“What was it like growing up with foster siblings in your home?”
This is the question that I am most frequently asked, whether it is by peers who have heard media-influenced foster care stories, or by families who are seeking to become foster parents while still raising biological children. When people ask me this question, it always catches me off guard, mainly because it is incredibly hard to describe such a major part of a childhood that seemed perfectly normal to me. It is equally hard to think of what my life would have looked like had I not grown up with foster siblings. For me, babies and toddlers came and went on a regular basis. It was hard at times and it was fun at times, but regardless, it was normal to me. We received our first foster placement two weeks before my 8th birthday, and adopted my last two siblings a month after my 18th birthday. Needless to say, foster care has impacted me in profound ways.
As I have sought to answer this question, my mind always wanders back to that early October night when I was 7-years-old, watching a caseworker hand our first foster placement over to my parents. I remember looking into the big, brown eyes of a severely abused infant and understanding for the first time the reality of the hurt that is in our world.
Those first few moments with that baby are locked into my memory as tightly and securely as a 7-year-old can remember. As I innocently questioned “why” a parent would hurt his child, I was opened up to a whole new world that involved evil my mind had never known.
Through the next several years, as babies and toddlers passed through our home, there were many censored discussions of drugs, sex, alcohol, and neglect. I appreciate that my parents protected my innocence, while still valuing that I loved my foster siblings with a sincere love and desired to know each one of their stories. As I watched my foster siblings flourish in our home and saw the hurt they endured, there was a deeper level of compassion and understanding that slowly began to resonate inside of me.
I played with the kids and accepted each one as my sibling; I took pride in showing off each baby to my friends; I made silly faces while feeding the infants mushy rice cereal; I learned the art of washing a baby bottle, changing a diaper, and bathing a baby; I browsed the baby aisle with my mom, begging her to buy “just one more cute outfit”; I sat in my room and sobbed, after saying goodbye to a child I loved dearly.
So maybe my childhood was different from yours. In fact, it probably was. My family grew and then shrunk again on a regular basis and the family calendar was filled with court dates, parent visits, and caseworker meetings.
However, the uniqueness of my family dynamics did not affect me negatively or ruin me as a person, as is the common myth. Yes, I saw and understood injustice from a young age and I struggled with the evil I saw, but I also learned a million lessons and developed attributes that I believe I would not have today, had my parents chosen to keep the doors of our home closed.
For those lessons, for my sweet foster siblings, and for my parent’s willingness, I am thankful.
Kylee is a 19-year-old college student who is passionately pursuing a degree in Social Work while simultaneously learning what it means to be a big sister to kids from “hard places”. Her parents jumped into the crazy world of foster care just days before her 8th birthday and cared for numerous infants and toddlers over a ten-year time span; four of those children became permanent family members through adoption. Kylee loves sharing about foster care and adoption and is passionate about advocating on behalf of vulnerable children.