A Special Mother's Day Post: Foster Care
This is Part 3 of a series of Mother's Day posts about different issues with motherhood. I'm grateful my friend Erin agreed to talk about something close to her heart. Click on the hyperlinks to read about infertility or postpartum depression.
“However motherhood comes to you, it’s a miracle.” The Lemon Tree House
Erin Carother’s motherhood journey has taken many different twists and turns, but she wouldn’t change it for anything.
One day, she was sitting at a retreat for women and Tim Ballard, founder and CEO of Operation Underground Railroad (O.U.R.), was speaking about his work of ending childhood trafficking. Erin was listening when all of a sudden, she felt the world stop and the room full of people got quiet and still.
“I suddenly felt all alone, and heard a voice that said ‘Erin, your children are out there waiting for you and you need to go find them because they’re hurting.’”
She said she’s never received such clear direction in her life. It was so clear and so overwhelming and so scary. She got emotional and said “There are kids that need me specifically and I couldn’t wait and had to do it right then."
She went home and told her husband Randy. “He thought I was nuts, but he went for it.”
To her surprise, they didn’t receive a foster child for some time. They went through all the paperwork and got their house up to the codes needed to foster children. At that time, they were struggling with infertility caused by a uterine infection. Erin thought it was the answer to their fertility problem and that they’d be blessed with a baby or at least a small child to fill that hole. They had a 5 year old daughter and were ready for more. When they finally figured out that there was an infection, they were able to clear it up with medicine, and Erin got pregnant. She delivered a healthy baby girl in late December of last year.
In the fall of last year they were able to provide respite care for two young boys for a couple of weekends, but that was it. They received lots of calls, but nothing ever worked out, until four weeks ago.
They got the call about a 13 year old boy and without reservation, they welcomed him into their home. His mother had recently died and left him in the care of the state.
He's been there a whole month now, but they’ve had a lot of fun getting to know each other. He and Cressida get along like they’ve been siblings their whole lives.
“They were instantly connected. It’s odd how normal it feels but at the same time there’s all this stuff that normal people don’t have to go through. The relationship has been very easy,” Erin said.
Though that has been easy, the obstacles have been sometimes overwhelming for Erin.
“The biggest challenge has been walking with him through what I can see him going through. I can see the struggle and the pain and the challenges and the fear and it’s so difficult to not be able to really help at all.”
Being a teenager these days is not easy, but for him, it’s especially difficult dealing with the death of a mother and the loss of a life he once knew.
She explained of the struggle to set rules and boundaries that were needed in their home and of the dilemma to explain to him why they were there. They won’t let him watch anything he wants or play any video game he wants. She said he’s done well at compromising with them and she’s been sensitive to not completely turning his world inside out.
“We’re trying to transition in a way that is kind and understanding. I’ve explained I’m not taking mom’s place but fulfilling the parental role.”
With a child who comes from a different background and a difficult life, knowing how to parent can be especially difficult. Erin said she’s looked to many sources for help and guidance, from scriptures to YouTube, to foster parenting blogs to books, but she came to realize something really important: what her foster son needed was her realness and vulnerability.
“Ever since he came to my home, I felt an enormous burden to help him emotionally and be whatever he needed me to be to help him with what he was going through. It’s like a heavy mantle that’s been put on my shoulders, and I felt like I wasn’t equipped to handle this. I have a preschooler and an infant; I’ve never had a teenager. The smallest decisions were completely overwhelming for me. I’m a fixer and for me, I’m going to research this to death; trying to soak up every resource I could, and I found that he doesn’t need me to be a therapist. He needs connection and a relationship and to be vulnerable, which is terrifying - to open my heart and share my struggles about things that are hard. That is really what he needs from me.”
Not only do the Carothers face specific hardships to raising this teenager, they also deal with the frustration that comes with others judging their choice to take him in.
"I get one of two reactions when I tell people: either I'm a saint, OR they think 'how can you do that, he’s going to rape you’re daughters.' I’m not a saint, I'm not perfect, I'm not doing this right, the struggle is real, I’m not good at this, but he did nothing wrong to come into care. This is not his fault and judging him and making decisions to interact with us or cut off ties because he’s in the system is so immensely frustrating to me."
She told me, as their neighbor and friend, that it means the world to him when we smile at him and say "Hi." Any little thing we can do to make him feel welcome will be positive for him.
“He’s full of insecurities and sadness. He tries to be so strong, but you can see that he has a heavy cross he’s bearing. It’s not my role to take it away from him. I don’t know what to give him but a stable environment and I’m trying to provide him with little moments of comfort and joy when I can.” I think the Carothers are doing marvelous at that part.
Although things turned out differently than they thought, they don't look back.
"I got the blessing. It’s so interesting and so weird that this is how it turned out. I wouldn’t have it any other way."
*Author's note: The State requests no pictures or name used online in foster cases.