Growing Up With Foster Siblings

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When we first started walking the path toward becoming a licensed foster family, one of our biggest concerns was how it would impact our three children who were 11, 9, and 3 at the time. We knew that heartbreak is a likelihood in the unpredictable world of foster care and questioned whether or not it was fair to invite that kind of difficulty and discomfort into our home and young kids’ lives. We envisioned opening our home to all of the darkness, uncertainty, and brokenness and felt like those were the very things we were obligated as parents to protect them from. So were we being reckless with our kids’ lives by jumping into this world?

With faith, we decided that sheltering them from the risk of any heartbreak was scarier than taking the leap of faith into foster care. Since we took that leap of faith, our boys have been head over heels in love with their foster sister ever since she came to us in April. But what if she leaves us? The reality of that “what-ifs” feels even more raw and real now that we have this precious child in our home. Thankfully, God has placed several people in our lives who have encouraged us and walked alongside us through those fears. Two of these heaven-sent helpers are young ladies who grew up in homes with foster siblings. They both experienced the ups and downs and heartbreaks of the goodbyes, the welcomes, the brokenness, and the redemption. I am so pleased to be able to share their wise, experienced perspectives with you all.

I asked each young lady some questions and their responses brought me so much inspiration, peach of mind, encouragement, and hope.

First up is Kylee. She recently graduated with a bachelor’s degree in social work and is currently working at a child-placing agency while going back to school to pursue a masters in social work. Her parents jumped into the crazy world of foster care just days before her 8th birthday and cared for numerous infants and toddlers over a ten-year time span; four of those kids later became permanent family members through adoption. Kylee is passionate about the field of social work and is continuously learning how to better love her siblings from “hard places.” You can follow her journey on her blog and Instagram account.
Here is what Kylee had to say in response to my questions…

What is one of your earliest memories of becoming a foster family? How did your parents explain “foster care” to you?

The summer that I was seven-years-old, my parents started attending PRIDE classes to become licensed foster parents. I remember that one night a week I would stay home with my three older sisters and we would get to eat pizza and watch movies while our parents attended their classes. That was my first instance of entertaining the idea of foster care, and if it meant special dinners by the TV, I really liked foster care.

I’m not so sure that there was ever a specific instance that my parents explained foster care to us. I remember a social worker interviewing me during the home study, and helping my parents set up a nursery with a crib and changing table, but there are few conversations that stand out in my mind. I suppose that watching my parents prepare our home was the most impactful preparation for my heart. I watched. I listened. I was only seven. I think that if they had explained it, I still never would have begun to understand the way my world was going to be rocked.

Three hours after being approved as a licensed foster family, we got a placement call for a 3-month-old baby girl with 12 fractured ribs. She was in our home two hours later. We woke up on Friday, October 6th, 2000 without a foster license, and went to bed that night with a severely abused child sleeping in our home. That’s my first vivid memory, and it set me up for foster care- a journey full of the unexpected.

Were there any special foster-related traditions that your family had that brought you comfort?

Several times, when a child left our home, we would immediately leave the house and head out for a family outing. There was one time when we watched our caseworker pull out of our driveway, carrying away from our home the sweetest 15-month-old baby girl. We were smitten with her. As they pulled out of the driveway, our baby stuck her little hand out of the backseat window and waved goodbye to us, entirely unaware that she would never see us again. It was that last, unexpected tug at our hearts. Right after that, my parents took us all to a museum for the day. It didn’t heal us or stop the tears, but it was a timely distraction.

Strangely enough, the memories of these family outings have helped me learn to deal with grief in my adult life. I have vivid memories of my mom talking to us about grief, and telling us how sometimes the best thing (and the only thing) we can do it to keep going. I know now that grief is much more complex than that, and that our deepest hurts cannot possibly be healed by “staying busy”, but still, I think my parents were entirely appropriate in approaching our grief with distraction and activities. When foster children left our home, there was a tendency to fall into the trap of wallowing. It manifested itself differently for each child, but the common denominator was the tendency to keep our family in this holding place, focusing on the left-behind baby socks and forgotten stuffed animals, instead of bee lining for the cross. These outings didn’t cure us or eliminate the tears, but they are a sweet memory I have of a mama who hated to see her children grieve and wanted to do anything she could to help us keep going.

There are so many difficult (and wonderful!) parts of being a foster family…What areas do you feel your parents handled particularly well?

My parents walked a very fine line, especially when we were little, of wanting to be truthful in sharing with us, while also protecting our innocence. Issues of prostitution and drug addiction are not easy conversations to have with an 8-year-old, but in looking back, I think the times that my parents extended the line of communication were always the most beneficial to my heart. I really don’t think I could have walked this line any more cautiously than they did. They respected the fact that we, too, loved our foster siblings and wanted to be updated about their cases, but also protected our emotional growth. Sometimes still, when I go home, one of our previous foster kids will come up in conversation and my mom will say something about their case that I never knew. I really love when this happens, because the presenting of that information is proof of the peace of my heart she was protecting for me as a child.

How did growing up in a foster family impact your future and grown up perspective of foster care?

