This I Believe

Polly - Olympia, Washington
Entered on October 11, 2006

I’ve been a foster parent for 6 years, I work full time, and I am single. Prospective foster parents recently asked me what it is like and why I do it.

Fostering is VERY different from raising your own child. When a foster child is “behaving badly,” most often the behavior is rooted in a survival tactic. If being left on their own means no food for days, survival depends on getting attention, even by hurting themselves or “being bad.” Survival tactics can take years for the kids to recognize and leave behind. And you run into what I call Black Holes…things that any child their age knows, but the foster doesn’t. No one ever taught them or they were too busy surviving to have the luxury of learning.

Sometimes you get not only the child, but their families also. When a foster has visits with mom/dad/siblings you have to be ready to be supportive. Even when they are people you would normally go to great lengths to avoid, even when the child doesn’t want to be there or cries heartbroken when they have to leave someone, even when they backslide to all their bad habits after the visit, or come back to have nightmares.

Fosters come with unimaginable problems I sometimes feel totally unprepared to handle. The hardest thing I ever had to do was take a 12 year old to have an AIDS test after an AIDS talk at her school. She came crying because she had been raped, never told anyone, and was afraid she might have AIDS. But during the times I feel unsure about handling a problem, I get through the day by hoping that what I do means a child has a little bit better chance to make their way in the world, with some vision of normal to offset the horrible experiences, or that a child discovers a safe place existed for them after all.

Of course, you can’t do this job alone, state caseworkers, counselors, and CASA workers work hard too. But no matter how good they are, foster parents must commit to being there, every day and every night, even when kids aren’t loveable or pleasant, even when they are pushing your buttons to make you prove you won’t give up on them. Be ready to give it everything you’ve got and then give more.

Being a foster parent is incredibly rewarding, tiring, frightening, heartwarming, and heartbreaking. It requires a huge amount of patience and nights of staring at the ceiling wondering what to try next. I often wonder if it is more a matter of stamina or stupidity to volunteer for the job. But the idea of children in danger, in need, who just need a break, who have no one on their side…this is just something I can’t live with. So I had to open my heart and in my home. That is why I am a foster parent.