Foster parenting has brought me some of the most difficult experiences in my life – but it has also brought some of my greatest joys. As foster parents, we enter the lives of families at their lowest moments – and I learned that I need to be willing to look for the light in those moments.
Our first placement was a sibling group of three. They had a hard life up to this point – almost all the difficulties my husband and I had learned about in training were there for these children.
They were behind in health examinations, school, and development. The oldest was six. She was missing her front teeth because they had been knocked out. When we took her to the dentist, he explained that it would be a few years before her front teeth would grow back because of the damage done in her mouth. Medicaid would not cover any of it.
After explaining that Medicaid would not cover any of the necessary procedures, the dentist left for a few minutes. An assistant came back and started taking some molds. I asked what she was doing. She explained the dentist wanted to create some artificial teeth she could wear until her teeth would grow back in. I explained again that the child’s insurance wouldn’t cover that.
“We know,” the assistant replied. “The dentist is going to write this off – he doesn’t want kids to make fun of her.”
I was overwhelmed by the generosity of this man. He had heard and seen just a glimpse of her story- but he decided to change her life. People are good. They don’t always know how to help us or the youth we care for – but when they can, they do.
When summer arrived, watermelon hit the stores. We had experienced a difficult family visit one day. The kids were super dysregulated. We were talking about an upcoming barbeque. We soon learned our three children had never tasted watermelon. WHAT!? We pulled out that watermelon we had purchased for the barbeque as soon as we got home. We cut it into large pieces and took them all outside. It was everywhere. They couldn’t get enough. It was dripping down their chins. They couldn’t stop laughing. We taught them for better or worse to spit their seeds. It was glorious! I smile, just thinking about it.
Another day, we took our kids to Thanksgiving Point to the petting zoo. They had had very negative and violent experiences with animals. Their therapist had recommended we find ways to have positive, controlled experiences with animals. We did a lot of work with them leading up to our visit. They were super timid at first – but we talked about having soft hands and how to pet each animal, and they learned
They rode horses. You were given a ticket for this activity and are only allowed to do it once. The horses look bored, just walking in a circle. But our kids were so excited! The middle child was a boy who didn’t show much emotion. He was either compliant or angry. He got on the horse. I was most worried about how he would do with that. As they started to walk around in the circle, I watched as he became more and more comfortable with the horse. After one lap, he leaned his head as close to the horse’s head and gently started rubbing the horse’s hair. I don’t know if horses can smile, but this horse was loving this attention.
After they had gone around a few times, the ride was supposed to be over. The young man in charge of the activity approached me and asked if was alright for our son to ride again. He didn’t want the moment to end for my son. We, of course, said yes. It was one of the most amazing moments, as this child connected with an animal in a happy, healthy, and appropriate way. He smiled the biggest smile. If ever there was a moment full of pure joy with no worries about the future, this was it.
There are so many hard things we work through when we walk into the darkest moments of another family’s life. But, I promise there is joy. There is hope. And there are amazing firsts you will get to experience. Look for the light – I promise it’s there.
Heidi Naylor is a foster-adoptive mother and Foster Family Retention Specialist for Utah Foster Care