The Waiting Game

I never realized how much of my foster care experience would be characterized by waiting: Waiting for a response from a social worker. Waiting for the next court date, and then the one it gets continued to. Waiting to hear whether there’s a visit scheduled and when… The system is not set up for maximum expediency, and just when you think something big is going to happen, you find out there’s more waiting to be done.

But before that kind of waiting, there’s another kind of waiting… The waiting that happens before you get your first placement. That can be the hardest waiting of all.

Many of us come to be foster parents after years of considering it, talking about it, thinking about it, envisioning it… Maybe you’ve waited until you felt ready. Maybe you just waited out of fear and anxiety. And when you decide to take that leap, there are months of hoops to jump through, questions to answer, classes to take… When you’re finally licensed as a foster parent, you might have spent years thinking about what your life would be like when you were finally at the precipice of parenthood. Or perhaps you’re eager to finally welcome more children into your already-established family. Either way, it’s been a long time coming. And you’ve already done a lot of waiting.

When you finally cross the finish line of licensure, you anticipate that your phone will ring immediately with information about a child needing a family. But very often, the call doesn’t come as soon as you think it will. And you’re left in this odd limbo – needing to be prepared for your life to change from one moment to the next, but needing to live your life as it is right now because you never know when that moment will be. Today? Tomorrow? Next week? Next month?

It can feel a little crazy-making to be planning for an addition to your family when you don’t know what that addition will look like or when it’s going to happen. For about six months I lived in a three-bedroom house, where two bedrooms were outfitted for children I didn’t yet have, and didn’t know if I ever would, just so we would be prepared when and if the call came. Would it be a newborn? A 5-year-old? A boy? A girl? A sibling group? Tomorrow? Twenty tomorrows from now? We had no idea, and in the absence of being able to control the future, I did my best to control my environment. But the longer we waited, the stranger it felt to live in a house with toys, cribs, and tiny clothes, but no child in sight.

At first the waiting is frenzied. You jolt every time the phone rings. You go to bed wondering if this is the last full night of sleep you’ll have before a little one in the next room struggles to rest. You wake up each morning wondering if today is the day your life will change forever. You make plans for your immediate future and then contingency plans because you expect they might be thwarted. But that heightened state can only last so long, and you start to wonder if you’ll ever get a call, if a child will ever find his way to your family. You wonder if maybe you’ve been forgotten, so you send your social worker a quick email to check in… and you wait for a response. You get lulled into a false sense that things are never going to happen. And you make plans and live your life – you go out to dinner, you take a weekend trip, or in my case, you buy a year-long gym membership…

And then the phone rings. There’s a child who needs you. He’s ready. The system is ready. Tag, it’s your turn! And all those years of anticipation, those weeks or months of being all geared up, seem like a fading memory. Because all of a sudden you feel like you’re not remotely ready, like this is catching you completely by surprise and unprepared. But you hang up the phone and realize that the day has come, your life has changed, and you’re about to join this amazing community of foster and preadoptive families. And after all the preparation and anticipation, you’re justifiably terrified and anxious about what happens next.

In foster care, things seem to happen much too fast or not fast enough. And sometimes it feels like both at the same time. And what awaits you when you join our ranks? So many things… Love, community, challenges, fulfillment, tears, joy…. And a whole lot of waiting.

So buckle your seat belt and welcome to this wild ride. We are going to be so thrilled to have you!

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