Linda Vincent lets you know straight away: Being a foster parent can be terrifying.
“Ter-ri-fy-ing,” she says for emphasis. “My kids come into my home and I see behaviors that would blow other people’s minds. They call them ‘trauma rages’ sometimes.”
Foster children tend to have encountered trauma. They tend to have high ACE scores. They typically haven’t encountered stabilizers in their lives.
Then they come into the lives of foster parents. They come into lives like Vincent’s.
“I’ve watched my children go from name-calling that I’ve never heard from a grown-up to months later my children coming and sitting down in front of me saying, ‘Mama Linda, my heart’s hurting right now. I just need to talk about it,’ ” Vincent says. “Or, ‘I need a hug.’ ”
Vincent, a Tulsa real estate agent when she isn’t fostering her 8-, 5- and 4-year-old children, offers a perspective that sounds straight out of a parenting class.
“When a child feels completely overwhelmed and overstimulated and they’ve never been shown healthy regulation ... It’s tough,” she says. “What they’re really trying to say is, ‘I’m hurting and I don’t know how to tell you that. And I’m scared to tell you that because you might hurt me or make fun of me.’ But they can’t say that so they call you really bad words.”
This is where adult stabilizers come in.
Teachers, counselors or mentors give children affected by adversity attention and empathy for periods beyond a moment, and it opens paths.
The children have a sympathetic figure, someone they did not have before, and what can result is dialogue, understanding and some healing.
Vincent presents that figure as a foster mom.
“No one gets to see this kind of progress in human spirit quite like a foster parent. It’s an incredible thing to watch,” she says. “It’s exhausting. But it is the most rewarding and value-building thing I’ve ever done in my entire life.”
Vincent has been drawn to children since she was a nanny in college. She considered teaching until realizing something: “You would find me having a snuggle session with my kids in a big circle, completely disregarding the ‘letter of the day.’ ”
Vincent wound up volunteering at the Laura Dester Children’s Center for a few years. There, she discovered the sheer number of area foster kids in need of care. She considered fostering herself, only to talk herself out of the proposition because she felt she needed to have her own children first.
“Eventually, I just said, ‘This is kind of silly. I can do this right now. And I’m needed right now. I have space in my house and a pretty flexible schedule,’ ” she says. “I did it, and let me tell you, it’s amazing ...
“I started my certification process in October of 2017. In January of ’18, I signed my contracts to become a foster parent. Jan. 19, they dropped the most adorable little kid I’ve ever seen in my life on my front porch. I’ve had kids in my house ever since. I got the three kids I’m fostering now the beginning of January.”
Their trauma can still be frightening, but it is absolutely not defining.
“Their ACE score would paint a scary picture for a lot of people from the outside. But what’s amazing is to watch them say, ‘That’s not who I am,’ ” Vincent says. “ ‘I have all these amazing attributes, and if you give me time and space to explore them, watch me show you what I’m good at, watch me show you how loving I can be...’
“They have zero reason to trust an adult, and yet they do it. It’s incredible. I feel sorry for anybody who doesn’t get to watch that up close and personally.”