What Money Can’t Buy

2016 was a big, big year.

As if raising a dozen kids wasn’t enough, we took the necessary steps to start a non-profit foundation this year to help protect children and restore families and bring awareness to the growing epidemic and the desperate need for foster families. We also started the foundation so that your gifts could be tax deductible and so we could continue providing for these kids financially.

In doing so, we received the most amazing outpouring of love and support both financially and spiritually from people who believe in our mission, know our hearts, and want to help as many children as possible. The encouragement has been so unexpected and we treasure it!
We also, however, opened up the door for people to criticize us and offer their unsolicited advice and make outrageous accusations based solely on assumptions.
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We truly love, appreciate, and VALUE advice from trusted friends, people who have experience and knowledge to offer us, and those that have walked this journey and know from their own experience what we are living out. We are exceptionally open to ideas, concepts, and knowledge that will help us help kids and do a better job at what we are doing. Absolutely. What we are NOT open to are people who do not have our best interests at heart and purposely try to be damaging in word or deed. We know we are doing something good, something needed, and something life changing. We are now aware that this will bring criticism from those who aren’t.

The number one appalling accusation that really, truly gets under my skin, is when people insinuate that we foster children because we are financially motivated. That we are scamming the system and we take in children so we can live a luxurious lifestyle. (I can hardly even maintain my composure while I type that statement because it’s so ludicrous and laughable. I’m sure that every one of you who know us are laughing too.)

For those who aren’t aware, let us give you some facts so you no longer have to speculate. We do not receive ANY federal or state funds for raising these kids. NONE. Zero. Zip. Nada. Not even food stamps! We will be applying for grants in the future, but currently we receive nothing.
We provide a loving home and everything these kids need as “non relative caregivers” which allows their parent or grandparent to maintain their benefits. People think we are nuts for not going after what little money there is, but for us it is not about the money. It’s about maintaining a healthy relationship with their caregiver and NOT traumatizing them even more than they have been by losing their kids.

This is how we operate: from our perspective, they have already lost their children and perceive us as the bad guys, they survive on a poverty level income barely making ends meet, and we aren’t going to add to their problems or in any way make it seem like we care more about money than we care about them. We just aren’t. This is something that we are highly criticized for and, again, we find it objectionable that people who have no firsthand experience with this are wagging fingers at us. If they are upset that we aren’t taking their benefits they would probably also be upset that we often help them make ends meet. We make sure they have birthday and Christmas gifts, we make sure they have delicious holiday meals, we have paid their utility bills, furnished their homes, paid down payments for them, phone bills, cable, you name it. And do you know why we do it? It’s for the kids. 100% for the kids. Because the kids love their parents!

So, let’s talk about money. That painful subject, that taboo subject, that root of all evil that turns people against each other.
How much money would it actually take for someone to be financially motivated to be a foster parent to this many kids? Let’s figure it out, shall we?

Wikipedia says it costs an average of $9,500 to raise one child annually and that’s just for the basics. I can guarantee you it costs more than that when they have asthma, are involved in sports, driving a car, need glasses or braces, or grow 4 inches in one year and need new shoes and clothes. But let’s say that, on average, we need to be spending $100,000 annually on just the kids we are raising right now, which is a conservative figure. That doesn’t include the cost of Bruce and myself, the kids’ extended families, or the mom’s in jail that we support.
So, for us to be financially motivated to foster children, we would have to receive well above the $100k that pays for just the kids, right? I mean, how can we afford our luxury cars, our boat, our mansion, and our lavish vacations otherwise?

Indeed, I jest.
We would love to have donations over and above $100k annually, and someday we hope to!
But currently, that figure is not even in the ball park. Not even in the parking lot near the ball park. Not even in the town the ballpark is in.

So it is apparent that we are not growing wealthy as foster parents.
As a matter of fact, we are sacrificing a lot of things that most of you probably take for granted.
Things that no amount of money can compensate for.
These are a few things we have chosen to give up to have our very large family:

A Job: With them being in several different schools with several different schedules, it is a 24 hour a day, 365 day a year job with limited time off (none) and you are always, ALWAYS “on call” and always doing laundry. My job as the chief taxi driver, bottle washer, butt wiper, and referee is the toughest, most rewarding job I’ve ever done that I don’t get paid for.

Vacations: No more vacations to exotic places or vacations that require air travel because it is cost prohibitive to take 15 people an an airplane.
It’s cost prohibitive to take 15 people anywhere! Two years ago we took all of them on a trip of a lifetime to Busch Gardens. We drove two cars stuffed with people, bought lunchmeat and bread, blow up mattresses and got 3 hotel rooms. We ate breakfast out once and bought pizza one night. This little venture that lasted 4 days costs almost $5,000.00 which was basically $333 per person. Unless we hit the lottery or have a gofundme fundraiser, vacations are out of the picture.

