Commentary by Katy Gentry McCord
My husband and I decided to become foster parents about one year ago. We’re both teachers in our mid-30s in Hamilton County.
So, hours of training later we were official and three months after that we welcomed our first foster child. We were prepared, we thought. We had teaching degrees, we boasted. He was a football coach, and a middle school one at that. I was a special education teacher and knew all of the evidence-based practices in working with children with special needs. We would do just fine, or so we thought.
Those degrees went out the window by day two. We did not have a student in our house; we had a foster son. Our living room was not a classroom; it was his sixth foster home. We had a young child in our home that needed a parent, not a teacher. It was a game changer. Now instead of running parent-teacher conferences, I was attending them. Instead of writing individual educational plans, I was reading them. The special education teacher became the parent of a child with special needs. Doctor visits, medication management, packing lunches, making it to the bus, meeting with service providers and therapists, swim lessons, buying new clothes, coordinating pick up times, playing phone tag, scheduling meetings — plus learning how to manage all the life this child had packed in his invisible suitcase he had with him since entering the foster care system.
As the start of a new school year is beginning, I want to tell all those warrior moms and dads of children with special needs: I see you. I hear you. And I get it.
I used to think I understood you, but I was wrong. I get it now. And I am sorry.
I want to be on your side. I want your child to succeed more than anything. I know there are days when you just cry because you feel defeated. I know how frustrating the simplest tasks such as grocery shopping or going to the post office can be. I know the pain you feel when your child is not invited on play dates or struggles to interact with their peers. I know how exhausting unstructured days are for you and by Sunday night how all you want to do is go to bed. I know how crucial your adult friendships and relationships are to your sanity. I understand that every choice you have made up to this point has been to ensure the greatest quality of education and life you can offer your child. I know you are your child’s strongest advocate and biggest fan. I know most days you feel very alone.
I will listen more and talk less. I will make sure to tell you about those good days just as much as I tell you about the tough days. I will be mindful of what I say and how I say it. I will be more patient with you. I will stop using so many educational acronyms and remember that your child is not a label on a piece of paper, a rank, a test score or a letter grade.
I will listen and I will listen some more. Let’s start over. Let’s be a team this year.
Katy Gentry McCord is a licensed special education and elementary teacher. She and her husband are proud foster parents and reside in Fishers with their rescue dog, Trip.