Hosting has been a growing experience for me. I know how to parent; I've been doing it for decades. And I've done my share of babysitting, so I'm not unfamilar with dealing with someone else's kids who are used to rules different than our own.
But hosting is different than babysitting. Hosting is trying to blend someone else's children into your family, on a who-knows-how-long basis. Not forever, so there's not the, "This is your new sibling," component that we had bringing home Hannah. And not just for a few hours, so there's not the, "Suck it up until they leave," option for quarreling children. Hosting means trying to work through the behaviors. Not merely in the hosted kids. No, one of the most disappointing parts of hosting was realizing how selfish we are. Myself, not wanting to get up even earlier to get Sassy Girl to the bus. And my children, in how quickly their grace ran out with the hosted children.
Lil Mama asked for hosting for Sassy Girl and Mr Jingle Pants for "about a month" because their family was homeless. But she was able to find places for the 3 of them to crash together on weekends. This gave our family a little break from the bickering and neediness, and me, personally, a relief from feeling like I had to be "on" all the time.
Prior to hosting, I talked to most of the kids about the possibility. There were various responses, but most were fairly positive about the idea. About a week into the arrangement, one of my sons told me, "I only said yes because I thought Dad would say no." Interesting. He had the foresight to think he might gain favor with me without any cost to himself, but hasn't yet realized the selling point of, "Honey, I talked to the children about this, and they're okay with the idea..."
Hosting is also different than foster care in some ways. Safe Families For Children is a volunteer organization, and participation is voluntary for both the parents and the host family. As a host family, we are able to register the kids for school and authorize emergency medical care and sign permission slips, which is similar to foster care. We are under the oversight of a visiting social worker, as well. However, there is no stipend, nor is there any reimbursement for expenses. Which is fine, we're obviously not in this for the money, but Satan whispers in the back of your mind when you discover that someone sprayed an entire can of shaving cream all over the shower. One of my least proud moments was when Sassy Girl brought home a flyer from school and told me, "You have to give me a bunch of cans to take to school! It's for the homeless." and my first thought was, "I'm feeding 'the homeless' 3 meals a day, kid. Haven't I done my part for the moment?" I'd never say that, of course, but I'm ashamed that the thought was there.
Another way hosting is different than foster care is the level of parental involvement. The parent maintains custody during the hosting period, and frequent visitation is encouraged. What this has translated to for us is weekends with mom, weekdays with us, and phone calls with mom every night at bedtime. I also frequently receive text messages from mom. This is good for the kids, of course, but it leaves me feeling like I'm co-parenting with a stranger. Which, I am, actually.
I've always been annoyed by the whole "it takes a village" theory. But I've changed my mind. Not that it takes a village to raise every child, but it's sure nice when you have a village supporting you! In addition to the social worker mentioned above, we have a Family Coach and a Ministry Lead, both of whom are available to help us find appropriate clothing, provide transportation, and offer the occasional respite play date.
What do I mean by appropriate clothing? When we decided to adopt, we chose to go the fost/adopt route. So we went through all the trainings and became licensed foster parents. We learned that often foster kids come with only the clothes on their backs. However, in a voluntary and temporary relinquishment situation, I expected (darn those expectations!) the kids to come with seasonally appropriate and correctly fitting clothes. Silly me. Sassy Girl needed enclosed shoes for school, and the situation became a never ending fiasco of great proportions. Mr Jingle Pants came during a heat wave in September with a few too small turtlenecks and no underwear. Sparkle's clothes appeared to have been pulled out of the hamper, but were fine once they'd been through the wash, with the exception of a couple of things that were too small. Fortunately, she's the same size (a hair smaller, actually) as Hannah, who has enough clothing to outfit triplets, and has been GREAT about sharing her stuff. Fluffy came with mostly shorts, so, of course, it starts raining, lol. The first week he was here, I made him a pair of pants and a long sleeved shirt, and a couple moms brought things over after I put out a plea on Facebook. Out of 4 kids, whose actual sizes ranged from 3T to 7, they've come with clothing from 3/6 mos. all the way up to size 14.
What has happened with each placement so far, is an emergency Target run for socks, underwear, shoes, PJs, etc. (The last trip included sippy cups, as it's been 5 years since we've had a 2 year old in the house.) I suppose if we were committed to doing this long term, as opposed to doing this for the next several months until our adoption is complete and then taking a break, we ought to keep a few things in each size/gender on hand so it's not such a scramble to outfit newbies each time. Another Safe Family mom is starting a clothes closet for host families to access with new placements. (Which reminds me, I have a bag of stuff I need to drop off!)
In summary, I think Safe Families For Children is an amazing ministry. I continue to learn and grow from being a part of it. I think it's SO NEAT that we can be a part of it! I was so disappointed when California changed foster care rules so that there could only be a maximum of 6 children in a home. I thought that was it for us. We wouldn't be able to foster until at least 2016 or something like that (even longer now, with us adopting again). Yet here we are, and God is allowing us to serve in a way that we didn't think we'd be able to.
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