What It's Like to Be a Foster Parent

Baby Y, looking for his car keys..

Baby Y, looking for his car keys..

A year and a half ago, my cousin Josh and I were in the midst of an epic phone call. In some ways, Josh is more of a big brother than a cousin. We can pretty much tell each other anything, and I adore him for it. So, he nonchalantly mentions that he and his awesome wife, Carly, were considering becoming foster parents (and hoped to eventually adopt a child).


This, coming from a guy who had told me numerous times that kids were a no-go. I was shocked, then ecstatic. I couldn't imagine two people who's be better parents. Josh is a big kid himself, and Carly is one of those people who's relaxed, realistic and funny as hell-- the makings of a great mom. 

In July of 2014, a six-month-old bundle of joy arrived at their home. He was adorable, but I wondered how this fostering thing worked. How do you get certified? Do you get to decide what age kid lives with you? What happens if you fall in love... then have to watch them go back to a situation that breaks your heart? And.... would Carly & Josh end up adopting their baby? 

I sat down with them in May of this year to discuss the nitty-gritty details. In the time that's passed, a lot happened, including a big, fat, happy announcement. Read on to here all about it.

P.S. For legal reasons, Josh & Carly can't show identifying images of their foster child online. But you can tell how cute he is just by looking at his baby butt.

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When and how did you two meet? When did you get married?

Carly: We met through friends. We're both in college, maybe. But not the same college. My friend was friends with his friend and so we met that way. The end, beautiful love story.

Josh: We got married a few years later, in January of 2006. She tried to get rid of me and was very unsuccessful.     

Carly: It didn’t take…

Josh: Since then she's been the boss of me.   

Well obviously I've known you, Josh, for my entire life. We've had lots of conversations...long story short, I didn't think you were ever going to be a dad. What made you guys decide that you are ready to have kids?

Josh: I kind of made my decision not to be a dad just through circumstances. I was okay with it. It’s fine. Then we got married and as our relationship grew, things changed. Our friends were having kids and when your friends have kids... You get sucked into the peer pressure. 

Carly: Peer pressure used to be like alcohol and cigarettes. Now, it's children. 

You guys are currently fostering to adopt, and you've had a baby living with you for 8 months. What made you decide to do that instead of surrogacy or adoption?

Carly: We investigated it long before we decide to do anything about it. We were curious. So, we met with a bunch of people-- some who adopted internationally and some adopted domestically. Neither of us walked away being like, Oh, we are for sure not doing that, but we also weren't like, Cool, let's sign up tomorrow! 

Josh: I think in my heart I've always wanted to adopt.

Honestly, I don't know anybody besides you two personally that have ever done this before. Whenever I think of kids and foster care, it always seems sad and scary.

Carly: All you hear are super scary, horror stories. I told a co-worker that we were going to do this she was like, But what if you get a problem child? Like that movie Problem Child. She proceeded to tell me the plot of the movie, which I already knew. So I think that's the perception of it out there. 

Josh: I think we ended up on it because we wanted to help a kid that was here already.

What did you guys have to do to become foster parents?

Carly: We had to go to a bunch of meetings run by the state and county. So it's organized really well. We sat in a room with a bunch of other people. We we're told about the program. Then, they gave us a stack of paperwork to fill out and then said, see you later

What do they want to know about you?

Josh: They want to know your family history. They want you to be as honest as possible with your relationship with your parents and your siblings. They want to know about health conditions. And they want to know a little bit of your financial situation.

Once they do that, then you continue to take classes, which scared the living shit out of me. Here are all of the things that could happen to your child.

Carly: You have to collect all these class hours. You have to do training. And even as just licensed foster parents, we will have to continue to do this to maintain our license. But there are three classes that you have to take in the beginning. One is a car seat class. One is intro to mental illness and one is about SIDS and shaken baby syndrome.

Josh: All frightening.

Carly:  Yep, so three full classes on how your child could just die. How you might kill your child in a fit of frustration and then how you can kill your child in the car. Then if you don't kill them, here are all the illnesses that they could possibly suffer from.

What happened after the classes?

Carly: You have to get your house inspected by the fire marshall, which I was very stressed about. They give you all these parameters. We have smoke detectors and the fire extinguisher. However, allegedly the windows in our two bedrooms are too small. So there was a moment where I was like, "Are we going to have to change our windows?" That might be a deal breaker for me. I don't know.             

Josh:  We'd literally just replaced the windows a few years ago.          

Carly: That's major construction. So I just had all this anxiety about somebody coming in and judging our house so harshly. Of course, everything was fine.

I want to know what was the process like when it came to getting a placement (aka kid).

Carly: After you get your home inspected, then you get assigned a social worker. That's the part where you’re confronted with this really terrible look into your heart and see how honest you can be with yourself. They basically ask you what kind of child you're willing to parent.

Josh: Not only that, but what kind of a foster parent are you going to be? Are you going to be a foster parent that strictly fosters? The whole definition of foster parenting, which I think is lost on people, is you foster with the intent of hopefully bringing that child back into the home that they were taken out of. And then there's concurrent fostering, which is fostering with the intention of adopting. 

