The summer of 2014 was chatioc for our family. We were in the process of becoming a foster certified home and our days were consumed with home evaluations, background checks, and Permanence-Model Approach to Partnerships in Parenting (MAPP) training. It is a long and grueling process and many of the people who start the journey never cross the finish line. But for those who stick with it… unique relationships are forged.
It was during this time that I met the beautiful Sarah Collins, a fellow foster and adoptive mom, who has a deep rooted desire to provide children with a loving home. The years have not been easy in her home, but God is using her life to weave a beautiful tapestry and it is exciting to have her here to share a (small) part of her story with us.
My name is Sarah Collins. I have been a teacher in the Rochester City School District for 19 years, teaching English grades 7-12, and acting as building Testing Coordinator for the last few years. I have two biological children, ages 15 and 10 months, and two bonus children, ages 6 and 4, who I began fostering when they were 7 months and 2 weeks old.
What is your child’s health condition and how old was your child when they were diagnosed?
My oldest child is diagnosed with Autism, and the two middle children are diagnosed with FASD (Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder). All three children were diagnosed by Kirsh at about age 2.
What kind of struggles does your child face because of their condition?
Everyone knows about Autism, but I feel like little is known about FASD. FAS is permanent and irreversible brain damage, a lifelong condition that does not go away or get better with time. In my childrens’ cases, FAS affects almost every area of their lives. One of the children is able to be unmedicated at this time, but the other has been on anti psychotics since the age of 3, as well as medications to help with sleep, to help with weight gain caused by the anti psychotics, to try to help with aggression and behaviors, and to combat high blood pressure and other physical conditions.
This child attends a specialized school, because behaviors make it impossible to attend a “typical” school or daycare. Along with severe aggression, children with FAS often face problems with sleep, poor balance, learning and intellectual disabilities, trouble paying attention and processing information, difficulty solving problems, inability to understand the consequences of their behaviors, poor judgement, hyperactivity, mood swings, inability to control impulses, to understand social cues, trouble planning ahead, or staying on task.
These children face an increased risk of mental health disorders, addiction, not completing school, not following rules and laws, and sometimes early death. I could easily write for days about the struggles that my children face, but will keep it generalized to protect their privacy.
What are the challenges you face as a parent of a child with complications?
There are many challenges, but I think some of the most difficult for me are when people are judgmental, being housebound, and people who don’t see who my children really are. There have been countless instances where I have faced judgement and disapproval because of my childrens’ behaviors. Because they “look normal”, people do not understand why they may act the way they do.
I have been told that I’m a bad mother, that if I just parented differently my children would not act the way they do, that I need to just punish them (a barista at Starbucks told me recently that spankings clearly needed to be doled out!) – it’s hurtful and humiliating to be looked down on and have your parenting criticized. In Barnes and Noble last year, one of my children was having a meltdown, and as I carried them out, another customer said aloud to her child, “That’s a bad child and a bad mother right there.” My heart was broken. It especially hurt because my child heard it!
Because of the struggle that comes with taking the children out, we often just stay home, which can be very hard. We miss family functions, school activities, community events – because the possibility for disaster is ever present. But the greatest struggle of all is when people don’t take the time to see what I see – that beneath the struggle, these children are some of the smartest, funniest, cuddliest, most affectionate and interesting people that I have ever known.
They are endlessly curious, interested in others, notice everything, want to please, and are heartbroken when they are rejected, even if it doesn’t always seem that way. I long for people to see this side of my babies and know their hearts. It takes a special person to look closer and see who they are, to repeatedly forgive and forget and start fresh, but don’t they deserve that? Aren’t they worth it?
What has helped you on your individual faith journey as fear and worry threaten to overcome you?
My church has been a huge support. I began bringing my children to Northridge when they were very small; when behaviors began to be apparent, I stopped bringing them for several months because I just knew that I would face judgement and we would get kicked out of yet another place. I felt frustrated and angry that we couldn’t be there.
But then I decided to reach out to my Pastor, Nate, who put me in touch with Nancy and Carmella, who are in charge of the children’s ministry. They were unbelievably accepting and inclusive. They found 1:1 aides to go into the Sunday school classroom so that my children could attend. They helped me with absolutely every aspect of being at church, and they showed grace and love and kindness to my family.
Being able to be there has helped me so much when I feel afraid or worried. The people at church who work with my kids reassure me that they are there to support us and that we belong there. On particularly hard days at church, I have had the children’s workers just sit on the floor with me, quietly supportive, letting the meltdown pass, and showing us that we weren’t alone.
What words of advice or encouragement do you have for mothers who are in the same stage of life as you?
Be accepting and kind to other mothers. When you see a parent struggling with their child in public, offer a smile, an encouraging word, or ask if there’s anything you can do to help. Look for ways to help our families be included in the activities that you take for granted as easy and fun for your family. Accept our children, and teach your children to be accepting and kind as well. Teach your children to be a friend to those who are different, to defend those who may need it, to love the unlovable.
When I feel discouraged or exhausted, I think of the words from one of my favorite songs “I give my whole life to honor this love.” My life isn’t about me. It’s not about me being happy all the time, or everything being easy. It’s about giving. In my career, and in my personal life, it’s about caring for the most vulnerable, because Jesus says, “whatever you did for the least of these, you did for Me.” Remembering this gives me strength and patience when life is difficult. In my experience, there is great joy to be found among “the least of these.
It’s really easy for me to look into the future and worry about what lies ahead for the kids. We live in a society that does not understand or accept them. I worry about what will happen when I can’t protect them. But I’m learning to trust God for their future, and rest in the fact that He loves them so much more than I can, and will most surely take care of them better than I can.