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A Special Kind of Mother

Mother’s Day is traditionally a beautiful day of celebrating the women who have loved us from our beginnings. Today, I want to celebrate a specific group of mothers – Foster Mothers. These women are those who may not have given birth to the children in their homes – are often not related to the children in any way — and yet love and care for children who may have experienced the worst the world has to offer prior to coming into the care of foster families.

While many believe foster parents are doing it for the money, trying to “steal” children from their families or gain access to vulnerable children to exploit, it is my experience that the individuals who open their hearts and homes to children in need of love and care do so because they believe in the cause.

To celebrate these women, I wanted to raise awareness of the highs and lows experienced by them. I spoke with a few mothers who are licensed in West Virginia by the National Youth Advocate Program (NYAP). These are a few of the things they want everyone to know.

∫ They DO get attached to the children.

A common refrain from those outside of the foster care system as to why they are unable to become a foster parent, is “I couldn’t give the child back,” or even “I would be too attached to the child.”

The reality of it is that foster parents do become attached to the children in their homes. In fact, this is what is SUPPOSED to happen. The purpose of placing children in families, as opposed to institutions, is to provide a positive, stable, caring family environment while their own family is unable to. One where the child can thrive in school, participate in community activities, and live as part of a family. More than one foster mother I spoke to told me she felt as though the children were hers the moment they entered her care.

As to giving children back, it is a known possibility. Hopefully, the court system has been thorough in determining the children will be safe upon return to their parents or other family members prior to reunification. This is also a process that usually takes place over a period of time, rather than a quick decision, though exceptions have occurred. It can be difficult to say goodbye to a now beloved member of the family. However, it’s not always a permanent goodbye – foster parents sometimes have the ability to stay in contact with the children they cared for and forge positive relationships with those now responsible for the welfare and safety of those children. Foster parents’ only “special” quality is a willingness to go through the process of attachment and separation for the benefit of the children involved, despite the personal sacrifice.

∫ They don’t “do it for the money.”

The money isn’t that great, and it’s too difficult a job. This is a work of heart, not money. Money paid to foster families is a stipend intended to offset the expense of caring for the child; paying for clothes, diapers, supplies, extra food, etc. The foster moms I know are passionate about advocating for the children in their care and go out of their way to provide activities, experiences and belongings beyond that which is covered by the stipend issued by the state.

∫ The kids aren’t “broken.”

Children in foster care have been through a trauma; they have been in a situation of danger of imminent danger AND the removal from all that is familiar to be placed in a home with complete strangers. They have feelings about all of this, but children are not very good at express themselves with words. So they use their behavior to tell us what they lack the words to articulate. These behaviors manifest in a number of ways, but resources are available for the issues being faced. These can include physical therapies, medical treatments, and counseling. As wards of the state, foster parents are not responsible to pay for services for these children in order to get the assistance needed.

In addition, most children in foster care are not only open to love and affection, they desperately crave it. Like all children, they want to be loved and give love to those who are important to them. Negative behavior isn’t the only side of any child, biological or foster.

∫ They have thought about quitting.

This role is a difficult one, full of heartbreak, stress and sometimes lacking in support from friends and family. At some point, every foster parent has evaluated the pros and cons of the path they have been walking to determine if it is, indeed worth the time and effort required. It could be a negative experience with a child or the outcome of a particular case. It could be a personal life change that makes it difficult to make space for another family member. Some do quit, even if it’s just for a time. But even those who have quit say the same thing:

∫ It’s worth it!

Depsite the difficulties, it is worth it to give children who have gone through so much, an opportunity to belong to a family.

Foster mothers are not a lesser class of moms; in fact, I believe they are deserving of an extra celebration as they forge ahead with love and purpose to aid our community’s most vulnerable children. So if you know any foster moms this Mother’s Day, make a point to let them know what a great job they’re doing.

For more information on becoming a foster parent, please contact Toya Cunningham at National Youth Advocate Program by calling 304-243-1865 or email her at tcunningham@nyap.edu.

Meredith Wycherley is a local foster parent.

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