And then the final type of fostering is sheltering, which is immediate. For example, an emergency where people are taken out of the home in the middle of the night.  We decided on [fostering to adopt].

Do they select the child for you based on which thing you're doing?

Carly: They try as much as possible. Obviously they can't guarantee that you're going to be able to adopt a child that they place with you.

At this point, you have to make all sorts of hard decisions. Okay, I'm willing to accept a child of this age, but also this mental well-being or physical well-being. It's really awful to write down something on a piece of paper stating you're not willing to take a child with significant disabilities or with a big medical condition. Confronting that is a little bit daunting.

Did they ask you about gender?

Josh: Yes. Gender, age, race, sexual orientation.

Carly: When you get pregnant, you don't have to make any other decisions. We had all of those questions in front of us. It's like, Oh my gosh! I don't know. I don't know. Is a girl better than a boy? We aren't parents. We don't know anything about anything. 

Josh: It's just a challenge. All these kids that are in these situations are wonderful kids. They just have had a rough run for whatever reason that's out of their control. You're trying to make a good decision for you so that you can be the best caretaker for them. 

So you ultimately decided that you wanted a younger child.   

Carly:  We ultimately put zero to five. And we’re licensed for two kids, which surprised me. I was like, No, we want one. Then we came back and our license said two and I was like, Oh. Okay fine.

How long did the licensing process take?

Carly: That first meeting and it was in October 2013. We got licensed in May of 2014 and then we got a placement in July 2014.

Was the time between getting your license and your placement stressful? At any point you could get a phone call saying, Hey, we have a kid for you!

Josh: Not just that, but we were told don't buy anything because you don't know what age.

Carly: And because we said zero to four, that could be a crib. It could be a bed. It could be an I don't know what.

And I had to go to work and just be like, So I'm doing this thing. I have no idea when or if or what, how much notice I’ll have. But I have to take some time off pretty soon.

When did you get the call about the kid?

Josh: I got a call and they called and said, We have a six-month old and we need you to let us know if you want him within the next 15 to 20 minutes. And I'm like Really? Can I call my wife? They said yes, but told me the clock was ticking. 

So I called my wife and I said Honey, I don't really know what to buy at the grocery store for dinner. Oh and by the way, they called and they have a kid. We have to decide in 10 minutes. So if you can let me know what you think?

Carly: This wasn't our first call for placement. We had passed on a couple, which felt terrible, but was right. In those circumstances, it was not an emergency. I called back the social worker because six months was younger than what we were anticipating. I don't even know why we said yes, but we did.

Josh: To my recollection of the conversation, I think we said yes because even though it would be hard, he'd passed the infant stage. If we are planning on adopting him, he was young enough to establish a connection and really get comfortable with us being his parents. We both decided to let 'er rip it and see what happens.

Carly: I called back and told the social worker we were in. And she said, Okay, I'll bring him tomorrow. I nearly crapped in my pants, but said okay. 

Did you even get to see a picture?

Josh: No.

Carly: We had a name. We had an age. We had a race. And we had that it was not likely that he was going to go back to his parents, but that was all.     

"I just learned how to walk and they're already puttin me to work!"

"I just learned how to walk and they're already puttin me to work!"

So the next day...

Carly: First, I had to go...

Oh, my God! Yes, what did you have to do?

Carly: My immediate co-workers knew I was doing all this, but I work in a small company and nobody else knew. The owner knew.

It was like you had a secret pregnancy.

Carly: Yes, so the owner wasn't there that day. I had to go to her husband who does our books and stuff. I was like, I'm having a baby tomorrow. He said, That's awesome. He was so supportive and gave me two weeks to maternity leave. We hadn't talked with any of this upfront and he was just so gracious. No questions asked. Just that's awesome. Go have the baby.

So I suppose that night there was a trip to Target?

Carly: We didn't know how big the baby was. I was feeling a little anxious about the whole situation. I felt like if I had diapers, that would be enough. We have a pack and play for temporary sleeping situations. We can figure out anything else, but we need diapers.

But then I was like I don't know how big this kid is. I've never bought diapers. If you walk in that aisle, it's awful. It's like a whole 20-foot section of just all million different kinds of diapers.

So what time of day did they show up? What was that like?

Carly: She came around noon. A child protection worker that brought the baby over. There was this little baby in our house. I was like oh shit!

Josh: He was a little butterball.

Carly: She had a diaper bag that had a couple of diapers in it. There was one bottle.

Josh:  A onesie that was stretchy not quite fitting. One little nook.

Carly: And a little blanket. The end.

Josh: She stayed for an hour and told us a little bit.

Carly: Then she left and we had a baby.

So what did you do, start Googling?

Josh: No! God! Never Google.

Carly: I think as scary as it was, looking back, I’m very glad that I didn’t have nine months of a pregnancy. I would've driven myself crazy. I'd read stuff and I would worry about things that don’t matter or that you can’t control. So it was in a lot of ways just nice to be like, okay here is the baby. Now deal with it.

Josh: That part was nice because we didn’t know about baby food. We didn’t know about anything. We got to learn by doing and it was what it was. I just grabbed the kid right away and played with him.

