What I Learned Parenting a Foster Child With Behavioral Problems

by Anum Habicht
Originally Published: 
A portrait of a foster child with behavioral problems with a neutral facial expression

I was green. Green as in never having parented an average child. Green as in clueless about children who have been traumatized and neglected. I sat in the training after three years of failure at conceiving. I sat in the training wanting to bring a child into my home to love and nurture. I looked at the older, experienced foster parent detailing her experiences to the class in order to “prepare” us. She looked tired. Her stories varied from reunions with birth parents to happy adoptions. Then she caught my attention completely. She said something about getting really difficult children. Her voice actually seemed to turn colder. She discussed a current placement who wasn’t doing well in her home. This child was in kindergarten. She had already been placed in multiple homes and been moved due to her behaviors. I wanted this child. I wanted to hold her and make her feel safe. I was certain this current foster parent was crazy and simply too old and jaded to handle this girl.

I was excited. We’d had a boy placed in our home for three months and he was doing well. Now, today, SHE was moving in. This same little girl who had stuck in my mind, sight unseen, at training was actually going to be in my care. The truck swung into the drive and the door clanked open. She ran out with her blond hair all askew and reflecting the sun. She looked up at me with her enormous blue eyes and pronounced, “You are my fifth Mom.” My heart melted.

I was aghast. The room. The time out had resulted in the f word being carved in the wood sashes of the windows by an innocent-looking pen. It was not just roughly hewn once; it had been repeated. It had been repeated many times. She looked at me calmly. “I didn’t do it,” she said.

I was scared. The charred mark on the floor of her room conjured vivid images of our home being burned down and all of us dying while we slept. I held her in my arms and asked what was wrong. She gazed up at me. “Nothing,” she said. “Why?” I asked. “It wasn’t me,” she responded.

I was livid. She was missing. She was supposed to be watching television while I took laundry upstairs. I ran out of the house just in time to see the birds’ nest crash to the floor and scatter. We had just gone this morning and I had shown her the babies. We had discussed how fragile the now still and silent bundles were. We had ducked and laughed as their protective mother shooed us away. She turned. “It slipped,” she said, dropping the wooden board to the floor beside her.

I awoke. I heard noises. I shone the flashlight into the wide gaze of a startled child with cookies filling her cheeks. It was three in the morning. “I was hungry,” she said.

I was shocked. Baby ducklings floated in the pool of water. Dead. “They cannot swim underwater,” she explained evenly.

I was protective. When that old, beat-up four door drove by slowly several days in a row, I noticed. She stayed inside for weeks.

I was hopeful. The day she stood on the stairs and turned to face me. Her face was twisted with rage and hate. “I don’t trust you,” she snarled, “you are an adult.” Now we are making progress, I thought.

I was hurt. We drove back from visiting my parents. The children were spoiled with gifts and treats from Christmas. Rip. I heard it. The car had to be pulled over as she tore the brand-new sweatshirt down the front at the zipper. “It is ugly,” she said, rejecting both the material gift and the acceptance it represented.

I was mortified. The books crashed as the entire display tipped in the store and left the kicking child exposed. Carrying the screaming child the entire length of the mall just completed the sick feeling in my stomach.

I was ecstatic. The day she was adopted and became legally my baby girl.

I was disturbed. We danced happily together in the living room, enjoying the day, and suddenly her hand was on my breast and her hips pressed against my legs.

I was tearful. The day I discovered the rage that followed being told to sit in a chair for time-out was caused by having a history of being tied to chairs for hours. I didn’t know. I hadn’t known.

I was shocked. Driving home to see the side of the house splattered with blue paint, empty buckets lying on the ground.

I was furious. When I received a call from a local bar with a drunken woman asking how my girl was doing.

I was thankful. Each year my breathing would temporarily relax as she succeeded at school with modifications and support.

I was delighted. To see her laugh with her eyes shining bright as she sang in the living room with her friends at her first birthday party.

I was crushed. When her moods and behaviors ostracized her from most of her friends and she no longer had anyone to invite over to play.

I was tired. As I discussed with the police how she stole her friend’s car and crashed into a ditch near the school.

I was hurting for her. The day I had to tell her that her birth mother stepped out into oncoming traffic on the freeway and died in the depths of a meth-induced high.

I was devastated. When her adoptive father could not cope with her behaviors.

I was in despair. When she would no longer abide by any house rules and had to move out on her own.

I was proud. As she walked the stage and got her high school diploma.

I still have faith. Her life is better than it would have been. She has fought through many battles. She has taught me many lessons.

I am no longer green.

Related post: The Child I Didn’t Adopt

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