October 11, 2012, we welcomed two wee-ones (aka foster children) to our home for what we believed was to be a short period of time. "Short period of time" in our world was under two months.
A week shy of six months later the wee-ones are still with us.
Wee boy was about 22 months when he joined us. Wee-girl was almost 10 months.
It has been a blessing and a curse this juggling, jumping through hoops, a JOLT to our reality.
I'll tell you what. It has been HARD. It's probably the hardest thing we've ever had to do. Going from DINK's (Double Income No Kids) to Single Income, One Kid was easy.
One kid to two - a breeze.
Two to three - a little harder, but still, not that much of a challenge.
Three to Four - wait - there's a 4th Schwalm?
Four kids to SIX kids, effectively giving us a set of two year old twin boys and then a baby girl just 12 months younger? CRAZY HARD!!
It has challenged every fiber of my role as mother. Every decision I make throughout the day is met with two considerations:
1) How is this going to affect the wee-ones?
2) How is this going to affect my biological children?
Some days it feels like these two questions apply to something as simple as waking up in the morning especially when all six wake up at the same time. Who gets to get out of bed first, who gets their milk first, who gets fed first? AHHHH! From there we have tons of other factors to consider in making decisions as well, but those two are the first in importance.
A lot of people say to me, "You guys are amazing!" or variations of this. I've learned that these types of compliments are either a matter of fact statement based on an inaccurate belief (I will address how un-amazing we are later on) or it is kind of like the "Bless Your Heart" statement common in the south, which despite the words, is not actually a compliment. This statement is used to imply "YOU GUYS ARE SERIOUSLY CRAZY!!!" To which I'd like to say, WHAT PART OF THE LAST 11 YEARS OF OUR LIVES HAVE LEAD YOU TO BELIEVE WE ARE ANYTHING BUT CRAZY?
We also get a lot of "I just don't think I could do it" and "How do you give them back?" To which, there really isn't an answer. I don't know how we will give them back or send them on. They are part of our family now. Each day we supposedly get closer to the day they will return to their parents and I'm not really sure how I'm going to do it. I know it's our job, we only signed on to care for them temporarily, but it's really hard to want to give them back after taking care of their every single need for six months. The reality is that we'll probably have them at least three more months. We're to the point now that I worry as much about sending them home as I do about how I'm going to deal with the heart break of our children when we have to say goodbye. Not everyone is cut out to Foster. Heck, half the time I'm not sure WE are cut out to be a Foster Family! I don't know how we do it, we just do it, and believe me, it is not done well. My house is constantly a mess. I truly have something in every corner of my house and nothing is where it belongs. It is overwhelming, exhausting and most days I think I am going to tear my hair out or at least poke out my ear drums. It's like any surprise life event though - you don't know how you are going to handle it until you handle it. There are things that people can do even if they can't physically foster kids - although, I would be remiss if I didn't encourage everyone to think about it and even just give it a try. Here is a great article.
It's a really great blog post and it got me thinking about the things I would say if someone asked me, so here's my list on what I would suggest to people if they want to help a Foster or pre-adoptive family.
PRAY for us. And let us know you are praying for us. Each day is a a delicate balance of meeting each child's needs and it is encouraging to know people are out there praying we are making the right decisions. Because we pretty much doubt every decision we make all day long. A kind word, a Facebook post, or even a text to show us you care, to remind us that other people are caring about us and these wee-ones sometimes is the fuel we need to make it through the next minute.
Make a meal - most foster families have at least one, but most often, multiple service providers in their homes or in the case of older children, are running those kids to some sort of therapy, visitation, or other court mandated service. Add to that any extra-curricular activities you are trying to introduce to your foster children and maintain for your own biological children, the goal of homecooked meals every night quickly becomes a distant memory. Despite me being a stay at home mom, despite my very best intentions of planning ahead, cooking ahead, etc., there are some weeks that mac n cheese or spaghetti is our meal . . . on multiple nights . . .in the same week. A Foster family will never turn down a meal to save them some time or to just have a breather.
