I was so influenced by Lauren (from Word from the Wallaces) open letter to herself pre-four-kids-under-the-age-of-five that I decided to write an open letter too. To myself. Pre fosterhood.
Dear Pre-Foster-Motherhood Self,
Life is about to change big time and you can never go back to normal when it was just you and Jason and the dog. Except for that time between placements, but that’s not really the same old normal anyway. Just listen up. Here are so things you should know:
• Keep toddler foods around. I know you don’t know what this means because you don’t have kids yet so let me make it plain and simple: Your first placement will be a toddler and she will arrive late at night while Jason is in Norway. You should always keep things like this in the house: bananas, cheerios, yogurt, applesauce, fruit snacks/dried fruit, crackers, cheese sticks.
• Freeze as many meals as you can and stock up on frozen pizzas, burritos, pasta, macaroni and cheese, frozen and canned veggies. Fresh is nice but survival is more important. Food is food. Well meaning friends will think you don’t need any meals brought to you because you’re not recovering from a pregnancy. They have no idea how overwhelmed and exhausted you feel. Which brings me to…
• Ask for help. Friends want to help, they just don’t know what to do. They stopped over for 15 minutes to meet your new daughter but didn’t stay long because they didn’t want to intrude. You should tell them you’re at the brink of an emotional breakdown and you desperately need adult conversation.
• It’s OK for the mom to cry. Related to the previous point. You think you must always be strong and have all the answers. You were thrown in to the heat of battle and you weren’t briefed on the past. Give yourself grace. Put the screaming kid in her crib where she’s safe, call your mom for help and then have a good cry until she arrives.
• Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today. You think you have no plans tomorrow. You can get groceries tomorrow. You can vacuum the house tomorrow. You can sleep in tomorrow. You have no idea if later today your life and plans will change drastically and you have absolutely no control over tomorrow. Or maybe you do. But do whatever you can today, just in case.
• You were wise to stock up on one outfit in every size range. It still won’t be enough but you’ll be happy you have something not cigarette smokey to put the new kid in before she goes to sleep for the night.
• Speaking of when the kid sleeps: this is your time to get things done. Also remember to sleep. But do as much as it’s healthy to do during nap times, right after the kid goes to bed and before she wakes up. That way when she’s awake, she has your full attention.
• The first few days, you will have very little contact or direction from anyone in the system. You’ve passed their vigorous inspection process already and they trust you with this kid (despite your own feelings of inadequacy). Don’t be surprised if you don’t hear from her caseworker until next week when she informs you of the meeting you’re required to attend the next day. Write all your plans in pencil.
• Journal and keep records of everything. Everyday.
• Take lots of snacks with you when you leave the house. Those little people are constantly hungry. Left unfed for an hour or two, they get cranky. Also note: they don’t eat much in one sitting. Hence the constant hunger.
• Be brave and adventurous but know that sometimes you will flop. It’s OK. It makes a good story and you’ll be glad you tried. (I’m referring specifically to the time you decide to take the brand new toddler on a plane trip alone rather than finding a respite home. By the end of the flight all of the other passengers will hate you and assume you’re a horrible mother because “your daughter” keeps hitting and biting you, throwing her toys and screaming like a psycho when you try to restrain her in your lap. It really doesn’t matter. You will never see any of them again. Focus on nurturing and disciplining that feisty little girl…everything you do will matter eternally to her.)
• You’ve heard many times “it’s a broken system,” after your first placement you will have a much broader understanding of this. After your second placement you will realize it was so much worse than you thought. After your third placement… wait. We’re not there yet. But I’m scared to find out.
• Community and support will start to include a lot of people you’ve never met in person. This is perfectly OK. Your current network of family and friends does not include enough like-minded people who are young foster parents (yet, anyway). Blogs and blogging will connect you to these more-costly-than-gold individuals.
• Throw your expectations out the door. No really. Again. For real.
• Surprise: You will be adopting sooner than you imagine to a child much younger than you anticipated. It will be awesome! Also the most difficult fight of your life to date.
• It’s worth it. Love is never wasted. God will provide exactly what you need as you need it. He will sustain you through things you do not think you can handle. He will MOVE A MOUNTAIN. You’ve been told all of this before but I’m sending this from the future to tell you that it’s been tested and proved true. Your mind will be blown. Hang on to your hat…