- Lisa Montoya and Elizabeth Janssen
Don't (Foster) Mom Alone
When a text came through asking if I'd be willing to take a 15-year-old girl as a respite for the weekend, I didn't bat an eye. Of course, we would. Had we ever raised a teen? No! Did we ever have other teens in the house? No! Did we have any idea what we were doing? No! But it was just a weekend, right?
Well, what happens when that one weekend turns into building relationships, weekly phone calls, weekend visits, and eventually a long-term placement? For me, my heart was full, but my head was confused. I had so many questions, and I wasn't really sure who to ask.
Thankfully, when you surround yourself with a supportive village, they often recognize your needs even before you do. That is exactly what Brandi did.
➡ Insert "foster mom matchmaker."
By anything but chance, Elizabeth and I met at the Christmas closet in December. We mostly just chatted about toys for our littles and which makeup to choose for our teen girls- but what God was doing at that moment was so much more. He was opening a door I didn't even know I would need just a few short weeks later.
I had been a foster/adoptive parent for at least 7 years at this point. I was a completely exhausted mother of ten when Brandi mentioned Lisa and I should get together. Honestly, I thought yes, that would be great, but currently, I don’t even pee by myself, so… maybe I’m not quite ready. Apparently, Brandi didn’t like that response and set us up on a blind date at the Christmas Closet. As we picked out gifts for our kids and Lisa talked about her new addition, I couldn’t help but remember the flood of emotions from a new placement. I know all placements are similar, but your first teenage placement is a whole new world. As I listened to Lisa, I thought about my previous teen placements, the current five teenagers in my home, and the difference in fostering teens and fostering young children. I was reminded of how alone I felt as we navigated advocating for teens and knew God was the real matchmaker here (Sorry, Brandi). I did my best to encourage her because; while I know teenage placements are hard, they are also the most rewarding in my experience, and we went on our way. I remember leaving feeling like God was calling me to wrap around Lisa and her family as she poured into this sweet young woman, but I just wasn’t sure how.
After that initial meeting with Elizabeth, life got crazy. We were now a family of 7, navigating 4 "4 and under" and a teen. We were also loading up two vehicles with suitcases and presents for our week-long Christmas vacation. We were going through the motions, loving this child the best we knew how- but honestly, we were surviving. Two weeks in care, and I still didn't have the paperwork I needed to enroll this child in school. The communication with her case manager was sparse, at best. I had a nagging in my heart that I needed to be doing more for her- but I didn't know what that looked like.
We won't go into details here because this is not our part of the story to tell- but let's say
when our home was in crisis with what felt like only 1 option, God intervened.
A few phone calls later, and next thing I know, I am talking to that foster mom I met at the Christmas Closet. It all hit me at once, and it was like I could see the bigger picture God had planned for this story, far before we knew how it was going to play out.
When Brandi called weeks later, Lisa was the last person on my mind. We had just celebrated Christmas and were also getting ready to celebrate an adoption anniversary as well as a one-year welcome to our family anniversary. Brandi asked if we would be willing to provide respite for a few days/week, and I immediately said yes. I mean, what’s a couple of days, right? Brandi then explained that this placement was a 15-year-old girl and an emergency placement from Lisa’s house. I remember thinking two things at that moment. First, I will be calling Lisa as soon as I get off the phone with Brandi. Second, could I really survive a couple of days or a week parenting THREE 15-year-old young ladies? After talking with Lisa, I realized this child was loved and supported in this home and a critical family member. The emergency wasn’t really an emergency with Lisa’s family but an emergency with teen foster care as a whole. Lisa knew her role as a loving and supportive parent well. She had her own biological children, as well as little foster loves, and she was killing it! Lisa needed someone to assure her that she was the person for this job! Lisa was called to advocate, and no matter what anyone said, her motherly instinct could be trusted to advocate for this child. Lisa needed someone who had been there before, someone who would listen, encourage, and support her. This was me (poor Lisa didn’t even get a choice)! I knew that the first thing I could do to give Lisa support was to provide respite for this child. We welcomed this child and instantly fell in love, all the while knowing we were going to do everything we could to support this family and get this child back to Lisa.
If I'm candid, the following few weeks were brutal. We continued to love this child but from a distance. We tried to advocate but with little success. We were desperate for her to come "back home" but didn't know the steps to take to make that happen. Elizabeth didn't just sign up to provide respite. She walked alongside our family, was the voice for this child when I wasn't sure what else to say, and gave us the confidence we needed to continue moving forward. We went from barely knowing each other to "co-parenting" a child who desperately needed stability. We have since coined this term: "Sister Moms"! Over the next 3 weeks, we would experience the following together (all the while maintaining life as usual on the home front): - vetting prospective foster homes if our home was no longer an option - attending an IEP meeting and advocating for her school needs.
- convincing school transportation to allow the child to ride multiple buses until we got this figured out
- initiating mental health services
- reaching out to our village for help with transportation, sleepovers, and PRAYER - planning and executing a baptism for her (by her request) in less than 24 hours - attending multiple team meetings to ensure the child's needs were met and her voice was heard
- planning and executing an amazing sweet 16 birthday party
- and ultimately, BRINGING OUR GIRL HOME!
What does our relationship look like today? “Our” girl has settled back into being home at Lisa’s. We have built a community of people who continue to support each other and advocate for ALL of the children in our homes. Lisa and I try to catch up at least once a week and share our joys and frustrations as foster moms, lending advice and support to each other whenever we can. Our children have built relationships with each other, ask about each other, and are thriving in the love of their communities. We look forward to raising our families together, helping cover each other’s future respite needs, and helping other foster parents advocate and navigate this calling.
Together, we stand in awe as God continues to write this beautiful story.
Lisa Montoya & Elizabeth Janssen