Don't stop being a friend - Despite every best attempt at maintaining a "normal" life, the fact of the matter is that a foster family's life is completely turned upside down. The schedule you used to maintain of coffee with girlfriends, date night, or even simple trips to the grocery store become impossible in the first months as you adjust to this new life. Two months into our foster care journey, we had been invited to a friends annual Christmas party. We were looking forward to it like crazy. We'd get to see so many people, talk, relax, have fun! Except wee-boy had a melt down. He wouldn't play with the other kids, he wouldn't stop crying, he was miserable. And so was I. I was frustrated that I couldn't sooth him, angry at him for choosing that night to have his first meltdown, and then angry at myself for being angry at him. It was awful and in utter exhaustion, frustration and self-preservation, I chose to gather up all of the troops and leave. My kids were devastated, my husband frustrated and I was D-O-N-E. It was my first social event in six weeks and I desperately needed to be an adult that night. After that experience, I was hesitant to do anything with friends with children in tow. It's not only uncomfortable for me, but I can see sometimes it is uncomfortable for our friends. We had reached a stage of life with our friend group where most of us had kids who were pretty much self-sufficient at gatherings. We would basically put them into the play room and not pay them any attention unless someone came to us bleeding - and even then, the blood had to be something that couldn't be contained with a band aid. Now, I find myself declining invitations because it honestly is too much to juggle at social events. I'm still changing diapers, wiping noses, and making sure no one is sticking their fingers in a light socket or pulling down the drapes. I know it is a life that Erik and I have chosen so I am scared to infringe on other people no matter how many "Bring them alongs" and "It's no problem" I hear. But PLEASE don't stop asking me to come play with you. No matter how many times I turn you down or back out. And invite yourself over to my house. Even when I say the house is a mess, and the million other excuses I come up with. Because my house is a mess, the kids are still in their pajamas, and well, let's face it, it's not going to change for a LONG, LONG time!
Offer To Do Something like:
Babysit - it's hard to find sitters for six kids. It's even harder on the wallet. Harder yet to find someone who can sit for you during the work/school day. Pick a day and tell me you're going to watch my kids so I can go get my hair cut, or go to the grocery store, or to let me clean my house for two hours without having to put out fires, or to fold and put away laundry (my mother would be aghast if she saw how often clothes don't get put away). Offer to watch our kids while Erik and I have a date night. Offer to watch just the wee-ones while our family has a date night.
Run to the Store - are you headed to the store? Call me and see if there's anything I could use. Chances are I'm in need of milk.
Offer to come to my house and help me do something - the laundry is never ending. The clothes always need put away. Offer to come and help me with transitioning the seasonal clothes. My dishes are never done, my beds never made, my floors rarely swept. Forget about spring cleaning! A simple call with a "I know you need help with something, let me!" could change everything about my day.
Donate- Call a Foster/Adoptive family and see if there is anything you have that they can use. From an old bed or dresser, to clothes and toys, chances are there is a family out there in need of it. If you don't know a foster or adoptive family, call around to local social service agencies. Call your Child Welfare services department (usually CYS, CYFS), local psychiatric centers or family service agencies may have clients or will know of other agencies where you can donate your stuff. My county has a Duffle Bag Project where they accept new duffle bags/suit cases which they fill with gently used and new clothing and new toiletries and distribute them to foster families when a new placement occurs. The duffle bag project was invaluable to my family as we addressed the needs of our new Foster Children.
Obviously different Foster and adoptive families have different needs, but I encourage you to check with those folks to see where they need help. Because not everyone is able or capable of offering Foster care services, but anything you can do to help a foster family is helping the entire system.
We managed to find the hidden Easter baskets, eat a poptart breakfast
and get six kids (and ourselves) dressed in our Easter finest for church!
That's a very good day!