Finding Meaning in the Mess of Foster Care When It’s Really Hard

Mantle piece with sign that says "Livin' the Dream" under large wedding photo of man and woman.

Last night I fell asleep to the sound of crying. This morning I woke up to the sound of crying. When I left daycare drop off, you guessed it, the sound of crying. Sometimes I just hear crying in my head even when there are no kids around. It lingers in my brain far after it’s actually ended.

Last night I picked up what felt like a hundred toys and folded a hundred tiny socks after I kissed four sweaty little heads goodnight- two I’ve kissed every night since they arrived almost 18 months ago, and two new ones. This morning the toys mysteriously were all back out of the toy box and scattered all over the living room floor again, their true home most days. I picked up the toys and folded more clothes because that’s what I do.

Kids toys including an Elsa barbie head, blocks, toy cell phone, and trucks laid out all over the living room floor.

Foster care is hard. And messy. Sometimes it is really hard. And really messy. This last week was a really really hard week. One of the hardest. One of the messiest too. We welcomed two new kids who hit us like a cyclone of big emotions, big voices, and big needs. Our other kids also started swim lessons, I’ve just started a new job, and my husband has just started his travel season in full swing.

There are some days when I think that I am done. That I can’t go on because I’m being pulled in too many directions. That we should close our house and quit fostering for good. There are too many people who need too much from me. There are the kids, of course, my husband, the dog, the case workers, teachers, therapists, doctors, dentists, day care workers, and the list goes on. Everyone needs something and typically they need it right now. There have been days when trauma takes over and I feel desperate to be around anyone other than the tiny people in my home. There have been days filled with sickness and daycare viruses and hand foot mouth and lice that feel overwhelming and like they will never end. Or there was that one day that our first grader got sent home from school for repeated bad behavior and spitting in a kid’s face.

But there are a lot more days when I feel so grateful that this is my life. That I can’t imagine it any other way and this is the only place I want to be. That’s why we keep opening more beds and saying yes when they call. I have more than I need and so I will keep giving. We have a sign on our mantle that says “Livin’ the Dream” that came from my husband’s childhood home. It sits under a picture of us on the beach on our wedding day. Sometimes “the dream” feels far off, sometimes it feels true. There are kids laughing at silly jokes, taking first steps, making memories. We have birthday parties, celebrations of achievements, and picnics in the backyard with other foster friends. There are a lot of days in the sunshine at the pool, eating popsicles, and running through the slip n’ slide. The way that our almost-three-year says my name melts my heart every darn time. The way that our almost seven-year-old still likes snuggles and hugs and tells me he likes my outfit in the morning is my favorite. I’m so glad that this is my life. And I’m trying not to miss it. It’s easy to forget how quickly time passes. I’m not always a carpe diem kind of girl. I’m more of “let’s just try to survive with all the kids alive and if the house is still standing that is a plus.”

"Livin' the Dream" sign on the mantle piece under wedding day photo of man and woman.

So we keep doing it. We do it day in and day out. Week after week. Month after month. We keep doing it, and honestly we love it. Most days, we love it! We started fostering because we could meet a need. We could give back to our community in a way that would feel fulfilling. We wanted to make a difference and because we simply had love to give to a kid who really needed it. We’ve had 12 kids who’ve needed a lot of love come into our home. And love does hard things. Foster care is worth it! The truth is we all belong to each other. One of my favorite authors, Glennon Doyle, writes, and I will never stop believing this, that “there is no such thing as other people’s children.” We are love warriors. And love does hard things. So, we will do hard things too.

Quote, "there is no such thing as other people's children." over a faded black and white photo of 3 children.

When you’re covered in baby formula or worse, when you’re really tired, when you’re burdened and sad, when you’ve done everything that you feel like you can possibly do for a child before just totally losing your cool- remember your why. When you don’t recognize your house any more because it is littered with toys, there is spaghetti spilled all over your carpet, the new outfit you bought for a child is destroyed, there is a mess of permanent marker on the walls- remember your why. Find meaning in the mess of it all. Remember your why and let that push you forward in grace.

My why: Love does hard things!

What’s yours?

I know it can be hard to know if fostering is for you or not, but thankfully, that’s what I do: help families navigate and assess this for themselves! Drop a comment below about your why, your doubts, your questions, and I’d love to connect with you. You can also go to the homepage and use the chat feature!

Kaley has been a foster parent since 2017. Kaley, her husband, and their dog Rosie currently reside in a small town in Upstate SC. As Director of SC Operations for Care2Foster, Kaley focuses on recruiting and supporting families as they take their next steps learning more about foster care. She is passionate about supporting foster families with authenticity, vulnerability, and hope. She is also President of her county Foster Parent Association.

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