fostering God's love

A Brief Respite – Getting Rest while on the Fostering Journey

August 23, 2020

The 3-year-old grinned brilliantly at me, a picture of complete bliss. In one hand he held a half-eaten char siew bao. And as I looked at what he had in the other hand, I realised it was another char siew bao, also punctured with little bite-marks. 

“Tada!” he proclaimed, obviously feeling triumphant at what he had managed to accomplish.

The look in my eyes transformed at once from curiosity to exasperation. “K! What are you doing! Why are you eating in this way! Why can’t you eat one thing at a time!”

And my frustration increased a notch when I learnt that he had already eaten one other bun, and this meant that he had singlehandedly finished all three of the buns that were meant as a snack for all three of my kids!

Our little foster boy gets along well with our other kids. As the youngest in our household, he is always trying to fit in and play with his Kor Kors. 

This was the straw that broke the camel’s back. It was the culmination of one week of behaviour that completely annoyed and frustrated us. 

For instance there have been mornings when we enter his room only to find him all sprawled on his bed with his toys; the lights still on after we had switched them off at bedtime – an indication that he had not been sleeping way past his bedtime.

And there have been incidents when he had refused to leave the house, all because he insisted on wearing his “bear” shoes rather than another pair, even though the “bear” shoes were far too loose. And this resulted in huge tantrums and in us being late for our appointments.

And part of the frustration is that K has already been with us for 9 months. Shouldn’t he have learnt this a long time ago? And why does he persist with this particular habit; especially as we have told him on numerous occasions why he shouldn’t be doing it?

“I need a break!” I told Sue. “I feel so exhausted.”

This photo was taken early in our fostering journey with K. During the 3 hours plus of nature walk, K just sat in the stroller the whole way. So much has changed since then!

And this was a refrain that seemed to be echoed by our kids, who have had their own fostering war stories of being scratched in the car, and having their favourite snacks being eaten up without their knowledge.

This weekend, we arranged for fostering respite. This means that another foster parent can take care of our charge in order to allow us to get a break. And we are enjoying our brief respite. We enjoyed a day out with the family in Sentosa yesterday afternoon; we watched a marvellous Sight and Sound Theatres performance of Jonah in the evening, and this morning we are sleeping in. I actually get time to write once again, and the boys get time to read peacefully by themselves. 

Our brief respite in Sentosa yesterday. A much needed time for the family to spend time with each other.

Our time apart from our foster child allows us the opportunity to spend time together as a family once again; without having to worry about meeting the needs of another child – at least for this brief moment.

Upon reflection, I have realised why we have been feeling so frustrated is that we have had no time for ourselves – to recuperate, recharge and regroup. The Covid-19 pandemic and resultant Circuit Breaker lockdown have resulted in us not doing what we normally do – travel. And because we do not travel, we have not requested for time apart from our foster child. In fact it has been almost 5 months of non-stop fostering – the longest we have had ever. Coupled with bad habits that were a result of his own birth family issues, it has been a struggle to care for our foster child.

The Lim Family on an adventure. This was our last big trip to the East Coast of the United States, when we were enjoying the cold up Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina.

And so we were very thankful when some of our good friends approached us recently, and asked us how they can become approved respite carers – so that they would be able to care for our foster kid and provide respite; even though they may not be regular foster carers.

As our 8-year-old articulated so clearly, “I want to stop fostering. But if there’s a break I think I can continue.”

Somewhere nearer – just across the Causeway. But all these memories seem a lifetime away in the wake of the global pandemic.

A friend recently shared a Facebook post by fostering blogger Stacey Jackson Gangnon. This is an excerpt of the post:

“Broken is a woman so overwhelmed by life, she can’t make it to visit her little girl.

The sharp and broken pieces of foster care are not the biological parents, the system or the process. The broken is the failure to see and protect a little girl; one who deserves to be safe, loved and protected by relationships.

May we all remember that adult choices cannot be easily shouldered and carried by children. When we sign up for foster care, we sign up to carry heavy things. The beauty in foster care is standing in the broken and picking up the pieces.”

I was reminded once again why we foster. For me it’s simple. God called me to foster, and that’s why I’m doing it. But a cognitive submission of my desires is not equivalent to complete obedience. God calls us towards unconditional love, to agape. But I know this is not something I can do because of my finite human failings. 

The broken is my failure to see and protect a little child; one who deserves to be safe, loved and protected by relationships.  

Celebrating our boys’ birthdays. Little K is pretty much a part of our lives. And our role as foster parents is to help him make sense of his life in the midst of all the uncertainty.

I was reminded that there is so much going on in the mind of little K, and that it is impossible to shoulder all the adult choices that were made in his life. Fostering is heavy-lifting. We sign up to help our foster kids carry some of these difficult burdens. 

For the beauty in foster care is standing in the broken and picking up the pieces.

But who picks up the pieces? Tangibly it is us as the foster parents. But at the end of the day we need to realise that only God can put the pieces together, and to mend them. Only God can piece together a child who is broken by the failings of all the human relationships around him.

We love only because He first loved us.

And so we soldier on, refreshed and recharged from our fostering respite; reminded that while half-eaten char siew bao and other matters continue to exasperate us, that our foster child is only doing what he’s doing because of the failings in his biological relationships; and that as foster parents, we have a heavy responsibility to help him pick up the pieces and make sense of the uncertainty in his life.

Joining in National Day celebrations. Fostering is part of the work we do as part of nation building – to stand in the gap for vulnerable children whose biological family is not yet able to care for them.

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