“The most beautiful thing I have seen.”
Tracy Bennett and her husband Merrill became foster parents four years ago. They wanted to grow their families, but they also wanted to help other families. We spoke with Tracy and asked her what she has learned and what she loves about foster parenting.
Why did you and Merrill decide that you wanted to become foster parents?
I had always wanted to adopt, but it wasn’t really on Merrill’s radar when we got married. As we tried to have a baby, it took longer than we expected and we began to feel that God wanted us to foster during the waiting. No matter what way we thought about foster care, it was obvious that this was God's heart and that we should do it. If we have that ability to be involved, why would we not be part of the healing journey for these kids and for their families?
The point of foster care is really reunification with parents, so we decided to foster without adoption as our ultimate goal. We knew it might turn into that at some point but didn't go into it with that as our purpose.
How was your first placement? Was it different from what you expected?
It was so much harder than I thought it was going to be. I knew going into it that I was a bit idealistic. I think it's hard not to be idealistic.
We took three kiddos as an emergency placement. There was no way for me to work during that time. It was total chaos. It completely turned our world upside down and we were ready to throw in the towel at one point because it was so much harder than we thought.
But, our agency was behind us and we learned a lot through that process. In hindsight, I'm thankful for it. I'm thankful that we had that placement. But it was very tough. It was tough to see these kids who came in and didn't understand why things were happening to them. They had a different idea of “normal” and just wanted to be with their mom and dad.
What skills have you and Merrill picked up since that first placement?
I think that the things that we've really picked up are an understanding of what trauma is and what we can expect from kids who are in out-of-home care. We’ve learned better ways to handle and redirect that behavior, but really a lot of it is regulating our own emotions and expectations. Because these kids do tend to bring out all of the trauma and all the experiences that you have had in your past.
Also, I think one of the most important things that we've learned since that placement, is the importance of trying to connect with the birth family as much as possible as well. Regardless of what our opinion is of them or what has happened to the children in their home, we've just recognized that this is such a huge piece of every kid's story and we really need to try to connect with the birth family.
What have you learned about trauma?
Trauma has shown itself in a variety of different ways. It really depends on the personality of the kiddo and when the trauma occurred. We’ve had everything from just complete dis-regulation like crying all the time and an inability to sleep and kids waking up at all hours of the night. The kids are in a fight or flight mode.
Seeing the trauma lessen and children begin to heal has been my favorite part of foster care. For some kids, it takes a little bit more time but it's been fun to see. Their confidence and their personalities have just blossomed as they have been in stable care.
These kids are amazing and they have so many obstacles that they're working to overcome. For us to get to the end of it and to walk through that journey with them and their families, it is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen in my whole life. I'm hopeful that more people will not just come into foster care to take kids into their homes, but to really reach out to the families of these kids as well.
Tracy is a Colorado foster mom. She is certified by Lutheran Family Services.