Childless Mothers – The Beauty & Grief of Being a Foster Mom

Jason Johnson, foster care, Elaina Avalos,

What makes a woman a mother?

Is it biology? I mean, yes. Duh.

But it’s more than that. Sometimes we are loved best by those who don’t share a single tie to us biologically. We’ve come up with a term for it – framily.

Sometimes a mom by biology doesn’t want to be or is not capable of being a mom.

I’m a mom. I was a mom. “My” boy isn’t with me anymore. But I love him fiercely and always will. Today, in this quiet house void of noise, chaos, and without the boy mess left in his wake, I fight for the words to express the love, loss, grief, and the hope I fight to find.

Beyond the grief of saying goodbye to my boy, I grieve the loss of the family that I had waited so long to have.

Motherhood was my biggest dream and deepest longing. As I’ve faced the reality of having said goodbye to this little boy who I thought made me a mom, I started to wonder if I had also lost motherhood too.

I mean, I was childless before. I’m childless again.

There have been more than a few times in the last three weeks that I’ve wondered if I can ever do this again {foster or adopt}. I don’t think I can answer that question for quite some time.

But I did begin to wonder what truly makes a woman a mother. For my friends who have never given birth, but love another’s child as their own, here’s what I know for sure . . . you are a mom.

I am a mom.

If you comfort a child in their grief and in the midst of them facing tremendous trauma, you are a mom.

If you wipe their tears, comfort them when they’re sick, and cheer them on when they are facing their Goliaths, you are a mom.

If you clean up the puke, the pooh, and your boy’s uncanny ability to get pee everywhere, you are a mom.

If you advocate, fight for, and sacrifice for a child, you are a mom.

If you endure court, biological families that may hate you, constant unknowns, lack of resources & support for a child you didn’t give birth to – but love with all of your heart, you are a mom.

If you endure school fairs with junk food, hyped-up-kids, and blow cash on crazy games your kid can’t win, you are a mom. If you endure Chuck e Cheese, you are also a saint.

If you held your child on his last day of school, when he sobbed, as he said goodbye to his friends and 1st grade teacher, you are a mom.

If you walked hand in hand with him as he started his first day of school nervous about the year ahead, you are a mom.

If you were physically pained because of your child’s pain, you are a mom.

I may not have shared biology. I could never replace his first & forever mom.

But I was a mom.

I am a mom.

You, my hurting friend, if you find yourself here – you are a mom. What you did for that little {or big} child in your care was and is a beautiful gift that will forever be part of their journey.

I know you worry whether it’s part of their healing journey {did I make a difference, you ask} – but I can say with confidence that the only way any child can heal from trauma, is to learn to trust adults, be nurtured & loved unconditionally, and to bond.

What you’ve built into your child, no matter how long or how short, will last forever and will not return a void.

Your pain, your grief, and your loss may not be understood. People may not realize what it feels like. You may feel alone. But you are not. You are going to hurt and grieve. Others may not understand. But I do.

Let yourself grieve. Rest in the knowledge that your grief is a sign of how deeply you loved. The depth of your love is woven into their story forever – the best and good parts of their story. That is a beautiful gift.

Goodbyes

For those who have been reading for a while, you know that I had a {foster} son I expected to adopt. He is now living somewhere else and won’t be back with me.

There’s not a chance I’ll share details here. But I will tell you for sure that I am grieving this loss.

I am heartbroken. Not because I didn’t understand throughout the last 16 months that the goal of foster care is reunification and I was dead set on having it go my way. But because you make choices to love someone, pour your life into them, and love them as if they’ll never leave and will always be yours {even if they won’t}, it tears your heart in two pieces when they do leave.

I am working on a few posts about foster care as a whole and motherhood as a foster mom. But I wanted to share. The last few months have been the hardest and most painful of my life. I think today I am starting to finally believe God has all of our best interests in mind. Sometimes it’s hard to understand this when nothing makes sense – when you can’t understand the why.

I’m not sure what my future in foster care is. Hopefully I will figure that out soon. I’ll trust God to make clear what isn’t so clear right now.

Learning Life Lessons from a Seven-Year-Old

Today didn’t go quite as planned. My disorganization at home has caught up with me. I was frustrated and irritated. It’s all an inside job. I could’ve saved myself the trouble by slowing down & relaxing. I turned a moment that should’ve been fun – baking Christmas cookies with my kiddo – into a chore.

Granted, I had plastic covering the walls in my dining room making unpacking my office a challenge, a hole in the wall of the hall closet (a closet I need to store boxes – now kept in the second kid bedroom), and other issues about the house. I keep putting off unpacking and the longer this goes on, the more frustrated I become. By the way, if I fill the closet with boxes again, I’ll just have to move them back out when the drywall and painting is done. Phew. So . . . it’s no wonder I couldn’t find my Grandma’s old cookie cutters.

