Julie was licensed as a foster parent through The Home. We hope you enjoy this note she shared with us about her journey as a foster parent and the impact it has had on her life.
I don’t remember a time in life when I wasn’t searching for purpose and meaning. As a five year old I survived a fatal car accident, experienced the loss of a sibling and became the miracle child in my family. For as long as I can remember I’ve been looking for ways to grow from this loss and maximize the time I have on this planet. This purpose-seeking journey has led me to amazing places, including an incredibly meaningful career. The thing I love most about my role at Leadership Austin is helping other people connect with their “why.” Why are you here? What is most important to you? How do you follow your passion, create purpose and foster things you want to see in the world? For the last seven years, this job has brought significant purpose into my life, and the people I have gotten to meet have impacted me in ways they may never know.
I also don’t remember a time when I didn’t dream of being a mom. As I approached my mid-thirties, I recognized how many things I loved about my life, and I also knew there was something missing. It was my deep desire for purpose and parenthood combined with my experience with loss and grief that led me to foster parenting. When the day arrived that I officially became a mom, everything I knew about how profoundly people can make an impact on one another intensified beyond my expectations. A feisty and courageous little human being came into my home, and my whole world changed.
I have never felt more connected to my “why” than when I took my first placement. It was around 1:00 a.m. on a Friday in September 2017 when she arrived. She was 4 years old and sleeping on the caseworker’s shoulder when they brought her to me. Several hours later she woke up in a place she’d never been before, and so did I. We were both terrified but there was an immediate love between us that I will never forget. As I’m sure is the case with any new parent, there have been so many terrifying “I’ve never been here before” moments for me along the way. Many of them stick in my mind because I either handled them beautifully or horribly, and I’m sure there are even more that I’ve already forgotten. Hearing her sweet little voice call out when she woke up – “Hello?” – is certainly a moment I can’t imagine ever forgetting. “Amazing A” was only with me for a couple of weeks (17 days to be exact), but that little girl made me a mom, and she will be in my heart forever.
A couple of months later I answered the call for my second placement. Again, I was abruptly awoken to a new reality. It was 3:00 a.m., and they needed a home for an 18 month old boy. With emergency placements, that is often about all of the information you get: age and gender. The rest of the call remains a little fuzzy as I was still half asleep, but I do remember them telling me he had very young parents. Within about an hour he was in my home, neither of us having any idea what to think of each other or any idea of how important we would become in each other’s lives.
So many people tell me “I could never do that. I would get too attached.” My response to this is always, “That’s exactly what these children need.” I made a promise that I would love every child that comes into my home as if they were my own for as long as they need me. I want them to have someone who is heartbroken to think of life without them. The ability to do this—to love and to lose—was something I knew I had the capacity to do.
To be very honest, one of the fears I had going into foster parenting was almost the exact opposite. What if a child was with me longer than I could handle? There is almost no way of knowing how long these kids will be with you when you say yes to the call. I’m really glad I didn’t know ahead of time how uncertain things would be with “Little J” because I don’t know if I would have said yes. And if fear had gotten in the way, I would not have had the chance to learn that humans are capable of much more than we realize and that my capacity for love was deeper than I ever imagined.
A couple of days into the placement I was told that “J” would be with me for a few weeks while they worked on approving a family member for him to live with. Those weeks turned into months and eventually a full year went by. A few days before Christmas, 386 days after he’d first come to my home, Little J (now two and a half years old) was reunited with his biological parents.
Reunification has been both incredibly hard and incredibly beautiful. There are tears on my keyboard as I share this with you now. You hear a lot about the celebration of foster kids being adopted, but we don’t often hear the stories of reunification. It’s been several months since J left and the pain is still very strong. But it is a purposeful pain.
I had no idea that those “young parents” I was told about when I got the call for J would become such a big part of my life. As we packed up their car on reunification day with all of J’s stuff we all hugged, said I love you and celebrated the joining of our families. Did I feel confident that they were ready and that J was going to have the best life possible with them? Was I happy and proud of them? Was I deeply sad about not having J in my life every day but grateful that I would stay connected with him? Those are all very complicated questions with even more complicated answers that I’m still working through and probably will be for a while. Maybe even forever.
The year that J was with me was the most rewarding year of my life. It was also the hardest year of my life. And it was by far the most transformative year of my life. My “why” has been deepened beyond what I thought was even possible, and my world will never be the same. I’m taking some time to heal before I open up for my next placement and, in the interim, have had the opportunity to do a lot of reflecting.
The deep personal growth that I experienced while J was with me and the growth I continue to experience now that he’s not is very clearly guiding me to my next big thing. While I will continue to follow this passion through fostering more children, I also want to combine my experience as a foster parent with everything that I’ve learned over the last seven years at Leadership Austin. In all our programs we talk about using your passion to create the world you want to live in and leveraging your power to lead systems-level change. It has become clear for me that the foster care system is where I will use my passion and my power.
I’ll be leaving my job at the end of June and refocusing my career. As part of this process I’ll be sharing my fostering story more often, and I appreciate that you’ve taken the time to listen. If you’d like to hear more, you can follow my Instagram account @fosteringjustice. Another very important part of this process will involve learning as much as I can about the foster care system through other people’s perspectives. If you’re reading this, I imagine that foster care is important to you too, and I’d love to know why. If you’re willing to share your “why” with me, I’d be so grateful to hear your story. It is with immense gratitude that I get to share this journey with you.