Have you ever ridden a roller coaster?
Last summer my husband, Jason, and I got stuck on the Powder Keg roller coaster at Silver Dollar City. Yep, stuck! Halfway through the ride, the roller coaster stopped on one of the inclines where the machine pulls you up. An attendant spoke to us through the speaker system to let us know help was on the way two different times before anyone showed up. When the maintenance workers finally climbed to us, they tried to unlock Jason’s seat unsuccessfully, said “uh oh” and without any further explanation, moved on to other rows, leaving Jason and me stuck on the roller coaster. Don’t worry, they came back around to us and fixed whatever the problem was.
If you are just beginning your journey in fostering, you might be wondering what fostering is really like. In so many ways foster care is like riding a roller coaster:
More than likely you've been anticipating this ride. Sometimes the wait to get new foster children is short and sometimes the wait is long. The anticipation continues to build during the wait, no matter its length.
Once the ride begins, you lose a lot of control of where you turn or what inclines you go up on. Someone else makes many of those decisions, and at times it can feel like you are just a passenger.
The First Drop
After you've finally are settled in and are feeling a bit comfortable, the first drop happens. The chain lift brings the roller coaster to the top of the first drop, everyone is excited in anticipation, then the panic and reality of that sudden change sinks in. We (foster parents) ask ourselves what on earth were we thinking. Foster kids are finally comfortable enough to begin acting out. Real life begins. Sometimes it is a tougher ride than you anticipated while other times it is a pretty smooth one.
Waiting + Ups and Downs
There are so many times we are hurrying to get paperwork and other things completed to help move the case along, only to find more waiting once we reach the deadline.
The ups and downs. Everything is constantly changing. As soon as your "new" family gets settled, a biological parent visit happens and throws everything out of whack again. As soon as counseling starts working, you learn about different triggers and different trauma. Once you get in the swing of school, a big break happens and all routines are thrown off. When court is scheduled for a certain date, something happens that postpones the trial...again.
At times it feels like the fostering roller coaster has broken down and everyone is stuck. The case is stalled, the foster child is regressing, and you are just waiting for the right people to say or do the right thing to get going again.
Have faith the roller coaster will start moving again, this stall is temporary. Hang in there and be strong. Your foster child is worth it. Actively do what you can to get the roller coaster moving again, but understand, sometimes you just have to wait it out.
Keep moving forward. Sometimes the chain lift pulls you forward. Sometimes you are coasting. But for the health of the kids, you keep your eyes onward.
Fostering sometimes has an abrupt ending. A kinship home is found and the kids are moved. A home closer to biological family (siblings or biological parents) opens and the kids are moved. The courts make a decision that causes an abrupt change from the child's foster home.
Whether you want to or not, everyone must exit at the end of the track so more people can ride. Sadly, the roller coaster does not just run once. It is on going with old and new passengers. As a foster only home, all foster kids in our home will move on to their permanent home after us, whether it is back to biological parents or an adoptive home, then we will start all over again.
*New Foster Parents *
I don't know which part of the roller coaster you are on, but I can tell you what you are doing matters. The safe home you so willingly provide, the pantry you keep stocked of food, the dinners you cook, the clean clothes and sheets you have out, and the hugs you freely give are not taken for granted.
The sacrifices you make daily to make sure your bonus child arrives to all of the therapy, OT, school, doctor appointments, biological parent meetings, insert other appointments are not unnoticed. You may not see the benefits now, but that child will reap the benefits of your effort even after they leave your home. None of those hours are wasted.
The tears you have already cried over this child's story and the tears you cry when you think about their future, matter.
When all the kids are in bed and you look back on the day wondering why you did this. You did this for a child who deserves love, clean sheets, and a safe home.
It is very easy to get caught up in focusing on many of the outside factors, but acknowledge where you are in the roller coaster ride, then focus on what you can control. You are making a difference in someone’s life. You are showing a child that the world can be a safe place.
Interested in becoming a foster parent? Get more info here.