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Children's Wisconsin foster care raising heroes

Watching heroes grow

I recently had a meeting with my foster daughter’s school social worker. Usually when I’m at the school, it’s because of a behavioral meeting or a suspension. It was refreshing to be there for a different reason. 

I was there to go over a social history intake for an upcoming IEP. I sat down and we started to talk. The first question was about strengths. She’s a very strong advocate, very funny, empathetic, considerate. The words rolled off my tongue as soon as the question was asked. 

We talked about room for improvement, and goals and struggles. For the first time in a long time, I was sitting across from someone who saw the potential that my daughter has. It wasn’t about the diagnoses, it wasn’t about the suspensions, it wasn’t about the tickets. I listened as he told me how my daughter has been the one to break up fights, light up the room and be the most respectful kid. He told me that she’s the most coachable person on her basketball team. He told me that she could be a D1 athlete. That she could go far. 

For the first time, someone was sitting across from me seeing my child in the way I’ve been begging people to see her for the last 13 months.

I think fostering gives you a gift of seeing potential long before it has bloomed. Because when I first met this girl, 13 months ago riding shotgun in my car, I didn’t see who she was, I saw who she could be. 

Children's Wisconsin foster care and adoptionIt was been an extremely long road. It’s been exhausting. We both have had our fair share of tears. Her moving in was a learning curve for the both of us. We laughed together, we cried together. I watched this world shatter her heart into pieces and prayed that she would always consider me a safe place to land. 

There are plenty of diagnoses. There are citations from the police. There are suspensions. There are mental health hospitalizations. There are stories about aggression, about running away, about substance use. 

But how my child has learned to keep herself alive does not define her.

Let me say that again — how my child has learned to keep herself alive does not define her. I look at my teenagers every day and have to remind myself that I honestly don’t know if I would have made it out of the metaphorical fire that they’ve been in. I picture myself in middle and high school, and how hard things were despite having a loving family and a consistent place to call home. 

You see, I’m not “raising foster kids.” I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to see heroes grow. 

I sat down with my daughter from the start and I said, “Listen, you’ll always have a place to call home. We are in this together.”

It’s been an adventure. I hear so many people say, “I could never do what you do.” “I could never be 23 and foster teenagers.” “I don’t know how you do it.”

My response to them is yes, yes you do. Because you’re already doing it. I’m not doing some magical thing by raising teenagers. WE are raising teenagers. 

Every time you get a FaceTime call from me and it’s their face on the other end, every time you come to a basketball game, every time you change plans to make them family friendly. One of the coolest parts of fostering has been seeing my community, people in their early 20s just trying to figure their own lives out, step up and help me raise these teenagers. 

Six years ago, I was having sleepovers with my friends at their parent’s house. Now my kids and I are having a family sleepover at the house that my friend bought themselves. It’s all the little things, showing up for birthday parties, picking the kids up from school, taking them out for 1-on-1 time, answering those calls in times of distress. 

I have friends that have become mentors for my teens, friends who are so open with their own stories. “I was in foster care too. I get it.” “I used to get suspended all the time, I’ve been there.” And the thing is, my teens respond to this. They see adults who have grown into social workers and therapists who started life in foster care or constantly got into fights at school. And as a result, they know they can go far.

I’m not raising these teens. We are. This community has meant everything to me, and it came from some of the most unexpected places.