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Fostering first: Extended family rides along bumpy road of foster care
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Fostering first: An occasional series

Times Metro Editor Shannon Casas and her husband recently became foster parents. This series explores her experiences as a new parent in that special role.

Read previous columns in the series

A learning process: Becoming a foster parent requires thought, answers
Forging foster bonds not easy or natural
Foster family adjusting to new roles
Fostering first: Up early, and little time to spare since
Filling a need and a home: A foster parent's journey

When my husband and I decided to become foster parents, we considered how it would affect our daily life, what saying goodbye to these children would feel like and whether we would ever adopt.

What I didn’t really consider was how much our decision would affect our families, too.

A little boy and girl have now been living with us for much longer than some of our relatives expected.

The kids are also a lot more adorable and seemingly "normal" than my family guessed they would be.

The little boy loves trains, chocolate ice cream and drawing spiders. The little girl loves to sing, dance and play "This Little Piggy Went to Market."

To be sure, there are some tears and plenty of screams of "No!," which sometimes looks too cute to get mad about and is sometimes not cute at all.

I snap photos of them wearing my high-heeled shoes and videos of them having a ball playing in a big box, sending it all along to my family by text message.

My mom loves to show the photos around. And I do the same at work, too.

Most of my family lives about an hour away, so they also get to spend time with the kids.

My sisters came to my house to celebrate each of their birthdays.

The kids had their own little table next to the adult table at Thanksgiving at my parents’ house.

They’re the only little ones in my family, so they get plenty of attention.

In other words, the kids are a huge part of my life. And they’ve become a part of my extended family’s life, too.

But unlike families with biological grandchildren added to the fold, we all know these children won’t be around forever.

And just spending time with them can sometimes be complicated.

The kids can’t just stay with Grandma and Grandpa. Grandma and Grandpa must get fingerprinted and submit to a background check in order to babysit. They also have to babysit at our house unless they outfit their home with various safety measures and sign paperwork. Even then, the kids can’t stay the night.

My mom said she wishes she could spend more time with them. But the limitations and busy schedules make that difficult.

My sister said she worries every time she sees them that it may be the last time.

But as the kids get to know the family better, everyone is more emotionally invested.

We haven’t had to say goodbye yet. But we all know it’s coming eventually.

My mom said the thought of disrupting their peaceful little lives tears her up. It tears me up, too.

You never know how long you’ll have a placement, and the uncertainty can be rather disconcerting.

Adoption is sometimes an option, depending on the parents’ situations and the opinions of the juvenile court. But whether or not it will be an option can remain up in the air for much longer than anyone would like. And it’s not a decision made lightly in any case.

But I basically knew what I was signing up for. I’m not sure my family did.

And though I have little control over the children’s futures, my family has even less.

We must all balance our emotions between doting on children that may sometimes feel like our own and realistically preparing for them to move on.

Of course worrying about the end isn’t the only part that affects my family.

My siblings have also gotten more accustomed to being around small children, which has been a good experience for them. They also seem to understand that being with them full time certainly has its challenges.

And I have a feeling as we continue with this process, the children and their stories will probably teach them, as well as us, more about compassion, humility and strength.

To be sure, my family is proud of what we’re doing. And I’m proud they’ve been able to welcome these children into the family, for however long they may stay.