I’m Hallie Graves from Austin, Texas, and I’m a 33-year old single foster mom. For my day (and let’s be honest, often night) job, I’m a trial attorney for a small litigation firm. I also love speaking and writing and chatting with people about foster care, Broadway shows, Austin, politics, and basically everything! I currently have a 6 month old baby girl in my care, and she’s my third placement.
I’ve learned four things from my first 18 months as a foster parent.
I’ve been in the foster care world for 17 years, since I was in high school. I thought I’d seen it all – I’ve been a CASA, an attorney for kids, a mentor for teen girls, a NICU volunteer, and a board member of local nonprofits involved in advocacy for vulnerable kids and families. But now I’m a parent – to other people’s children. I LOVE the parenting part; caring for these children is my greatest joy. I’ve got a lot of experience with infants and kids and feel pretty comfortable there. But foster care isn’t regular parenting. It’s parenting on a roller coaster, with lots of other people involved. I’m still processing all that I’ve learned over the last year, but here are a few of my takeaways 18 months into this gig:
1. I am not in control. Of anything, ever. I never thought of myself as a person who needed control. I like to be pretty go with the flow (enneagram 7). But once I started caring for tiny vulnerable people with no say in their future, it got a lot harder. My first placement was a four-day old baby boy who I parented for 11.75 months. His future was uncertain most of that time, and I had to learn that I can advocate with open hands to whatever is best for him. Fostering is an in-your-face reminder every day that you are not in control (of anything).
2. I can survive loss. When people learn that I am a foster parent, the #1 response is some version of, “Oh, I could NEVER do that! I’d get too attached, and would never be able to say goodbye to the kids!” That’s a normal human reaction: to turn away, push away from something that seems very painful. But here’s the thing- I am a secure, emotionally mature (mostly :)) adult who can withstand deep loss. I do get too attached. It’s critically important that my kids attach completely to me so they learn secure, healthy attachment. I can be the adult who suffers a loss so that these kids have a shot at a more secure future. Saying goodbye to my first foster son a week before he turned 1 was the hardest thing I have ever done, and it brings me to tears even now. But these kids deserve someone to get into the suffering with them; to be willing to experience great loss because they are absolutely worth it.
3. I am not the hero, and they are not the villain. The savior mentality is hard to avoid, especially when outsiders frequently applaud me for being “a saint.” I assure you, I’m not. But it illustrates a bigger problem to me. I’ve learned that there are no heroes in foster care, and there are no villains. It’s easy for me to sit here, a white, educated, English-speaking woman with enough money and an unending support system and say that a parent should not have done something that resulted in removal of children. It’s not that simple. I have never met a parent who woke up one day and decided to make an unsafe environment for their child. Most of the time, it’s the result of systemic forces and generational barriers that are incredibly difficult to overcome – poverty, untreated mental illness, addiction, mass incarceration, teen pregnancy, unavailable affordable housing, and more. I’ve looked into their eyes, filled with desperation to parent their child. I’ve been given gifts they received at their baby showers to prepare for the child that they are not allowed to parent. And above all, I’ve learned that it’s not up to me to decide if someone is worthy of my help, compassion, love, or grace. It is my job to offer it every time, in every way I can.
4. It takes a village. Parenting in any capacity requires a village, certainly. But foster care requires a specific, deeply-invested kind of village. I don’t think it’s that different from doing something like an overseas mission or being in the military, in terms of the support needed. Foster parents are on the front lines, and we need 10 people for every 1 foster family to be in the trenches, committed to their family’s flourishing. I am so thankful for my village. It’s a rag-tag combination of three groups of people: (1) family and friends that I educated about foster care and brought along with me on the journey; (2) my existing community groups, like small groups, bible study, book club; and (3) other foster parents. Each group has a slightly different role. I lean on other foster parents – especially other single foster parents – to say “I get it” or “this is what we did in that situation.” I lean on my family and friends for practical, tangible support like babysitting and hanging with me when my kid is asleep at 6:15pm on a Friday night. And my existing community groups have surrounded me with encouragement and prayer and whatever else I need. I’ve found that my job is to figure out what specifically I need and ask a specific person for that specific help. So often, we don’t ask for help and then are disappointed when people don’t show up. I’ve given myself permission to acknowledge that I took on this role AND I need help.
What’s next for me? I hope to continue fostering as long as God allows me to. And I’d love to encourage you on that journey, too.
Follow Hallie’s journey on Instagram!