By Monica Cane
Working closely with the Sam Joaquin County Human Services Department, Bettye (not her real name) became the foster parent of five siblings, 3 boys and 2 girls ranging from 5 months to 9 years old in 2009.
Taking on five foster children might have been considered a bit much for some people but for Bettye, she believes wholeheartedly that connecting with children whether biological or not is something she is called to do. Having had her own children prior to becoming a foster parent, Bettye learned that taking the time to really connect emotionally, mentally and spiritually is the key to parenting children,
“We were made to connect with people so it’s a natural process to love a child” she says.
While loving and connecting is natural process, Bettye admits that there are both rewards and challenges that come from being the foster mom of five siblings over the past seven years.
“The first reward in being a foster parent is learning to love beyond our own birth children and [gaining] a new level of patience and acceptance in loving a child.”
Like many children in foster care programs, Bettye’s foster children came to her with a variety of traumas and life experiences that required a level of understanding and patience beyond what she had needed when raising her biological children. Because of the siblings’ various life experiences prior to being placed in foster care, honesty was a real issue for them. By the time they reached Bettye’s home, lying and manipulation was their norm, as was having little to no understanding of boundaries which made the transition into their new foster home very challenging at times.
It didn’t take long for Bettye to realize that caring for her new foster children and blessing them with the blessings she herself had experienced in life would require a certain measure of tough love.
“I knew I could love in this manner, I just didn't know what it would do to my heart and mind. I felt more like a military sergeant than a loving mother because it required consistent tough love and discipline that I didn't need to use with my own birth children.”
As Bettye grew in her love for her foster children, the tough love that was necessary to apply more times than not, caused some feelings of resentment towards the children’s biological mother, even though she and Bettye didn’t have communication.
“I felt like I was dealing with all these issues [with my foster children] because their own biological parents weren’t responsible. It was rough and challenging.”
Despite being a woman of strong faith, for a time Bettye admits the resentment got the best of her. That is until she was reminded of why she became a foster parent to begin with and also was reminded of the need to lean on God for His wisdom, help and strength, instead of her own.
Bettye credits her mom for teaching her how to be strong and stand her ground when it came to her beliefs, how to treat others and how to survive through challenges which proved to be beneficial during the early years and even now at times as a foster parent.
“I learned to never quit. I learned that no matter how much dysfunction life can bring in this lifetime, there's always a way to make life better.”
That never quit mentality along with the desire to make life better for herself and all of her children, birthed and fostered, is what keeps Bettye pressing forward to be the best mom she can be.
Reflecting on the past seven years, Bettye says Bunmi Laditan, author of The Honest Toddler, describes her feelings perfectly.
“Some days I feel like I'm failing you, but I refuse to give up. Why?
Because you're mine and I know that one day you'll move mountains.... You may look in the mirror and see a tear-streaked child with messy hair, but I see a powerhouse. I see a game changer. I see a leader.”
As Bettye has discovered, being a foster parent isn’t always easy. There are challenges, behavioral issues and more tough love requirements than one could imagine, yet having the ability to connect with a hurting child or children, to share your life with them and bring healing to them through love and a great deal of patience is worth every moment.