My favorite holiday is Thanksgiving. It’s a time when all across America, people stop to reflect on the things that they are grateful for. I am grateful for many of the same things as most people, however, as a foster parent, my gratitude also often comes in varied, unconventional ways. Some of the things I have been grateful for over the years might be, to some people, kind of strange. Like the time one of our boys fell asleep on the living room couch. I know that doesn’t sound like much, but for this kid who had been so horribly abused in his life, the fact that he felt safe enough to fall asleep in an open, common area, was cause for much gratitude.
Then there was the time I watched my 13 year old trying to fly a kite that he had made, only he was struggling because it kept flying upside down. My husband walked over and helped him out, and the kite righted itself and soared high into the air. The look on my 13 year old’s face was so carefree and happy—that look made me grateful!
And I was grateful for the tears that ran down my kid’s cheeks when he learned that another boy in our home was going to be moving out. I wasn’t grateful that he was sad, but I was grateful that he had the capacity and the heart to feel sadness and loss. Our kids have had so much loss in their lives, that some of them lose the willingness or even the ability to show their feelings.
And then there was the time when we were providing Emergency Shelter Care and had a teen girl staying with us. She was very angry and hostile, and constantly spewed swear words at everyone in the house. It was the holiday season, and I had planned to have our five year old granddaughter over to look at nearby Christmas lights. However, I quickly realized that I needed to cancel the outing because I didn’t want to expose my young granddaughter to our foster girl’s anger. Later, I was standing at the stove making dinner when the girl asked me what we were having. I told her and I then mentioned that we were no longer having company over because of her unacceptable behavior. She looked at me and said, “If you want to ask them to come, I promise I will be appropriate.” I took her for her word and had my family over. Later, my heart was filled with so much gratitude when I saw her calmly holding my granddaughter’s hand as they walked along looking at the holiday lights together.
When it comes to school, I am known as the “Warlord” in our home. I check on the kids’ homework and attendance, and we talk about school every week. I make sure to keep my expectations reasonable, but I also hold the kids accountable to do the best they can. One boy who had struggled a lot in school when he first came to us was sitting at our table on the evening before he was to return to his Mom’s home. I saw a big tear run down his cheek and when I asked him what was wrong he said, “Who will be the Warlord when I go home? Who will make sure I get up in the morning?” I assured him that he would be the warlord for himself now, because he had learned what he needed to do. I was so grateful to learn that he really appreciated me holding his feet to the fire (so to speak) and expecting great things from him while he lived with us.
People might say, “How can you be grateful for behavior that should be expected?” When I think about the kinds of things our kids have endured in their short lives, any moments of grace are moments to be grateful for. Over the years, I have become better and better at finding those moments of grace and savoring them. I always let the kids know how grateful I am for these moments that they share with me. Some of them are so used to hearing bad things about themselves that they hardly know what to do when someone thanks them for being vulnerable or kind or even funny.
I believe that when you give a lot of grace and have gratitude for others, it comes back to you. I am thankful for all the people who work with us and our kids, and continue to have grace and gratitude for me. I don’t think a day goes by that someone doesn’t thank me for being a foster parent. And the kids give back too. I have a box full of little notes and letters from kids thanking me and telling me what they appreciated about the time they lived with me and my husband.
Most of all, I am grateful that even though I never had any biological children, I am Mom and Grandma to some very precious grown men and women, boys and girls, and babies. I’ve had lots of nicknames over the years—including the dreaded “Warlord”—but I think “Gwanma” is my absolute favorite!