Start with Clarity about Fostering
There are many unknowns and surprises that come with fostering.
Choosing to foster means that I have chosen to open up my well insulated life to a system, to people, and to situations that I cannot control. I have chosen to enter the chaos of a child’s life with whom I have had no prior relationship. I have chosen to share in the life of ambiguity that my foster child has entered, not by their choice, but by others decisions.
Living with constant ambiguity can be taxing and challenging. Schedules change last minute. Issues comes up at the most inconvenient times. The quicker you are willing to get comfortable with the ambiguities and loss of control that come with fostering, more effective you will be as a foster parent. Why? Because you will channel your energy and focus on things that you can influence, rather than expending your energy on areas that are out of your domain of influence. You will be more sane and you will be happier.
However, it does not mean that you cannot ask for clarity or ask for something you need. Many times foster parents enter the system treading the waters carefully. They’re afraid of coming off incompetent or being difficult. I learned that if I am more honest about my questions and my need for clarity, I am more likely to get them. What is the worst thing that can happen? There is no clarity and you’re in a limbo or as confused as before.
I remember the day when our first foster children (twin infants) suddenly left for another family after six weeks with us. The call came at 4pm. They were gone by 7:30pm. It took me at least two weeks to just get myself back in a normal state of being.
Then just as quickly as they left, I received a phone call six weeks later asking if our family can take them back. This request came a week before we were scheduled to leave for a big family reunion trip to Asia! We took them in and made arrangements for excellent respite care while we were away.
If this is hard for us as adults to deal with, imagine how tough it is for kids in the foster care system. If we truly understand the situation they are in, it is impossible not to have compassion for them.
Working with Ambiguity in Fostering
Although it is impossible to not have any surprises along the way in fostering, there are ways to minimize them. Remember, I didn’t say eradicate them. Surprises will be your friend, whether you like it or not.
I learned early on that the more clarification questions I ask when I receive a placement call, the more I am able to assess how much ambiguity lies in our future with our foster children. If the answer to everything I ask comes back, “It is to be determined; We don’t have an answer for that yet,” then I can be forthright about my capacity and limitation and see how they respond. Or perhaps, I will decide it is too ambiguous and I am not ready to take on this challenge.
The reality of foster care is that you will feel very unsatisfied with most answers you will receive. When this happens, don’t be surprised. The answers will be very vague. Some answers are vague because it is not for you to know. Other times they are vague because they are trying to get answers just like you. However, those vague answers are clues and pieces of your foster child’s life.You can take those pieces and begin the process of slowly putting some pieces together for the well-being of your foster child.
As a foster mom, I learned that I must be willing to carry the ambiguities that exist in the system so that our foster children do not have to. We receive the emails, the phone calls, the texts that baffle us at times. Our job is to filter all these things so that our foster children can begin the process of gaining back some stability in life. We explain why things changed. As we are hurting with them, we also hold their disappointments when things suddenly changed on them again. Even though we dread having to say again the words, “I don’t know. Maybe,” as foster parents, we do our best to help them cope with this answer which is like no answer in many ways.
“When am I going back to my mom and dad again?”
I don’t know.
“Am I going back to my mom or to my dad?”
I don’t know.
“Why did my mom not show up today for the visit?”
I don’t know. Let me find out.
“Tomorrow is court. Am I going to stay with you?”
I don’t know. Maybe.
“Am I going back to my parents?”
I don’t know. Maybe.
Just writing these words bring tears to my eyes.
Yes, it is hard on us, the foster parents. But, it is nothing compared to what these young ones in our care have had to live with.
We provide structure so that as they grow they can handle ambiguities from a place of security and safety. There are some things that we do not have answers for, but there are some things that we can make sure they know and can expect. They know when the next meal is coming. No longer do they need to wonder where and when they will go to sleep. They know when it is time to go to sleep and where they will sleep every night. Even more importantly, they know that we are here for them. They can know that we love them and that God loves them.
The routines and structure we establish, the loving discipline we provide, the types of conversations we have or the hugs we give, they all provide a sense for the child that all is well here, at this moment.
It is the job of the adults to carry some of life’s biggest ambiguities so that our children do not have to until they are ready. It is a burden that we carry as foster parents. When we are able to do this joyfully and not begrudgingly, our foster children will be able to experience deeper levels of healing.
Carry ambiguities. It is part of the call of being a foster parent. And, let your own uncomfortableness with ambiguity propel you to have more compassion for your foster child and foster children who live with it daily.
Moving from Angst to Prayer in Fostering
Let your angst with ambiguity fuel you into prayer. Let ambiguity be your friend in teaching you to rely on Jesus through prayer. I carry the burden of ambiguity for my foster child, but I can let Jesus carry the burden of ambiguity for me.
Fostering has taught me again about the great privilege I have as a daughter of the most High God. I have direct access to God, the Father. I bring my angst before Him and I pray asking God to be an advocate, to bring justice, to make what is wrong right.
Have I seen answers to prayer? Definitely. Here’s a miracle I want to share. (Some of you might not understand this, if your children are not in the public school system.) We received an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) for our foster child in three months. All the social workers, school professionals, and biological mom were in awe. I believe this happened because of prayer.
Do I always experience outcomes that I always want? No. But, I am willing to live and wrestle with the ambiguities of how God works. Because the truth is, God’s ways are very mysterious to me and I am reminded that I submit to God not because there are no mysteries, but because I am incapable of comprehending all mysteries without His revelation.
We do not lose hope or become complacent. Rather, we accept the things which are outside our realm of control, and we channel our energy towards those things that are within the realm of our influence.
Back to the story:
I got off the phone. My head was spinning that it was hard to get a coherent thoughts together. My mind raced with questions: “How do I even use my last hour? How in the world am I going to pack everything up, get my kids from school, and take our little Johnny over to the DCFS office within an hour?” Then it became clear to me. “I can’t do it in an hour if I want to provide closure that is good for everyone.”
So, I called the social worker and explained my situation. I asked her very kindly if she can give us two or more hours so that we can have the kind of closure that our foster child and our family needs. She granted my request.
I learned through trial and error in this journey of fostering that I have a decision to make. It is simple. I can choose to complain and be angry for the ambiguities that come with fostering or be proactive in accepting them and seeking for clarification where we need them.
We don’t have to let the ambiguities that come with foster care deter us from pursuing what we know is right and good for our foster children and for us. We acknowledge our frustrations and we embrace the ambiguities. Then, we channel our hearts and energy toward prayer and action, doing good to all, trusting that hope and transformation is not far away.
In the book of Galatians 6:9-10, the Apostle Paul writes,
And let us not grow weary in doing good, for in due season, we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.
In fostering, we are never sure when we will reap, but we can continue, as we have opportunity, to do good to everyone. Because, in due season, we will reap. This is certain. Do you believe it?
*You don’t want to miss the first lesson on Effective Fostering. Go to Lesson 1: Know Thy Self and be on the road to fostering smart and effectively.*