Due to privacy regulations for kids in state care, we cannot publicly share our foster daughter’s name, personal details, or any pictures of her face.
Last week, I became a foster parent for the very first time to a beautiful five year old girl.
This is something my husband and I had been praying about for years, seriously considering for over a year, and doing major preparation toward for the past six months. We took all the classes, sat through multiple online webinars, finished a series of home visits, read the recommended books and blogs, completed our home study, finalized the licensing paperwork. Her room was set up, complete with a chest of drawers, an array of stuffed animals, and two twin beds with brand new kid-friendly bedding and towels. We were as ready as we could be.
There was only one problem. Only two days earlier, the World Health Organization (WHO) had formally announced COVID-19, or the novel coronavirus, as a worldwide pandemic. Our world was about to be rocked in more than just one way.
Becoming a foster parent under the best circumstances is tough as it is. Becoming a foster parent during a pandemic has been one of the most difficult challenges of my life.
I had all these great plans about the places I was going to take her and the things we were going to do together as a family. We were going to go to the park and explore the Chick-fil-a play place. We were going to visit museums and the zoo and have play dates with other kids. I was going to introduce her to the fabulous children’s ministry at the church where my husband and I both work.
With the (understandably beneficial) suppression advisements in place to keep our society healthy and hospitals from becoming overrun with coronavirus patients, my idealistic plans of family outings and fun activities have all fallen through.
On top of that, it’s no longer so easy to “pop by Target” if we need to grab something for her or “run by the grocery store” if I forget to pick up her favorite snack or we run out of milk. This is not the ideal time to be raising a preschooler who thinks it’s hilarious to unspool ALL the toilet paper and use 20 pumps of hand soap each time she goes to the bathroom. The other day, I nearly broke down crying when I was faced with an empty store aisle that is normally filled with tissues and baby wipes. Did you know that five year olds are basically made of snot? Oh, and good luck getting into a pediatrician right now for mandatory immunizations and a physical.
Suddenly, I’m faced with a barrage of difficult decisions that other parents are having to make as well in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, but are also coupled with a foster child’s unique concerns, needs, and demands:
SCREENS: How much screen time is too much screen time? Should I more closely monitor what she is watching, or should I just be grateful that I get a few minutes of peace and quiet so I can catch up on my work emails?
CLOTHING: Where does the line get blurred between pajamas and clothes? Does it really even matter at this point? How many times it is ok for her to wear the same pair of pants?
FOOD: Does grapes, a cheese stick, and tortilla chips count as “dinner”? Where should I cut off the constant snacking and enforce more set meal times? Do I risk going out to the store if we run out of goldfish crackers? What counts as an “essential” item?
HYGIENE: How can I teach a preschooler the importance of hygiene when she has trouble washing her hands after going potty and she literally touches and even licks EVERYTHING!
SLEEP: What’s an appropriate bedtime if we’ve mostly just lounged around the house all day? Do I try to do naps? Why does she wake up so early no matter what time we put her to bed?
DAYCARE: What do we do about daycare? This has been the most difficult question for me to answer. By some small miracle, we got our sweet girl into a GREAT state-paid-for daycare that has experience working with foster kids. So far, they are staying open during the coronavirus crisis (private daycares aren’t held to the same standards as other schools).
Honestly, we need this daycare to stay open. She needs to be around other kids her own age. She needs the daily structure, the aid of professionally trained preschool teachers to help her prepare for formal schooling, and the rambunctious play that we can’t provide cooped up in our own home. Even though our jobs can mostly be done from home (and we’ve pretty much done that this past week), we would not be able complete our work and entertain this little one at the same time. She requires nearly constant attention when she is home.
But I know that every day I send her into school, I am putting her (and us) at risk. I also know that the second one of us gets sick, I will have to pull her out of that amazing daycare, which has been my biggest lifeline in fostering so far. Only a week into parenting, and I’m faced with one of the toughest decisions of my life.
Despite the struggles, there have been some beautiful blessings that have come out of this new world, too. This slower pace has allowed us to spend some unplanned time with our little girl. My work as a youth pastor typically has me out late nights a couple days of the week, and for at least the next few weeks, that won’t be happening, which is a huge help for Randy. Since we’re working from home, we’re able to get a few things done around the house during the day in between video calls and emails, so in the evenings we can devote our full attention to our new household addition. We’ve taken walks up and down our street and said “hi” to our neighbors more often than we usually do. And our bathroom and kitchen counters are probably cleaner than they’ve ever been because we clean them at least twice a day now!
We’re still learning our rhythms and structures, and we’re anticipating that they could all change again next week. But for now we’re fostering through a pandemic…one day at a time.