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Teen foster care Children's Wisconsin

Teen spirit: The unique challenges and rewards of fostering teens

Yesterday, I got my first “I love you too” text. Grinning from ear to ear, I wondered if I had too quickly placed him in the same category of the boys that came before. The boys who need love and affection to be spread out. Spoon fed. Two steps forward and one back.

And I noted the lack of response from boy #2 on our, “See you when I return, love you guys” group message text, and I wondered what his heart was feeling.

Fast forward 18 hours and I'm hearing, “I love you Sara. I love Nick,” from a very broken boy #2 as I help him out of his coat and into his bed. He talks about how his friend who brought him back to us was the first person he could ever trust and how his dad used to abuse him. I turn off the lights as I whisper, "I know, I know."

I scoop up baby Joshua and snuggle on the couch as tears flow for my boys. I pray for them to be strong and courageous as Joshua's name reminds me.

The hard path of processing and healing looms large and they can walk the hard path or slowly fade down another. They need Jesus. They need love. Today, we take two steps forward.

Journal entry January 1, 2019

Children's Wisconsin foster care and adoptionTeens are scary. At least that's what we wrote on our foster application in early 2019. As life typically goes, we were in for quite a surprise. By the time approval came through we would find ourselves pregnant — and me, specifically — quite nauseated. I had no desire to chase after another little baby, so we delayed our opening. In the meantime, I came across a post from the placement team regarding a 16-year-old boy. What could go wrong?! By the time baby Joshua was born, we had three 16- to 17-year-old boys staying with us.

I was chauffeur to school and appointments, and they didn't mind if I ran in to get sick at a public restroom. Our house became a teenage hang out. We spent more money on Gatorade and pizza than ever expected.

No one has ever said parenting teens is easy (though I would be willing to debate that it's easier than elementary age). In fact, at times we wondered if we were making a positive difference or if we were just making it worse. But time gives us the privilege of looking back.

We didn't always have the answers. But they had a safe place to fall. To fail. To try again. A mom in the hospital room instead of a worker. Family in the stands at sporting events. A (mostly) patient voice and vehicle during driver’s education. Texts to remind them to get to class. Someone to fight for them — and even with them — when they deserved better.

In these past three years, we were able to celebrate birthdays and holidays, two driver’s licenses, three high school graduations (hallelujah!), job experience, family experience. A place for them to call home.

One teen was reunified with his mom, one is living with a friend — wandering a bit as he continues to find himself — and the other (boy #2) continues to live with us as he waits for college in the fall.

Sure, it was stressful at times. But the joy that they bring us far outshines the hard. Joshua is adored by and absolutely adores his big brothers. On more than one occasion, they rescued me from the side of the road or brought our foster daughter to school in a pinch.

They are truly sons who I would never have known. I am so thankful that we didn't give in to our fear. Because with teens you don't have to have all the answers. You just need to show up.