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A Family That Fosters Together
By Rachel Ann Pieske

A few years ago during a sociology class at University, a foster family came in to speak with us about the process and their experience. They had been at it for two years. I have been involved in the foster care system for 12 years. That is over half of my life. They have had one long-term placement; off the top of my head I can remember at least 14. They were newbies. They had one child to reference. I could have referenced 56. I was quiet. I raised my hand when they asked if anyone had a connection to the foster care system, and I said how many kids we had, and that it had been a mostly positive experience.

I don’t count that as lying. It was a mostly positive experience. I love my siblings. I love my parents. I love that I can handle babysitting just about any child, because I have dealt with just about every behavioral issue…

I just don’t love my ability to “forget” that I ever called someone sister or brother. I don’t love that when I don’t see my family for a month or two, I do not miss them (not because I don’t want to miss them, but because I just don’t). I don’t love my attachment issues.

I don’t love that I learned about child abuse from a sobbing girl.

This is an excerpt of an essay I wrote; I thought it might help explain me:

“In 2000 my parents became foster parents for children in need of a home. This means that children with stories no child should be able to tell were living in my house. This means that I was no longer the baby, the princess, the only little girl. This means that I had 42 brothers and sisters, with lives so much worse than I had imagined possible, in the space of 11 years.

One event stands out more than any other. Ingrained in my memory forever is the image of a single night in my life. One of my foster sisters was lying in bed beside me, a girl not even five years younger than I at the time. She was crying uncontrollably, grieving over her turbulent life, her unspeakable past, and her uncertain future. I hadn’t even known this little girl a month. She was baring her soul to me, telling me things I would never expect to hear, from even my closest friends.

That night I became aware of what abuse really was. I learned that people hurt people more than a playground taunt or an undeserved scolding. That night I learned that children can be used in place of punching bags and stress balls, in place of wives and mommies. That night, I cried just as hard as she did. I cannot say that I cried just for her that night in a bed full of nightmares. I think some of the tears were for me, for my shattered innocence, for the knowledge I never wanted to acquire. Those tears were for my world, for all of its newly discovered evils, for the sadness forced to dwell in hearts of children too small to bear it. As I lay beside her I couldn’t imagine that much pain; that much unfairness in the world.

I could not imagine how parents could not know how to be parents, not know how to treat their children, and not know that they just did not love right. I had loving parents, I did not know that was special, rare, a gift. That little girl was only 7 years old, and had more traumatic experiences squeezed into them than I had ever dreamed a possibility in my 11 years. She was a small, meek child with deep brown hair, deeper brown eyes, and a pain with a depth I cannot even put into words.

The sobs racking through her body and matching the tremors of my own, tears warm and salty on faces, arms, shoulders, the pillow; left stains on tangible and intangible surfaces. Maybe though, the stains I obtained that night lessened some of hers. After she was asleep I made my way back to my bed and lay awake. I made a promise to myself to help her that night. Throughout the years I have realized I cannot really help her now. She has a new home, a new life and hopefully, less pain. I haven’t seen that little girl in nine years.

That night I could do nothing, I was only a child myself, trying to help a child.

That night will never leave me. It changed me somehow, as did countless others with several different children.

Abuse wasn’t the only thing I learned from the children in my home. I learned snarky remarks, witty comments, and cuss words. I also learned how to lie perfectly from an 11-year-old master of lies, I learned how to bend the truth. I learned the pain of a broken nose through a particularly violent boy in our home. I learned that even the saint like patience of my parents comes to an end.

I learned how to love brokenness, I learned how to be a big sister instead of the baby, and I learned how to grow up.

I learned ugly, but I learned inner beauty. I learned self-sacrifice and self-actualization through looking at my parents. I learned a lot of things.

So back to the young couple in my class, fresh eyed and with two children in tow (and a third on the way). I looked at those two little girls and I saw a flash of myself in their eyes. I saw my parents in them. I saw the desire to help society and make a change burning within them.

I saw that, and I was afraid for them. I was afraid that in 10 years, they would be haggard and have eyes clouded with the evil they had seen. I was terrified that one day they will realize that those two perfect little girls and that baby, still protected completely by his mother’s womb, will be just a haggard as they are. I fear they will one day realize that loving children has hurt their family.

I don’t pity them though. The bad, as dark and foreboding as it may seem, is painful. The good though, the good will shine through hardened hearts and blazing eyes. The good will still be there, it will be underneath a harder exterior, but it will be.

It will be worth it all. It will be worth the missed parent teacher conferences and the non-existent birthday parties and the forgetting to pick up from schools and the increased responsibility. There will be bad for those little girls. It will be hard, but hopefully being foster sisters will be life-changing for the better, as being a foster sister has changed mine.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rachel Ann Pieske is the biological daughter of two amazing foster parents. She has dual degrees in social work and sociology from Ferris State University. Pieske is currently serving as an AmeriCorps member at the American Red Cross.

Feature Article Archive

January/February 2014
The Dynamics of Working with Birth Parents and Kinship Caregivers

November/December 2013
Navigating Behavioral Issues with Children

September/October 2013
Back to School Parenting Guide

July/August 2013
Traditional Versus Therapeutic Foster Care

May/June 2013
National Foster Care Month

March/April 2013

January/February 2013
Kinship Care

November/December 2012
Understanding the Impact of Trauma and Abuse

September/October 2012
Nurturing Identity

July/August 2012
Working with Birth Families 

May/June 2012
Celebrating National
Foster Care Month:
Finding Support 

March/April 2012
Parenting Teens 

January/February 2012
Grief, Loss & Anger in Foster Care

November/December 2011
Promoting Better Communication Among the Foster Care Team 

July/August 2011
Discipline Techniques for Foster Parenting

May/June 2011
Celebrating National Foster Care Month

September/October 2011

March/April 2011
The Impact of Social Networking on Foster Care

January/February 2011
My Personal Foster Care Experience and What I've Learned

November/December 2010
Support Organizations Provide Assistance to Foster Families, Children

September/October 2010
The Importance of Keeping Siblings Connected in Foster Care

July/August 2010
Foster Care Health Care: Finding alternative therapies for healing 

May / June 2010
Celebrate National Foster Care Month and Foster Families Nationwide

March/April 2010
Kinship Care - The best interest for children or a foster care alternative?

January/February 2010
Emancipation or Family - Uncovering what's best for teens  

November/December 2009
Discovering What Foster Parents Really Need to Parent

July/August 2009
The Importance of Continuing Education for Foster Parents

May/June 2009
Celebrating National Foster Care Month

March/April 2009
Tips for Parenting Children into the Teen Years 

January/February 2009
Finding the Money Connection in Foster Care

November/December 2008
Looking Ahead at the Future of Foster Car

September/October 2008
Living the Daily Realities of Foster Care 

July/August 2008
Recognizing the Importance of Birth Parent Connection  

May/June 2008
Celebrate National Foster Care Month in May 

March/April 2008
Encouraging Foster Parents to Take Care of Themselves  

January/February 2008
Tips to Help Parents Tackle the Teenage Years

November/December 2007
Becoming the Best Parent for Children in Your Care

July/August 2007
Helping Children and Families Cope with Special Needs Issues

May / June 2007
The Power of Family

March / April 2007
Fostering Un
derstanding in Our Schools

January / February 2007
Finding Inner Peace in Parenting

November / December 2006
Are You My Family?

September / October 2006
Girl Scouts Beyond Bars

July / August 2006
Traditionally Speaking

May / June 2006
From Ward of the State to Defender of the Country

March / April 2006
Becoming Foster Parents

January / February 2006
Thank You, Foster Parents!

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