You weren’t there for their first steps, or to comfort them when they fell off their bike for the first time. As they grew, you were not even a thought as they curled up alone at night hoping for a better tomorrow. All the moments that connect a child to their parent you missed out on. That is until the day that you received the phone call that changed both of your lives forever.
For many teens in foster care, they come with trauma and deep pain that we as foster parents know nothing about. They most likely will come to you with preconceived notions and experiences that you may not be able to relate to. As your heart pours out for this child, you are given the hard task of building trust from this moment forward. For better or worse, many people before you have shaped the teenager who is standing before you, and now you only have this short time to build up their self-esteem and self-worth.
It seems overwhelming to be given such a task, but I want you to know that all you have to do is take one day at a time. Embrace the awkwardness of your limited situation as you may stumble around trying to connect. Stand tall as you become possibly their first real advocate in this world. Become their safe place as you open your home and model true acceptance and empathy. May every day be a celebration of both the small and mundane things throughout the day, falling in love with the uniqueness of the teenager who is standing in front of you. What an opportunity we are given as foster parents to be able to stand alongside such amazing young adults.
There will be days that you will “win” and there will be days when you will question if anything else could go wrong. There will be days where you wonder if you got an actual toddler and there will be days you are so proud because they just took their first step into adulthood. Then there will be those days that you wonder if anything you did was worth it, if all the sleepless nights and stress-induced headaches were worth all the time and effort you poured into your teenager.
I am here to tell you they are. You made a difference, a life changing difference. Even if it were just for a short time. Love to a teenager is spelled T-I-M-E. All those moments add up — teaching them to balance a check book, the hours spent showing them how to cook from scratch, the daily conversations around the dinner table and the times you stayed close by their side when a crisis hit and they navigated through their emotions. Even in those frustrating times when you may have yelled back, or said something you didn’t mean, or the time when you may have failed so miserably you didn’t think you could ever repair the damage. The fact is you were still there for them. And teenagers remember those times. I promise. They may not show it today, they may not show it tomorrow, but the fact is you showed up when no one else did and because of that you changed their lives for the better, forever.