When my family heard that I had been selected as Utah Mother of the Year, reactions were, well, interesting. I heard from each of my seven kids. Some were proud of me, some were surprised, and there was a good amount of laughter. One response I especially liked came as a text from my oldest son: “You go, mama uh da yer”. Why do I like this response? It seemed to have the right balance of respect/disrespect, along with a touch of encouragement/acknowledgement. I’m not kidding myself—I’m far from a perfect parent! I got a few things right and I am certainly proud of my family, but I do realize that what set me apart for this honor was: “she has fostered over 100 children”.
My husband and I have been foster parents for 28 years. I don’t hesitate to say that it’s been the most difficult, wonderful, mind-expanding and growing experience of my life! I didn’t know what to expect when the idea of fostering came to me. Our youngest child was starting first grade and I realized that if I didn’t do something concrete with the extra time that I’d have that I’d just lose that time with nothing to show for it besides manicured nails and maybe a cleaner house. I had been a teacher and my plan was to go back to teaching part time. It was my oldest daughter who suggested foster care, and it immediately struck a chord. I looked into it and started classes within the week.
Foster care was somewhat different 28 years ago. Whereas now foster parents are expected to be potential adoptive parents for the kids they foster, back then there were basically two separate groups: One group was a list of foster parents, and one was a list of parents hoping to be able to adopt. We weren’t looking for a child to adopt. We thought that six was enough—often more than enough! We just wanted something meaningful to add to our lives. Foster parents can be specific about what ages and the number of children they are willing to accept. We chose to limit our commitment to one child at a time and we wanted only children that were younger than our youngest child. That isn’t quite what is the most needed in the system. The pressing need is for fostering sibling groups and older children, but we were foster care wimps. The factor that eventually worked us out of the “wimp” category was that my husband is a doctor, and as that became known, we started getting placements of medically fragile and special-needs children.
One of our early foster placements was a tiny sickly and starving 4-month-old who we promptly fell in love with. When his mother came to the realization that she was unable to adequately care for him we knew that we couldn’t give him up and ended up adopting him. He’s been a wonderful addition to our family, but we’ve since resisted the temptation to adopt more-and sometimes it has been a big temptation. When you have the opportunity to care for a helpless child for several months at a time, you learn to love them as if they are your own. Even though we knew that we weren’t planning to adopt, we found it hard and often heart-breaking when a child moved out of our care. One thing we’ve learned, however, is that the pain of separation doesn’t last too long in this situation, and we’ve come to accept the decision of the judges and feel good about what we’ve been able to do for the child. It is a rollercoaster that all foster parents ride and it’s much harder for those hoping to adopt.
I mentioned that it has been a “mind-expanding” experience for me. I grew up quite sheltered and most of the people I knew were a lot like me. I think that I was even somewhat afraid of people who seemed different from me. As foster parents you get to know the parents of the child through visits and other interactions. I’ve found that almost without exception, as I come to love the child, I come to love the mother. And these mothers are often very different from people I’ve known before. Many have been addicted, homeless, or incarcerated. Most have been victims of neglect or abuse as children, and though they love their children and would like to be good parents, it’s hard to be a good parent if you haven’t had a good parent. It’s been good for me to get to know these mothers, to learn from them and accept and admire them.
Another thing that I’ve gained from doing foster care is a window into the world of special-needs children and their parents. We’ve fostered many babies and young children with brain injuries and different syndromes and challenges. We’ve mastered tube feeding, supplemental oxygen, pulse oximeters and working with many pediatric specialists and therapists. We’ve made so many trips to Primary Children’s Hospital that I’ve told friends that my car can drive there on its own! I can honestly say that all of this has been a privilege and I’m pretty sure most parents of special-needs kids would agree. It can be challenging and heartbreaking, but at the same time it brings a sweetness and pure love into your life like nothing else. Getting to know these kids and their parents has been mind-opening. Even more amazing are the people ready and willing to adopt a child who will have life-long special needs. I’ve met some real heroes, both the children and the parents. We have also had the experience (and honor) to take care of two babies with terminal conditions and help them through to the end of their precious lives. These experiences have been full of much more sweetness than tears.
One more thing I’d like to say about foster care is that the system has improved a lot over the years. The training is comprehensive and realistic and we’ve found the workers at DCFS to be caring and competent. Foster parents are asked to handle so many hard things and it’s amazing to get to know these young families and see what they are willing to do to help children. Some pretty wise and amazing people are doing foster care these days!
I feel very lucky to have stumbled into a way of life where I have been able to learn so much. I can hardly believe that it has lasted this long and that I’m not ready for it to end. (We’ve been called the world’s oldest living foster parents”). To find a place where you can do something you love and that is really needed is one of the greatest blessings of life.
Sincerely, Barbara Booth (Mama uh da yer)
Barbara Booth is the mother of 7, grandmother of 17, and lives in Ogden, Utah. She and her husband, Dr. Jeffrey Booth, have cared for over 100 foster children in the last 28 years. She feels that being a mother is one of the most challenging and important things a woman can do-also the most fulfilling! She thinks that being a foster parent has helped her learn many important life lessons and she sees it as a privilege and blessing in her life. She loves to be an advocate for mothers, foster parents and children with special needs.
Would you like to know more about this “mind-expanding” world of foster care? Call the Utah Foster Care Foundation at 877-505-5437 or simply google foster care-Utah.