Three weeks after I gave birth to my first child, I sat sobbing in a glider. I was sitting in a nursery where everything was new-cute crib, tiny clothes, fresh baby, new life. And with all of the unfamiliar came a surge of scary emotions. My new baby girl had been screaming for what seemed like hours and my newly found comfort measures weren’t working.
After nursing, hushing, bouncing, walking and changing diapers for this little life, my weary arms still held a screaming baby. I suddenly wanted to throw her out of our second-story window or shake her to stop. I was worn out and I didn’t know what else to do. I was at the end of my very long rope that was justifiably frazzled.
I didn’t throw her. Or hurt her. But the fact that I felt that way for a moment horrified me.
After birthing three kids (and pregnant with my fourth), I became a foster mom.
Our fourth foster came to us from another licensed home. We were family number four on his long list of transitions. Initially, I judged the other foster mom’s inability to care for him and his “behavior”. I couldn’t imagine the hardships a human could dump on a mama. He carried with him gear filled with gargantuan grief. He had been literally abandoned and left to find his own way in the world at only three years old.
I quickly found I wasn’t enough to meet his needs. The more seasoned version of myself is rolling her eyes at the naivety I once possessed. This revelation caused my conscience to contend for an acceptable conclusion as to why I was having a hard time even liking this kid most days.
I didn’t even want to like him most moments.
He was stealing my time, my tender heart and my sanity. I was eager for him to leave because I simply couldn’t enjoy many moments where I wasn’t sobbing or lacing up my running shoes to flee from it all.
Was this the beauty of foster care? And motherhood? How could I feel this way about a child who had been through so much trauma? How did I feel that way about my biological kids sometimes?
Face to face with my flesh, I have continued to be surprised as I traverse the tricky trails of foster care. I have wrestled fiercely with my erratic emotions. Attaching to a child is expected but its not always immediate. I find myself annoyed, irritated, insulted, angry, disgusted, furious and fed up. Then my defeat turns to shame and guilt and agony. I wonder if I’m causing more trauma because I can’t find a way to connect and invest emotionally.
Then Jesus whispers. Didn’t he always do that if we can find a quiet space to listen in? He reminds my heart that I’m broken too. I am flawed. As I flail in my attempts at attachment, my need for grace turns my eyes to the one that can meet me right where I am. He finds me sobbing in my recliner wondering if any of this is worth it. And he clearly reveals that it is, but its so very hard.
I have cared for forty-four fosters and each one is different. My heart has fallen deeply in love with some-but not all. I have connected with a few in uncomplicated ways. My face lights up at the memory of them in my arms and I even long for them to return somehow. But with others, I have sat with suitcases packed, waiting for case workers to arrive and pick them up for a move that I sometimes initiated. I have gladly hugged them one last time and sent them covered in prayer and tearful regret to their next home.
My load lightened as they left because loving them was almost impossible.
As bystanders look on from their landing and compliment you on a job well done, your eyes widen and blink slowly. Your eyebrows raise as you fight back the truth of daily struggles because you don’t have the time or energy to share the pit you’re in. Many view kids in your home with adoration and even ask how they can get one. Amiright? But behind closed doors, you know a different kid-one that’s not so adorable.
If you’re in the trenches, praying for a phone call that would just take this kiddo to the next destination, you’re not alone. Find comfort in the words of a fellow foster mama that you can do this. You don’t have to force connection or fear condemnation. You are right where you need to be-in the hard, in the messy, in the confusing, in the relentless reeling and in all the behavior you learned about in foster parent classes but never imagined would smack you in the face with such force.
You are not enough, but you don’t have to be.
Do the next right thing that’s right in front of you. Walk to the edge of your light, even if its just a twinkle. Press on. Let go of the shame and regret and fear. Find freedom in confessing this crapshoot may completely fracture your foothold.
Loving a kid from hard places and engaging in trauma invites in more than we anticipate. And that realization can bury you. Or you can keep holding on. Even if your hand is grasping onto an unraveling little thread. The agony of attaching isn’t always desirable, but the character developed in the darkness reveals a love that is beyond us. And that’s a love worth fighting for.