I am on the computer. Two of my three kids are through the shower and the third is yelling because the hot water is gone. One is pounding on the piano, last minute practice before lessons tomorrow. It’s 15 minutes past the little one’s bedtime and I rushed her so she’ll probably be back up shortly. Their homework is done but not checked by me tonight. I have an article to write, instructing people on how to be a single foster parent. I have only a little time, tomorrow there is work early. I wonder to myself if I am the wisest choice to create this piece.
I am a single Mom who fostered then adopted a sibling set of three. Being a single foster parent is a journey like no other. I have a plaque that reads “You are my greatest adventure” and this truth cannot be over exaggerated. It is a bumpy road and there are no clear signs or directions, but the view when glimpsed is breathtaking. When progress is made, a barrier broken, love visualized…there is nothing that can compare to the feeling of making a difference and changing a life.
The first thing to be done once you have decided to become a single foster parent is to immediately tune out those who believe you can’t or shouldn’t. Memorize this paraphrased quote: Courage is not the absence of fear, but the determination that something is more important than fear. You will be afraid, you will doubt, and you will question your sanity. As singles, we believe we can accomplish anything. Cling to this. We are not unlike the little engine in the children’s story. Do not let the big fancy engines scare you; your ability is just as great and your purpose equally grand.
In the process of preparing to foster, develop strong boundaries. They will be tested and you must be prepared. Know what you can/cannot handle. If you have strict work hours, it is difficult to care for a child with behavioral issues requiring regular intervention at school. If you have not processed a sexual trauma in your past, you will struggle to help children work through theirs. These are not weaknesses, they are who you are. There will be children you can help, you will not be able to personally save them all and you do them a disservice by not being honest with what you are capable of.
Get a village! You are going to need a tribe. Fostering is the most humbling experience of my life, and I discovered I quite literally could not do it alone. From the stranger in the church parking lot who took my hand and led me in, to the sitter who appeared with her giant planner and quelled the chaos of my life, to the dear friend who permitted me bonding time with each child by watching the other two, I would have been dragged under the water long ago were it not for those who magically surfaced to help me stay afloat. My family was my lifeline, but had it not been for the village, I would have drowned.
The loneliness will be real. Friends will not comprehend why you won’t have a shower because for the children it’s not a happy event. People will be more interested in your kid’s “story” than who they are. Trying to explain the importance of reunification, your empathy for their mother, and how much your heart hurts for their “other” family will feel futile. Parents will attempt to rationalize how it’s “kids being kids” after a long night of perpetual dysregulation including verbal and physical abuse. The sitter will laugh as you try to explain the level of structure required for your children to feel safe. Your children will be different, and it will often feel isolating. Know that you are not alone; there are support groups, books, classes, online alliances to listen and understand.
I am often asked, “How do you do it by yourself?” My response is, “How do you do it with someone else?” It’s akin to asking an engineer why they aren’t an artist. My way is the only way I know and it works for me and my family. It is our experience. Perception is the reality, proven by my daughter’s recent question. She thoughtfully asked, “Mom, I know that I want to adopt children when I grow up…but I was thinking that I might want to have a husband too…” My response, “Honey, you are totally allowed to have a husband and still adopt.” Take the risk, go on the greatest adventure. You can do it!
Beth Ellen is a single mother who recently left the medical field to pursue a career in writing and public speaking. She has adopted a sibling set of three from the foster care system and has become quite passionate about helping parents and children survive and thrive in this tumultuous environment. When she is not being a personal taxi service for her kiddos, she is working on interviewing other parents and writing her book Ain’t a Saint. She can be reached through her http://adoptionaintasaint.com/.