Having a supportive extended family to surround a foster family is a profound blessing.
The emotional, logistical, spiritual, and “I just need a break, can you help me this weekend before I have a breakdown???” support that they offer us is unlike any other.
My wife Holly and I both have 2 helpful parents and supportive siblings who joined us in our foster care journey. We fostered before we (or our other siblings) had biological children, so for our families, that meant not only did fostering make us “first-time parents” but it also made them “first-time” grandparents, aunts, and uncles. It would have been easy to protect themselves and be half-in, but they chose to join us on the calling.
When our first foster placement came, she was gone to the next place within 12 days before our families could even meet her. How strange. And yet they cried with us and helped us process all that was going on as we became parents and then empty nesters in a two week window.
Four days later, another little girl came to our home straight from the hospital as a 2-day old. They welcomed her in as their own, opened their hearts to her, and fully felt the feelings of “mission accomplished” and simultaneous grief when she went back home to her family at 7 months old. We had done it, the right way, together.
Five days later, they like us, were still grieving the loss felt from the last placement leaving when we then said yes to two more little sisters being placed in our family. Our families opened their hearts again to help, and to hurt. My mom would go with me to parent visits sometimes and pray with the bio parents and encourage them. She was loving them and supporting them just as she was doing for us.
Less than a year later, with now two foster daughters under 3 years old and my wife 7 months pregnant, I got a call from our second foster daughter’s family. They were crying on the phone, with CPS in the room about to put the kids back into foster homes, saying “we know Drew and Holly will help us again.” They wouldn’t have felt that way if we didn’t have that family support around us, which they had experienced first-hand. They didn’t just see a helpful couple in Holly and me… they saw a family unit of support for their child.
After we got that call, it meant that in just a few months after the baby was born, we would have four kids three and under, and even more daunting, two simultaneous foster cases ongoing. My sister and brother-in-law had been living in another city a couple hours away, and when they got this unexpected news they said to one another, “We need to move to help them.” And they did.
3 years of fostering 4 daughters taught me that there are many hard days. The early days of a placement are difficult. “Court weeks” are like ascending and descending the Mt. Everest of anxiety every 90 days. Those sweet and sad last days when the child is in your home, followed by those first days without them.
It is in those moments that you seriously ask yourself, “How will we do even do this?”
“How will we buckle all these kids in the car?”
“How will we get them in and out of church?”
“Can I ever shake this anxiety?”
“When will I sleep normally again?”
“Will I always be this sad?”
“Should we open up our home again?”
Our family’s job, which they did so well, was to be like the crutches for an athlete who tore up her knee. They held us up, and helped us move. Slowly, we got stronger and regained our awareness that “what was impossible at first, is now doable.” The “there’s no way” just becomes a new normal.
Without the crutches, the athlete doesn’t rebuild that strength and belief in their ability to move and do. Some of that is physical, but much of that is a mental battle and internal belief.
Family support, at its best, is just like that.
They help us move forward, one step at a time.