I often say that God was working in my heart and preparing me for a career in social work long before I had the mental or emotional development to understand what He was doing. When our first placement was carried into our home, her little body in casts from the waist down, I was preparing for my 8th birthday party. The pain in our new baby girl was immense, and she spent much of those days in our home crying and scared and hurting. My mom had to spend the bulk of my birthday party upstairs taking care of a very abused little girl. I don’t remember it bothering me, but I do remember hearing a crying baby upstairs and thinking how quickly the dynamics in our home had changed. I started questioning and grappling with topics such as physical abuse and parent-inflicted pain for the first time in my life. I wondered how a parent could break his child’s bones. I had never heard of something like that happening.

Although I didn’t have a word for it for many, many years, I now know that I was feeling empathy. I think I’m still sorting through so many of my childhood experiences, and connecting dots between the grief and questions and opportunities and love. It all felt a little bit conflicted and confusing at times, but the dots keep on connecting. There was so much love. I truly believe I am able to love just a little bit deeper and show just a little bit more compassion because of growing up so closely with the oppressed. The kids that came through our home ignited this passion in me, and they are the reason I now hold a degree in social work and will continue fighting for the safety of all children.

How did growing up with foster/adopted siblings impact your faith?

When my parents talk about beginning their journey of foster care, they frequently bring up 1 John 5:3, which says “…God’s commandments are not burdensome.” The way my parents took this verse and ran with it has been pivotal for me in understanding God’s intention for His people’s interaction and relationship with humanity.

Caring for the sick, the neglected, and the abused is not a burden. I often forget that grief and burdens are independent of each other; they don’t have to coexist. While the grief associated with this journey can be debilitating, isolating, and deafening, this journey has never been a burden. It’s been hard- harder than I ever could have imagined -but it’s been the kind of hard that is secured in the center of God’s will, which is the safest place to be.

Next up is Michaelya. She and her family (5 boys plus her) have been fostering for five years and they’ve graciously opened their home and hearts to 30 children in that time. Three of those kiddos are now adopted and they are fostering seven children (5 of those are a bio sibling group that are in a long term placement with them). You might be doing the math and wondering where they fit all of these blessed little ones… This awesomely adventurous family purchased and have converted a convent home to allow them the space to care for all of these children in need of a safe, loving (and no doubt fun!) environment.

Here’s what Michaelya had to say in response to my questions…

How did/does your family deal with goodbyes?

Well, I have to be honest with you, they’re horrible.
It is my family’s prayer that the day saying  goodbye is not heartbreaking will be the day we stop fostering. These kids come into your home for love, and that’s what you give, without any holding back. Sometimes you have to focus on the bigger picture, forcing yourself to zoom out, knowing that God is the one who orchestrated this for your family. He is the only one who is sovereignly in control of this child’s life. Realizing that we are not the only safety, protector, cheerleader and encourager in these kid’s lives, but that there is a far better one, is a hard pill to swallow at times.
Pointing out God’s sovereignty and love is one of the best things my parents did for me. They give us kids room to grieve in our own way but were always available to hold or talk to us. Don’t force anything on your family, the healing will come at different times and in different ways. Heartbreak is proof of love. So just think of what you gave that child; it’s  something every person deserves.

Are there things you wish your parents had told you about foster care and/or your foster siblings when you were younger? Or things that they did tell you that you wish they hadn’t?

All my parents said directly was that we are opening our home to kids who need to be safe and loved. And that God has called them to do this with our whole family. All I could really think about at the time was the fact I could possibly get a baby sister. As you can imagine, growing up with five brothers, I’m all like, heck yeah.
You don’t know what you don’t know so there wasn’t a ton they could say then. It’s a whole world of unknowns in fostering but you just gotta keep trusting Christ. My parents drove that hard, by example and prayer. Looking back, that has helped me now with all the hard things in this journey.
You and your kids will be learning together in this, be open with and supportive of each other.  Some of us kids were a little older when we started fostering so my parents often talked to us before welcoming a new little into our home.
Staying in tune as a family will strengthen your house in many many ways.

Was it hard sharing your parents (especially with children who needed extra attention due to coming from hard circumstances)? Did you ever feel left out and slighted?

Again I will be honest here, yes I did. I have 5 biological brothers so I was never the only child but to have more kids, especially certain ones, will probably leave your child thinking  ‘um, hello. I’m over here’ sometimes.  But selflessness builds character. To gently realize that I am not my parents be-all end-all was a bit of a hard lesson with very positive results. You’re only doing your child a huge favor by putting them in a place where they can serve and share and give. Think about it. My parents were there every step, correcting me where I’m wrong, directing me along the path of joy and fullness through giving to others. It’s also called sanctification. And it’s something that is a life long process resulting in an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ.

How did growing up with foster/adopted siblings impact your faith?

I got to experience firsthand God’s grace, mercy, love and protection through my home and with my parents through fostering stating at age 13. It’s through this journey that I’ve developed a much much deeper relationship with Jesus Christ in my life. As kids, we were exposed to how the world’s sinfulness can hurt, ruin and label a child’s life forever. So instead of judging that,
we started praying as a family, and individually, for these sweet kids and their parents. It’s embarrassing how compassionless and instantly judgmental I could be before we started fostering. We began to realize that no matter how you grew up, without Jesus you were lost. Fostering and adopting has taught me compassion and how to not just receive, but also give out mercy and grace to the hurt and lost in this world.
It has been, without a doubt, the most spiritually eye-opening experience for me. And I would not change it for anything.

A big giant thank you to Kylee and Michaelya for taking the time to share their insight with us. May we all feel more encouraged to teach our children to love in big and vulnerable ways.

chrystal

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