[note] In honor of May being National Foster Care month, Grand Rapids’ mom and blogger Jill Anderson of JustJilly.com brings us her story of becoming a foster parent.[/note]
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A few years ago I started to feel like our family might be a good fit for foster care.

There are a hundred of complex reasons why, but the main one was that honestly, our family has been very blessed and we felt we could be a blessing to someone else.

We spent a long time talking about it as a family before we committed to this decision. It was not something we took lightly. It is hard to [pullquote_right] People often ask me if it will be hard to love her and then give her back. [/pullquote_right]try and explain to your children why a child might need to come live in your home because their mommy and daddy can’t take care of them. Your heart breaks before you even start the conversation, but we needed to make sure that every member of our family understood what was going to happen.

Once we all landed on the same page, my husband and I began our training at D.A. Blodgett.

Here is what you should know right off the bat: foster care training is not for the faint of heart. And it shouldn’t be. This is not something you want to be under-prepared for. The training must be very thorough. And truthfully, it sometimes scares the daylights out of you.

The children you take into your home have been through a lot and have often learned coping mechanisms for the trauma in their life that are inappropriate and disruptive. The way you discipline your own children may not be appropriate with a foster child. Learning about all the possible scenarios these children have been through will break your heart again.

Since we still believe this was the right choice for our family after we completed training, we began our home study. A home study is a lengthy process in which the system scrutinizes whether or not you can provide a stable, nurturing and safe environment for these children. By the end you will feel like your social worker knows more about you than your own parents do.

Once the home study is complete you wait until you become licensed. You choose how many children you want in your home and what ages you will accept.

[pullquote_left] It is impossible to foster children and not get your heart broken. [/pullquote_left]We chose to maintain birth order in our family, meaning we decided not to take any kids older than our youngest child. This was our way of doing our best to minimize trauma to our own children. You really have to decide what is best for your family while keeping in mind the greatest need for foster parenting is for older children and sibling groups. We are licensed for one child at a time under age two because that is what we felt would be the best fit for our family.

We have had our baby since December. She is an absolute doll and fits very well into our family. But I must admit that all the training in the world can’t completely prepare you for the weight of caring for a baby that isn’t your own. It is really difficult to explain, but the closest sensation I can compare it to is when I came home from the hospital with my first baby and I felt completely overwhelmed and under qualified.

I am a seasoned mom of three now, but those feelings all returned. And then some more complex and overwhelming feelings accompanied it. Ones I honestly can’t put into words except to say that it weighed heavily on all of us for several weeks before we began to relax and feel slightly normal again.

People often ask me if it will be hard to love her and then give her back. Of course the answer is yes. We do love her and want the best possible life for her. But her future is not in our control.

We can only provide her the best possible care while she is with us. It is quite tempting to get angry with her birth mom for the choices she has made and at times I do. But I try to remember that she has lived a very different life from me and while I hope she learns to make better choices, she has had a lot of obstacles thrown her way.

It is in our foster baby’s best interest for us to champion her mom becoming a better mom, and not work against her. So we do our best to co-parent and I encourage mom in the positive steps she is making. (This has been a HUGE work in progress and you can read about it more here.)

What you learn in training is that the goal of foster care is always reunification between the child and their parent(s). That is a hard thing to get your brain around. It is incredibly hard to imagine a child going back to some of the situations they came from.

It is not an easy road for a mom or a dad who has had their child removed from them to get them back. There is a lot of hard work they must complete in their treatment plan, but as a foster parent you must always keep in mind that this is not your child. [pullquote_right] It is humbling to have a birth mom tell you she appreciates what you are doing for her baby. [/pullquote_right]

Until rights are completely terminated they have a mom and a dad that get to make decisions about their children, some of which might not be ones you agree with, but as long as they aren’t harmful to the child in your care, it simply isn’t your call.

You are always walking the fine line between loving her like she is your own, but knowing that she is not. People often say to me, “I could never do that. I couldn’t give back a child after having them in my home.” As one fellow foster mom said to me, “If it doesn’t break your heart to give them back you are doing it wrong.”

It is impossible to foster children and not get your heart broken. The fact that there is even a need for foster care system at all is a devastating reality.

Fostering definitely isn’t for everyone, but I was moved by the fact that there are so many kids out there who need families to love them for the short and long term. While it is incredibly challenging every day, it is also amazing to watch your own children embrace another baby into your family. It is humbling to have a birth mom tell you she appreciates what you are doing for her baby. And it is a privilege to get to pour our love into this baby for however long we have her and share some of the love our family has been blessed with.[clear]

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profile5Jill Anderson has lived in Grand Rapids for eight years with her husband and three children. Her family became foster parents in December of 2012. Jill has been blogging since 2007 and can be found at Just Jilly where she discusses her love of chocolate, cheap wine, fashion and sarcasm.