Carly: I went to Target and bought a car seat so we could leave the house if needed. In that first week, we already had a bunch of things scheduled. We were having this big bridal shower for another friend. We had five things on our calendar. So we just brought the baby to all those things. It was like I don’t know what I’m doing, but I guess you’re portable so you’ll come with us.

How cute is that hair, though?

How cute is that hair, though?

I think a lot of people would be really worried about falling in love with this kid, then potentially having him taken away. When did you guys realize you’d be absolutely heartbroken if he went away?

Josh: Right away.

Carly: Yes, I think it’s not something you can prepare for, but I think it was good in the fact that we had our shields up a little bit, as much as you can.

What do you mean by that?

Carly: We didn’t know what was going to happen. There was a relative who kept saying that they wanted custody. In that case, they’d choose the relative over the foster parents.

Josh: The mom and dad still had some visitation rites and we’re very open to it. We’re happy that they still wanted to see their child. I think that when you go into this, you have to constantly remind yourself that however long you get to have this little person in your life, it's your job to love on him as much as you can. You need to try to give them some stability until it’s out of your control.

What advice would you give to someone who’s looking to foster? What would your sales pitch for being a foster parent be?

Josh: You have to know that just because you get a child, until the i’s are dotted and the t’s are crossed, there’s no guarantee that you’re going to have this child forever. 

Carly: You have to be open on the fact that this child could go to a home that you don’t think is best for them. Josh and I are lucky that our experience has been great. We got placed with a really great kid and with very little issue. We are now moving to adoption. There has been no real hiccups.

Josh: Which is not the norm, I don’t think.

Carly: Right, so don’t just assume that it’s there. But also know that it can be really great thing. You’re not picking up a damaged kid. You’re helping out, but they’re fulfilling your life just as much as you’re fulfilling theirs.

Josh:  One of the things that the county says is that we’re doing a "community service." While I would agree with that technically, I don’t like thinking of this little person as a community service. We love him and want to make his life as great as we possibly can. 

I really commend you guys for doing this. I think you’ve provided a really great home for him. He is the cutest damn kid I’ve ever seen.

Josh: He is pretty cute.

So when did you guys learn that it would be likely that you’d get to adopt him?

Carly: September of this year.

Josh: It was a really good thing, but it was also sad. There's been so many hard things for these two other people who created this child. They had such a bump in the road and had their own issues and just weren’t able to combat them. So the day we’ve found out was – it wasn’t super happy.

Carly: Yes, I felt a lot of sadness and I still feel a lot of sadness. Every time you get to another hurdle of the process, these people’s lives are so bad and you want to help them. You have this weird connection to people that you would never normally have a connection to.

Josh: They’re nice people. They have their issues. It doesn’t matter what culture you’re from, what race you are or whatever. This can happen to anybody. It’s an unfortunate thing for all parties. Like I said, it’s sad that for us to have this joyful little person, all these miseries had to happen. I think about having to explain that to him someday. 

On a lighter note, what has been your favorite part of being parents?

Carly: It’s really fun to just watch him learn. We got him when he was six months and he’s 15 months now. It’s like, he was barely sitting up when we got him and now he’s running and listening sometimes. I'm constantly like, oh wait you do this now. That’s cool. That’s new. You weren’t doing that yesterday. 


Josh: I think my favorite part is still coming. I think people see me differently a little bit now. I don’t know how to explain it. I am kind of a big kid. We go to the park twice a day and we play and he’s learning stuff and he’s silly. I like to be silly. Just watching him grow and knowing that we are helping him. That makes me feel like I have more purpose than I have in years.

I could go into more detail on that, but I won’t. All I will tell you is that I feel like a better man in the last year. Not discounting any of the other stuff I’ve done, because I feel like I’ve done good things. But then I get to help this little person. It gets to fill up something in me that’s really awesome.

So any advice for people looking to potentially consider fostering to adopt?

Carly: If you were interested. Do it. They need people, badly.

Josh: Not even fostering to adopt just to foster, to open your home to a child that needs it is so huge. I also did mentoring programs. I did Big Brothers Big Sisters, but there are all kinds of mentoring programs across the country.

Also, make sure you have a support system. Our family on both sides, and my mom in particular, have been great. But in general, everybody’s supportive. It makes us happy to know that if we need help, our family is onboard. That’s parenting 101.

Three's company. PS Where is John Ritter? PPS This is not a Problem Child reference!

Three's company. PS Where is John Ritter? PPS This is not a Problem Child reference!

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UPDATE: Two weeks ago, Josh & Carly officially adopted their baby! YAY!!!!

For more info on fostering, visit AdoptUSKids.org. You can hear more about Josh's adventures on his kick-ass podcast, Joshland Unfiltered, which covers topics related to Cystic Fibrosis. Even if you have no idea what CF is, it showcases amazing stories, inspiring people, and somehow manages to tackle hard topics in a way that's relatable. I love this show.

PS If fostering a baby sounds a little daunting, maybe you want to start by fostering a doggie! Here's what happened when I did.


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