Foster Parenting

Published on July 21st, 2014 | by Mutha Magazine



I’m trying to figure out what to say about our first foster placement, a three year old girl who stayed with us for three days before moving suddenly, for reasons beyond anyone’s control.

I could talk about the foster care tropes– her stuffed animals in a garbage bag in the placement worker’s trunk. Taking a child I’d known for three days to the doctor and knowing almost nothing about her. The first night, we didn’t know how to put her to sleep. “I guess we should read some stories?” we said to one another. We sat on the twin bed with her and when she got sniffly I rocked her until she was asleep.

Although I loved her almost immediately, even when she was screaming, which she did often, my love did not keep her safe or calm or stable or even in one place for very long.

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We went to Walmart to get all the things she didn’t come with. We bought Pull-Ups and Garanimals and Hello Kitty underpants and lotion and tiny blue sneakers. Things I’ve never bought before. We got a pink stool so she could reach the bathroom sink. One of her braids got stuck in my partner’s earring in the checkout line. She started crying. “Help,” my partner said, looking panicked. “We’re stuck.”

I could talk about my brief first experience of transracial parenting. The knowing smiles we got at our lefty church, where there are a number of white families with adopted children of color. An older black man on a moped stopped me as I was walking home from the park the carrying her. (Yes, I’d been that mom carrying a screaming child from the park. Yes, I was also that mom carrying a big kid who can definitely walk.)

“Is that your baby?”

I tried a vague, “for now,” with a smile, which only invited more questions.

I could say that I felt really, really visibly gay, more gay than I’ve ever felt, that carrying around a black baby made me and my white partner seem more gay. Like a certain kind of lesbians. I’m still trying to figure that out.

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I could say that I learned that love doesn’t always affect outcomes, that love isn’t always enough. That acting impeccably isn’t always enough.

I could say that I spent two days as a stay-at-home mom, draining my PTO so I could take her to the doctor and sort out the daycare. Those two days were the most exhausting of my life. It took me an hour to drink a cup of coffee, all day to write two emails. Putting on her shoes was a 20 minute affair. I’ve taken red-eye flights and driven 20 hours straight. I used to work graveyard shifts. I thought I knew what tired was, but I was wrong.

I could say that it was lovely. It was lovely when she woke up and held out her arms for a hug. It was lovely when she would say “Good job!” to me the way I would when she did something sweet or polite, or when she peed in the toilet. It was lovely when my partner came home with a flower for her, when she warmed up to the dog, when she learned my name.

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One of the mantras of foster care is that foster care is for kids who need families, not families who want children. Does it matter that I loved her? In the end we gave her a few days where we tried to be good to her, a few days that had some joy but were surely confusing– and a bunch of shit from Walmart.

I could tell you that I feel irrational, grieving a child who was never really mine, who was only in my home three days. That in three days I bonded, changed completely, and mourned a loss.

The last afternoon, when I knew she would have to move, I packed up all the things that came with her, the clothes we’d bought her, the toys and dresses my mom sent, the doll and tiny stroller my friends gave her, and handed her to someone else, in the parking lot of a grocery store. She screamed and screamed and clung to us, people she’d known for almost exactly 72 hours. We gave her hugs and kisses and got back into my car, where we my partner and I broke down. “That was the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” I said.


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About the Author

Exploring real-life motherhood, from every angle, at every stage.

6 Responses to Anonymous on A RECENT YOUNG VISITOR

  1. Baby says:

    Thank you for sharing this beautiful piece. My heart aches for that little girl.

  2. Jody says:

    This is perhaps the most heart-wrenching piece I have read. As a grandmother of a three-year-old little girl, I can only imagine the trauma this poor child endures.

  3. Encole says:


  4. Bec says:

    Oh, this made me cry! She sounds so much like my three-year-old, and I felt so, so sad that she had to leave you and go somewhere else 🙁

  5. Deb Stone says:

    This is one shard beauty and two shards pain of being a foster parent. Children who stay longer offer different shards. Foster parent long enough, you’ll find shards that you will have never discovered without such gains and losses. It’s not for the faint of heart.

    Did you decide to take another child?

  6. D says:

    Please, please. We need more stories like this. We need more essays, more voices about foster care, about foster parenting. I want to do this. I feel like I have no guide, like everything I can find on the internet is either the informative criteria put out by different states and agencies, or Christians who think fostering is their missionary work and that they’re in cahoots with Jesus to raise up the orphans.

    Help. More. Please.

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