Fostering Connection, Growth & Love: What My Fostering Journey Taught Me

 

Great Circle’s Chief Legal Officer Cheryl Schuetze shares her family’s experience with fostering, from family reunification to adoption.

On a warm Friday in May 2010, I woke up as half of a couple and went to bed as the mom of three toddlers.

 After more than 12 years of marriage, months of classes, and much anticipation, my husband and I were finally parents. The terror was real. I soon discovered there was a whole lot the classes didn’t teach. Like what do toddlers eat? And that my husband wasn’t handing me the stinky 1 year old because he refused to change diapers, but because he’d never done it before.

Thankfully, our licensing worker, most likely out of fear for our sanity, called in a favor and had an experienced foster parent contact us. “You know about the kids’ hair and skin, right?” she asked us, very kindly not mentioning how very un-diverse our family had been just the day before. “I know they have skin and hair,” I responded. So, she spent her Saturday morning patiently showing us how to care for our new charges.

We learned a lot with our first placement. Those three adorable toddlers had a biological mother who loved them to pieces. She just didn’t know how to care for them. No one had ever taught her how to be a mom or shown her where and how to get help. Having her kids removed was the push she needed. She called her kids every night – even the  1 year old who couldn’t talk back. She never missed a visit and did everything that was asked of her. Just before Thanksgiving, she got her kids back. And I learned the truth that it doesn’t matter that I could have given those children a “better” life in terms of material things. They were with the mother who loved them and worked hard to be better for them.

We had other placements over the years and now we’re parenting three amazing kiddos, past the end of their foster care journey and through adoption, dealing with their traumas and joys as they grow to adulthood. 

Looking back at that first day, there are so many things I wish I’d known. First is about clothing. Appearances are important at any age. Of our nine long-term placements, only one set of siblings came with any clothes, and most of them were shoved in trash bags and didn’t fit. That’s because they only had about 15 minutes to pack before being removed from the home they were living in. We eventually built up a few outfits for each gender in a wide variety of sizes that we kept in storage for new placements. We made sure every kid leaving our house took several outfits in suitcases to their new home. In addition, we give older kids a clothing allowance several times a year. Giving them the autonomy to pick out their own clothes (with parental veto, of course) helps them express their own identity and feel some control over their lives.

Another thing we learned was that we had to have support and training to cope with their issues. We attended a trauma-informed parent support group for a number of years at a local therapist’s office that focused on foster and adopted kids and are members of a local foster parent group. Trauma comes in a wide variety of ways and shows up in an even larger number of behaviors. Understanding where the behaviors come from and learning ways to address them is a must. Plus, the support of other people going through a similar journey is very helpful as foster parenting can be isolating.

Finally, we learned to be more accepting of a wider range of people, beliefs, and lifestyles. It doesn’t matter what the kids’ biological family looks like, how they act, or what their culture is. To the kids, their family is normal, and you are different. Disrespecting, disregarding, or disparaging their family or culture hurts them and prevents bonding with you. So, you need to learn about the hair care, skin care, and fashion of your foster kids’ families. Accepting their family and culture shows you accept them.

Whether foster children stay with you for just a short time or forever, they are a gift that will enrich your life forever. I’m forever grateful I was able to grow my family through fostering.