Heather and Eric Tarpley are foster parents working with the KidsPeace Foster Care office in Muncie, IN. Here Heather reflects on her journey to becoming a foster parent:
I was about 14 or 15 years old when I first realized I wanted to be a foster mom. We had found out that some children in the neighborhood were being abused and I remember thinking I want to have the safe home, where children could come and not worry about that type of thing happening here. Fast forward about 20 years; after marriage, infertility, adoption and motherhood, I finally convinced my husband to think about it. It took about three more years before we reached out to the local foster agencies; my husband wanted to make sure to safeguard my sometimes overly sensitive heart.
I was concerned about the impact of fostering on our child. When we talked to him about what it would mean to foster and asked if he thought he could handle that, his little 5-year-old heart responded with, “Shouldn’t that be what we are all doing?” In that moment, we knew we would be becoming a fostering family.
We have friends and family that have also stepped into the world of fostering and I remember them joking about the annoyances of the paperwork. I didn’t think much about it, until we began the process. It is very intimidating to have so many questions asked about our marriage, childhood, parenting, family and more. Some of it dug up old wounds, but it was all worth it. I can say that now, I wasn’t at the time. Every time our person would knock on our door to have another meeting in our home, a thought in the back of my mind would present itself asking me, “Is this all really worth it?” None of which I ever told anyone, because we were all finally on board. I was the one that pushed for this, I shouldn’t be the one with so many doubts.
We got approved by the state in May 2021, and despite the excitement I kept thinking to myself “What have I done? Will my son be OK? Will the marriage be OK? Will we be able to handle all the changes that will be coming into our home?”
We had several calls at the beginning that were not a good fit for our situation, so we had to say no. In those moments I felt like a failure; why was I saying no when I fought so hard for this to happen? After talking with fellow foster friends, however, we were reassured that “saying no” is not a bad thing and we had to wait until the right child came.
All the movies show the “come pick up this child” call coming in the middle of the night, but for us that call came in the middle of the day, while I was at work. After the caseworker gave me the stats and limited amount of details she had been given, I asked if I could call her back after talking it over with my husband. She assured me that was normal and would be available for a call when we decided.
I called my husband and gave him the details they had given me. He asked, “You want to say yes, don’t you?” I explained that I wasn’t sure why, but something was pulling me to say yes to this child.
When the day came for the child to arrive, I was so nervous, going through all our trainings in my mind: if this happens, try that; if that happens, do this; etc. When the child was handed to me at the front door they smiled at my son. Then I let the two run and play around the living room and I heard laughter. That little sound showed me that we had made the right call. I was glad we said yes.
We now wish we wouldn’t have waited so long because of how it is changing our lives. Are there moments of questions? … absolutely! Those moments quickly fade when we hear words forming that were not there before, when baby steps are made showing improvements for both the child and the family working hard to bring them home. Often, we expect things to be done right away, almost instantly. With fostering, it allows you to slow down some and see the little things again. Things that may not have mattered before, but now are moving mountains.
While we are still in our first year of fostering, and have so much to learn, we are thankful we said yes. Those moments when the child is kicking us away because they long for home, or when the schedule changes for the third time this week; we are still thankful we said yes because we have this amazing opportunity to change this little’s life, possibly forever.
When good-bye comes, which is what everyone always asks us if we will be able to handle, we respond with this: We have been called to help change this child’s life. We may have a day or a year or longer to do it. But we need to look at each day as the last one we may have with them, so make it the best we must. Yes, good-byes will be sad, but isn’t that the whole point of all this? To love them like forever while we have them, and hand them over to the family that knows and loves them, who have fought so hard to make it so they came back home, hopefully, forever.
Through it all, we are still glad we said “Yes.”