I searched frantically – making even more of a mess. I had to have them. How could I make cookies, for the first time as a mom, without them? My office went from unruly to a disaster area (also when I ripped the plastic down from the walls – the room will get drywall and paint & I’ve been looking at plastic for weeks). Meanwhile, all my little guy wanted to do was bake cookies.

But I made it into a chore.

We started making cookies and then ran into another little kerfuffle & our baking came to a halt. My kiddo lost his electronics privileges, I was stressed and tired, and we still have about 3 dozen cookies waiting to be made.

After getting through dinner, we sat down to do our Advent devotional and read a verse from his Advent calendar. We read, “When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.”

The question was, “Why were the wisemen joyful? What brings you joy?”

I asked my sweet kid – who’d only an hour before gotten in trouble & who was driving me bonkers – what brings you joy? His answer? “You, Mama A. You bring me joy.”

Talk about a punch to the gut. Talk about learning life lessons from a seven-year-old.

The only thing that really matters is what really matters. In this season of rushing, picture-perfect wrapped packages and Pinterest worthy entertaining, I hope I’ll remember these moments with him, always.

My kiddo doesn’t care about all the extra stuff. He just wanted to bake cookies with me. Nothing is more important than his little heart and it doesn’t matter if our house is Pinterest perfect, if I have it all together, or . . . I don’t. All that matters is making memories with him. And that doesn’t require a picture perfect moment. It requires my presence fully there with him – not distracted by things that don’t last and don’t matter.

Back to School: Newbie Mom Firsts

elaina avalos, foster care, this is foster care, boy mom, mommy blogger,

Monday is my {foster} son’s first day of second-grade. The other day we attended his Back to School night. We met his teacher, saw his classroom, and turned in paperwork. I was a little overwhelmed. I’m not going to lie.

But as we took a photo in front of the PTO’s “selfie station,” and I talked with one of the parents about volunteering, I had this overwhelming sense of gratitude.

I never dreamed that being a mom would mean starting my parenting journey with a six-year old boy who is not mine and yet, may be.

But picking out his first day of school clothes, getting his backpack, and buying his school supplies, I am overwhelmed by the beauty of this time, in spite of how . . . mundane it all could be under slightly different circumstances.

I’m not sure I’d ever be a good helicopter mom. There are just some things I think he’s got to experience – even in failure – on his own. But I’m fiercely protective. In case you’re wondering if the mama bear thing only happens with children you give birth to, it doesn’t.

I worry over this year for him. In just a few short months, the court could decide that reunification efforts will be ceased. His plan could change to adoption. In just a few short months, it may be very clear that he will be with me forever.

I want him to have people in his life who will see how sweet and precious he is – even when his behavior is sometimes rooted in trauma. I want them to invest in him, in ways that so many kids just don’t experience. And so, as this school year begins – a year that could change everything for him, I pray that his teacher will invest in him.

I pray that I will know how to support him. And I pray that those who are part of the team of professionals that provide additional support, will know how to help him {and me}.

Here’s to a new school year – and hopefully soon – the permanency that my little guy deserves so much.

Are you ready for your kiddo’s new school year?

Thankful,

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Healthy Attachment

RestoReview

My son’s last day of school was more than a week ago. On the 7th, I was there for his end of year awards, which I shared about, here. The following day, I left work to pick him up at 3:30. When I arrived in the parking lot of the school, I realized there was a text from his teacher – he’d been crying for a half-hour – inconsolable, really.

I asked her if I needed to come in. Her initial response was no. And then within a couple of minutes, as I waited in the “car rider” pick-up line, she said he’d begun crying again. I parked, signed in at the office, and walked to his classroom, nervous about why little guy was feeling.

I could hear him before I saw him. When I walked in, he fell into me. He was weeping – body-wracking, sobbing, tears falling down his face, weeping. There were a couple other kids crying too. But my little man was beside himself.

He sat on my lap and I rocked him as his teacher walked the other kids to the bus and then the car rider line. We sat alone in the class as he wept. My heart has never ached so. The pain he was feeling was so real and intense.

And yet, this foster mama who knows, also knew this was a beautiful moment.

My little man is learning healthy attachment.

It hurts to lose people you love. But when you get yanked around from place to place and the people in your life can disappoint you, you don’t always know how to form healthy relationships and attachments. You build a wall. You don’t know what’s a good relationship or a bad one. You may feel intense emotions, but they may not always be about the actual thing you’re expressing emotion over.

My kiddo is so tired of not knowing a permanent home. He wants that so desperately. He aches for it. Truly. He wants forever. He tells anyone and everyone that he plans on living with me “forever.”

But after what he’s been through, attaching and forming the bonds and relationships most of us take for granted, is not easy. To say the least. His sadness over “losing” his teacher and his friends, was so very painful for him.

And as weird as it is to say it, that was such a good thing for him. His pain poured out of him and it’s like every pent-up emotion from the last few years of his life flooded to the surface.