Movies: We only get to go to the movies when it’s free for a screening. (Thank you Crystal Gross!) Who can afford an evening out that’s going to cost $100? Certainly not us. Popcorn and treats for 2 people at the movies is about $15, imagine what it costs to buy treats for a dozen kids! We buy our DVD’s at WalMart and make our own popcorn but it’s not the same as going to the theater, I’m not gonna lie.

Shopping: We gave up shopping at the mall or even going to the mall because they will see and want things that will never, ever be in the budget like $150 shoes that their friends are wearing or a top that costs $35. The average price we pay for an article of clothing is $9.00 and most of what they wear has been donated.

Drive-Thrus: Forget about zipping through a drive through when you’re hungry unless you plan on buying everyone in your car something to eat. You either wait until you get home or your $5 meal just turned into $35 because they all want something too. We do drive-thru’s on a limited basis and everyone has to share. I carry a jar of nuts in my car and usually bring fruit along.

Luxury Car: Gone are the days when I sped around town in a red convertible. Gone are the days when our cars were neat and you didn’t have to step over shoes, jackets, bags, wrappers, and toys. Now I drive a 16 year old Suburban with 290k miles that smells like a mildewy rolling locker room and is being held together with clear duct tape.

Privacy: Everything we do, everything we have, and how we live our lives is on display for complete strangers who show up to have family visitation time with the kids every week. We have to drop what we are doing to “supervise” this time or we have to meet them at a public place. Is it convenient? Nope. It’s intrusive and uncomfortable and awkward. But we do it because we love the kids and it’s important to them. We also have lovely social workers visiting on a regular basis doing routine paperwork each month and sometimes we get the lovely unannounced visit for an inspection because a disgruntled parent or family member reports us for some made up violation and waste the taxpayers dollars by making false reports.

Quietness: We rarely ever have an evening when nobody is home where we have the house to ourselves. If this happens it is because someone has been grievously injured and is in the hospital, they have been kidnapped, or the rapture has occurred. They are so loud that everyone in the neighborhood knows when we are eating dinner because of the epic noise level that occurs when they are all in the same room at the same time. We often wear earplugs. We suggest earplugs for our dinner guests as well.

Order: The rooms in our house will never, ever be clean and neat all at the same time and we have to pick up and vacuum on a daily basis or our house will look like an episode of hoarders simply because all these people come with “stuff” and there is barely room for all the “stuff” to be contained. We, literally, have multiple clothing dressers in our dining room and the baby sleeps in a pop up crib in our master bedroom closet and you can’t walk through the garage.

Spontaneousness: For those rare occasions when you have the energy for “time with your spouse”, those moments have to be planned, scheduled, manipulated, and carried out with the stealth precision of a moon landing in 7 minutes or less (give or take), before someone notices that you aren’t in the room and they need a band aid or are shouting for you throughout the house because they just stepped in poop. What would it take for you to have to walk over mounds of laundry, toys, shoes, dirty socks, papers, backpacks, and wet towels every single day and turn down last minute invitations with your friends for a fun evening out because you are so tired that the thought of putting on makeup and a bra doesn’t seem worth it?

Feelings: This is the toughest one. You have to put aside your feelings. That just comes with the territory. You get used to it after awhile but in the beginning it was tough. Having these precious little children that you have raised for years and years- wiped their tears, wiped their butts, up at night with them, at every special event, baking them cupcakes, taught them everything they know, taking them to school every day, planning every birthday party they’ve ever had, bathing them, feeding them, your entire life lived for them… and every handcrafted little handprinted take home gift they make at school is for their “other” mom. Big let down. Then there are the times when they are angry they will remind you that you aren’t their “real mom” and they don’t have to listen to you. The worst is when they accuse us of being the reason why they aren’t with their other mom when we had nothing to do with it.

Opinions: You have to zip your lip, bite you tongue, and choke down the urge to say what you really feel to the people who have failed them, who keep making the wrong choices over and over and over and over again… and you do it because you love the kids. You smile and nod while listening to the advice of the sincere church friend or relative who tells us that we should just stop helping and give up, or questions our ability to handle these kids and all their emotional needs and points out our flaws and shortcomings. You want to say “okay you choose which child I should give back”, and then watch them stammer but you don’t. You want to point out to them that our worst job of parenting is exponentially 100% better than what they had, but you stay silent. Most of the time.

So let’s ask ourselves realistically- What’s the price tag on giving up your lives so someone else can have it better?
Are we simply motivated by our “get rich quick scheme” to scam the system that we aren’t scamming and just faking our investment of time, love, energy, and all of our resources?
Get real.
There is no amount of money that can make this appealing unless your heart is completely motivated by love.
There is nothing we love more than loving and providing for them. They bring us so much joy, they are the light of our lives. They are worth it every day, in every way.

So, to all you haters out there, you’ll be happy to know that we are barely making ends meet and we wonder each month about how we will get by and keep the bills paid and healthy food on the table.
You should also know that we don’t worry about it and that we have complete and utter faith in God to provide for our family and protect us from naysayers who don’t know what they are talking about.

We do, however, want to invite you over to spend the day with us so you can experience what money can’t buy.

Love.
Pure love.
Karen

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