I’m not gonna lie- there are times in my life where I feel the need to be perfect weighing on me like a million ton weight. The first 6 days that our new foster blessing were here, was one of those periods of time.
When I gave birth to my two children and then adopted the third, I knew that when I got them in my arms that they were going to be with me (God willing) until they were adults. And then I would send them care packages in college and then babysit the grandchildren and take the grandchildren with us on vacations and have family holidays with them from now until forever. Basically, I knew that I’d have their whole lives to influence them and teach them and guide them.
But this? Oh foster care is tricky. I got a call on a random Tuesday afternoon asking if we would take this sweet child and then an hour later, she arrived with a social worker and moved in. We had no idea if she would be with us for a day, or a week or a year. And we still don’t. That’s just the nature of it. (And just to fill you in- we are not allowed to talk about her on a forum like this- so ,for now ,this entire foster care journey will be all about my reaction and my kids’ reactions instead of any specifics)
All the things that I thought would be issues, turned out to not be issues. Funny how that happens.
But the one thing that I didn’t count on happening was that my “sporadic perfectionist syndrome” (yes, I just made that up) totally reared it’s ugly head.
I took one look at that beautiful child. We knew none of her story. But, let’s face it- no one comes into foster care if their life is a fairy tale. I instantly felt this very weird compulsion to pack in 18 years of life lessons into every single day. Since we had no idea how long she’d be with us, I had this unsettling desire to teach her everything she ever needed to know about functioning in a family, in the hopes that when she went home that she could draw from those skills.
Y’all. It was exhausting.
On a typical day, my kids fight and bicker and get on each other’s nerves about… well, every hour of every day. They are siblings. That’s what siblings do. And in my home, the kids know the appropriate ways to deal with conflict, even if they don’t always use them. So normally, I have no problem letting them work their own stuff out. A helicopter parent I am not. But when a new child came in, I felt like all these little things would be such teaching opportunities for a child who likely had not seen good conflict resolution modeled. The kids would fight over whose turn it was to do xyz. And I’d step in and say something all super parent-ish like, “What would be the best way to work this out? Would that be fair? How will that make your brother feel. Blah, blah, blah.”
And I’d spend all kinds of time making these very balanced meals, with the USDA (or whoever makes up the guidelines) recommended daily allowances. Because, again, what if I only had a day or week to show this kid what good nutrition looks like?
And maybe I should show you how to wash your clothes! And tell you 45 times a day how important school is! And what a joy reading is! And let me write a note in your lunchbox using alternating brightly colored markers so that when you are a mom making lunches for your kids, you will remember that it made you feel good to get a sweet, little note in your lunchbox! And let me remind you all the time that in our family, we don’t make fun of each other or call each other hurtful things. And let me make sure and create opportunities to tell you that you are special and beautiful and safe. And let me show you how a lady should dress. And let me talk to you about boys. And let me teach you about how we don’t hit/hurt/cuss at each other. And …and…and…
Mad props to those moms who are Mary Effing Poppins every single day. But, you guys, it about did me in. Not to mention that in the first week of foster care there are about a zillion meetings and appointments and by day 6 …I was running ragged. Monday was my 32nd birthday and I spent a lot of it in a state of crying and exhaustion. It was just too much pressure for me. And the weirdest things was- it was all pressure that I put on myself. I think that it hit me like a ton of bricks that the very nature of foster care is that it’s all up in the air and you just do the best you can in the time that you are given. It’s something that I should have known all along, but it’s just not possible to cram 18 years worth of life lessons in a week and trying like hell to do it, doesn’t do anything but nearly kill the mama.
So, on my birthday as I was bawling on the phone to a friend about how I was so stressed, it was in that moment, I realized that living like this was in no way real life or sustainable. I think the exact words I used with my husband were, “I think that in my natural state of being, I am not a very nice person. And trying to fight that and be perfect is wearing me out!”
Needless to say that after my epiphany on Monday, we are back to doing stuff like eating frozen waffles sometimes for dinner, and wearing the same pair of socks two days in a row because I forgot to put the clothes in the dryer, and letting the kids problem solve their way out of their own fights.
This suits me so much better. While it might not be 18 years worth of lessons for this child, my hope is that she’ll feel loved and see that there is love in our home. And that here, kids are cherished, and safe and treated with respect. And she’ll know what that looks like when she goes back home. (It is the sincerest desire of my heart to see her go back home to a healthy and whole family- whenever that may be)
I can’t tell you how good it felt to tell that Mary Poppins version of myself that she was not welcome here any more. I like this flawed version of myself much better- even if she doesn’t keep the house as clean or cook as well or use her best handwriting to write the lunchbox notes. I spent the better part of a year preparing myself for how much grace the children placed in our home would need and how much grace my children would need as they adjusted to being a foster family. Somewhere in the middle of that, I forgot that I needed to give myself grace as well- grace to just be myself, and not the mom that I feel like I should be in my head. That woman in my head may look great on the outside with her vegetables on the table and her clean clothes in the drawers and her vacuumed rugs and her children all clean and smiling in the pew on Sunday morning. But the woman that I actually am? She loves children well. And it finally occurred to me that in this instance, the children coming here to live for a season need to the mom who loves well more than anything.
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