Though I believe his emotion came from a few places, underneath it all was the awesome reality that my little guy is learning, in just a few short months in my house, what it means to form healthy relationships.

As I held and rocked him, I said so many times, “It’s okay to cry. It’s okay to be sad.” My heart has never ached more over the emotion pouring out of anyone. And yet, I felt it was a turning point for him and for us.

My little man is learning what it means to form healthy relationships. I am so proud of him.

He is a warrior.

He fights through some tough stuff (most adults don’t know how to work through), to be strong, smart, sweet, and full of joy.

He is brave. He is hilarious. And though he can be quite fearful at times – he’s actually fearless at the end of the day because he will not let anything hold him back.

I am convinced that I’m in the presence of a boy who will be a great man, someday.

What a sweet privilege I have to love on him and be there for him on days like his last day of school. He is learning what it means to love, form bonds, and say goodbye in a healthy way.

I am so very proud of my boy.

First Grade – Kiddo Update

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Today was my kiddo’s first grade awards & end of year party. He has been so excited about it all week. Yes, he asks about the last day of school. But he also asked how many days until the 7th.

He came to my bedroom door at 6:15 this morning, knocking loudly. I thought something was wrong. I got up & opened the door and before he could say anything else, he said, “Today’s my party!”

I picked out a shirt & shorts and left them for him while I went back to my room and got ready. When I opened my door again, I could see him going through his clip-on ties. A couple of minutes later he walked over to me wearing a mis-matched tie. He beamed.

He felt it was important to wear a tie today. So I gave him a little fashion advice and encouraged him to find a different color. He came back with it on. He looked adorable. He said, “I look handsome,” when he checked himself out in the mirror.

He is so precious and sweet.

When I arrived at his classroom, I got a, “Mommmyyy!!!!” He ran to me and threw his arms around me. It was the sweetest thing. He’s never called me mommy though he’s used a variety of “mom/mama” names for me. He tells the kids in his class that I’m mom. But 9 times out of 10 here at home, he calls me “Miss Elaina.”

He was so proud to show me his desk (which I’ve seen of course…lol) and his art projects. He could not contain himself. He was so excited. His “award” for the year was the “Snicker Starter” because he’s always snickering and making the class and his teacher laugh too.

His classmates voted him as having the “best laugh.” Between his smile and his laugh, it’s hard not to feel joy around him when he is happy. He is such a sweetheart. I’m grateful he had a teacher that was patient with him after all the changes he’s gone through.

I do have to say, I got a little teary-eyed. I was emotional not only to see him so happy, but because there was a time in my life when I’d doubted I’d ever have the opportunity to do something like that. He’s not “mine.” But how sweet for us both to have each other today. I had fun experiencing something I haven’t as a “parent.” But I also enjoyed seeing his joy at having me there.

I’m so proud of this little man and his determination. I have a playlist for him because he loves music so much. I put a few songs on it that he didn’t know, like “Overcomer” by Mandisa. I explained to him what that song means. We watched the video on YouTube.

I told him, “You’re an overcomer!” This morning I told him that I thought we needed a motivating song on the way to school. He said, “How about Overcomer by Mandisa?” I said, “YEP! That’s the one.”

He’s an overcomer.

His heart is so tender. And I know God has great things in store for him. I don’t know how long he’ll be with me, but I have a feeling that if he leaves my home, I’ll see his face somewhere – doing something incredible & awesome.

Love that little guy.

Mama

foster care, adoption, love makes a family, elaina avalos

I don’t know about you, but for me, there are things I know I am meant to do and be. I am a mama.

I have spent a lifetime looking forward to motherhood and to the family I prayed for, for so long.

My future family & being a mama looks a little different from where I stand now. I never dreamed I’d be here.

I have been on a long path to be a foster and {or} adoptive parent for decades {about three of them}. But I never saw myself embarking on this journey as a single woman.

But here I am.

I started foster parent training last year. I had to put the stops on that but knew it was “temporary.” I’ve kick-started this thing again with a new foster parent agency. They’re a Christian agency & I feel at home there. My training will be complete in December. The remainder of the licensing process will continue on for several months after.

As I’ve jumped in again, I’m even more convinced today than I was a year ago that God has put the pieces of my life together in such a way that I was made for this.

Did I want to do this alone? No. Did I plan it this way? Oh heck no. But here I am. I am a mama. And there are little ones {and not so little ones} who are precious in His sight who need a mama. They desperately long for a home and to be loved and cared for as we all need.

So without all the answers and uncertain about how to juggle singleness and parenting, I’m jumping into the fire again. I’ve been thinking a great deal about the babies or children that will make this their home – for a time – or forever.

I don’t know their stories. But I know that God will take the brokenness that brings them to me and will give me the gift of breathing hope, healing, and love into their lives for a season or forever.

I still have moments of grief over what isn’t or what was lost long ago. But here I am. With four bedrooms, a huge backyard, and a passion for the lives of his most precious ones, I am opening my heart and home.