Foster Care Trauma in My Home

Much like entrepreneurship, marriage, and parenting- it’s better I did not understand what I was getting in to when I started foster parenting. Naiveté was a gift. The runway of idealism was devastatingly short and reality was a quick crash and long burn. I was ill prepared for the emotional weight of loving and stewarding deeply fractured little people. I struggle with that still as a profound feeler. The culture of my home was likely additionally traumatizing for them and I didn’t even realize it.

Our 5yo came in with all sorts of kindness and excitement. There is nothing violent or mean in him. He was like a little bird, so lean and small boned. I knew immediately I could fatten him up and give him enough curvature to hold his pants up. I was wrong, but he did shoot up several inches and ate endlessly like he had room to fill up hollow limbs.

He loved my son and under his attention it was like watching a parched flower be watered- firming up and rising, coming back to life as Peter read him books or played Go Fish. He looked up at my firstborn, gloried in his words and laughter, and begged for more attention. I suspect there would never be enough attention or adoration to satisfy his longing.

Having come from a setting where he was the only child, I think he saw the other kids as his resource competition. If they weren’t serving his needs, then they were against him and taking what he needed to survive. He would screech about what he wasn’t getting. He would manufacture injuries to accuse his foster siblings. He was constantly causing division and getting the kids into fights. He would create huge messes in his room and in the basement, like a bomb had exploded a 15 gallon Lego bin. He would frustrate the other kids with relentless physical and verbal nagging until they yelled back and scared him into tears. He was diagnosed with PTSD and undiagnosed with Reactive Attachment Disorder.

I did not keep him to rigid schedules, which I think would have been salve to his frenetic soul. It would have been stability so he could come out of the constant adrenaline rush of his chaotic life. I would raise my voice to get my kids attention and did the same with him. I’m sure it reminded him of the violence and aggression of his life before our home. I didn’t implement a hard and fast bedtime routine, which could have served for connection, a task focused use of evening time, and another consistent comfort to prepare him for sleep (which he was very good at doing).

I was exhausted by 7p and just trying to survive the last 90 minutes. Weekends were much worse. We started using respite care on the monthly basis, even if we were in town. He started daycare during the school year which helped with consistency. I was also finding out that trauma therapy didn’t fix everything, which I didn’t know I expected until it wasn’t a silver bullet.

If I did it over again, I would have so much structure it would make my skin crawl. Holding so much order feels oppressive to me. However, to little people with trauma, it is the safest place. I design my home’s culture by what I wanted and needed, and raised bio kids that got in line behind it. For these littles that have known adverse childhood experiences, I would clearly explain every expectation and process and then maintain it in the same manner day in and day out. Like a kindergarten classroom teacher shows students how to line up, sit in their seats, walk to a cafeteria or use scissors, I would teach how to walk in the door, hang up a backpack, go to the bathroom in the toilet, wipe, flush, wash our hands- and then make sure it was done that same way forever from that point forward. It is the opposite of my variety seeking, adventure hungry instinct. But I see now, that what feels like death to me in this mundane work will create life for our family. It’s a worthy investment on my part.

This little guy moved to a different foster family that served him way better than I could. He excelled relationally, thrived at school, and is now being adopted. He survived any trauma that I might have added to his short life’s long list of injustice.

Our family looks back on this and is sewing our regrets into learnings. I am also in process and some days maybe it’s me who needs to be walked through what parenting is like a kindergartner new to a classroom- give them a hug, scramble an egg, speak encouragement, celebrate the well done chore, braid the hair and allow the backyard marshmallow roast. I let myself settle into the thought that even though someone was better for him in the end, I did my job well.

I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.

1 Corinthians 3:6

Our family was one player on a team that helped steward and recover this little fellow. He had social workers, a lawyer, a therapist, and many families that loved him and labored for him to have the best. Before he was ever my son, he was the Lord’s, and God is in the business of growing good things. I just need to do my part.

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