Foster Care Awareness Month Guest Blog by Elyse Imamura
May 19, 2023
Foster Care Awareness Month
Guest Blog by Elyse Imamura
Whenever I look at my life, never would I have predicted my family would look the way it does for now and forever.
I'm a selfish person. It's one of my core beliefs I spent a year working through recently in therapy. I don't like to be uncomfortable, I always want to be doing what I want to be doing and I put myself in situations that will deliver that outcome. When my husband and I spoke about having kids, we always said THEY would come into OUR life. They would have to adapt because we weren't going to give up our goals, our dreams, our individual love for life, or our jobs, our kids would simply be folded into it. Honestly, even though we have 3 children from 3 different scenarios, this way of thinking remains pretty spot on.
My husband and I got into fostering for all the wrong reasons. We were fortunate to get pregnant naturally and have our biological son. After about 2 more years we realized we weren't able to have more kids, but knew our son needed siblings. To be completely honest we couldn't afford private adoption (Thank goodness we couldn't) and the natural 2nd option was fostering to adopt. As soon as we started our training, we knew our intentions had to shift, and while that shift brought fear of the unknown, we got on board with reunification being the ultimate goal when safe for the child.
I remember we got approved in February of 2019 on a Friday and got a call for a 10-week-old baby boy 2 days later. I called my husband, we said, "why not" and 6 hours later he was doing a run to Target while Fernando was being dropped off with a small bag of clothes, a bottle, and some snack containers. That same weekend we had a trip to Joshua Tree planned with our friends so of course we took him with us. I remember I wore him almost 24/7 hiking & cooking, he slept a lot, and my girlfriend who also had a 10-week-old was so envious of Fernando sleeping through the night. Looking back, he must have been shell shocked. He needed that constant cocoon of love and warmth and up until now he has been my cuddler.
Our journey with him was fairly typical; visits with his mother, support with DCFS & 5 Acres, lots of doctors’ appointments and therapy including infant massage, empathetic child development/parenting classes, help with finding him childcare, a wraparound team. It's a testament to what can go RIGHT if the system is set up for success with a child. In January of 2021 I got a phone call from the judge, and he says, "Mrs. Imamura, I'm signing the papers right now. Congratulations your adoption is finalized". I hung up the phone, cried, and went back to work. It was COVID. There was no pomp and circumstance, no in-person vows at the courthouse, no celebration, and maybe in that moment there shouldn't be. There is a weight, a heaviness knowing your adoption of a child means another mother is losing their own child. Fernando is almost 5 years old now and we are fortunate to have found his birth family. We exchange photos, videos, sometimes his mom reads to him at night and draws him pictures. We know once he understands his story, it'll bring a new chapter for us all and I’m excited knowing he could grow up with the love of two families.
The day our adoption went through our social worker came over to congratulate us and said, "I guess this is it". My husband and I exchanged glances and said "well, we've been doing a lot of research on foster kids that age out and we might be open to a teen". Her eyes lit up and she said, "I know exactly the kid." After courting each other for a couple of months, Jalen, age 17 moved in on March 5th 2021, my husband’s birthday.
Remember how I said I was a selfish person, that I don't like to be in uncomfortable situations? This has probably been one of the hardest things I've ever done that has led to the most growth and change within myself. I had raised my biological son from birth so knew about babies, but teenagers?! They are a foreign entity to me, but luckily my husband is a HS teacher and he assured me a lot of things were normal teenage behavior. But raising a Black foster teen who is actively in the process of realizing his story, his trauma, and the things that have happened to him, on top of racial awareness...it's been a steep learning curve to say the least.
This all sounds like I'm centering myself, and maybe I am, but what I'm learning is that the internal work I'm doing alongside my teenage son should have been done prior to him moving in. A foster parent caring for a child with immense trauma must be so sure of their own triggers, knowledgeable about trauma response, have the ability to love unconditionally a child who doesn't think they are worthy, and really be open to combatting their own trauma so the child CAN be centered. Add on that I'm a white foster parent caring for a Black child, and the opportunity for failure increases tenfold, but you have to be the bigger person, you have to sit in those uncomfortable places and know what you're feeling is not even a fraction of what your child has felt his entire life. It's humbling, it's painstaking, and it's scary. Not in ways you'd assume but in more nuanced internal ways. The fact that Jalen and I (and my husband) are doing this together sometimes brings us closer together, but I think about how much smoother the transition might have been if I had done all this work prior. I have to tell myself that the importance of screwing up as a parent and then apologizing to your child, demonstrating healthy aspects of arguing & then continuing to show up day after day, it can be powerful and healing.
Why am I sharing all of this? Why DO I ultimately share our story? There are so many preconceived notions and biases towards foster children, and what the stereotypical foster parents look like. My ultimate goal is to change the perception of what a foster family can be, eliminate biases people have towards foster children, and maybe inspire others to foster, or mentor, or at least look at the system differently. My husband and I are not religious, we work 40-60 hours a week because we love our jobs, we travel all over the world with and without our children, we are actively pursuing our goals and prioritize self-care and well, we just happen to have 3 children 2 of which came from foster care. I hope once all three of my children are ours, people will start looking at us simply as a family.
Fostering for us, in the beginning, was a means to an end. We didn't see it as a way to give back or charity, we simply wanted a bigger family. While our intentions were incredibly misguided, a running theme in our life right now is "look what we would have missed". None of this would have happened if I had stayed in my comfort zone, if we had decided life was going to be the three of us, even though sometimes I do miss and mourn our original family unit. I'm a social creature and love to be involved, my husband is an overachiever. We do this because we don't know how to do anything else. We do this because we have the resources, the village, the community and friends and family to support us and our children. Shouldn't all families have that?
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