Foster care comes with so many lessons.
It forces us into situations that we otherwise might not experience. Sure, we might know a lot about something, but when we actually wade into paths unknown, it’s hard to grasp reality—to see and feel it fully.
For me, before even jumping into the role of a foster parent, I was already well-versed in addiction and mental health issues. I witnessed related struggles as a child and walked with others in these fights as an adult, so what I learned in foster parent training classes related to these issues was not new or shocking. My ability to relate, understand, sympathize, and walk alongside someone with these struggles were already among the lessons I had learned firsthand before foster care.
But there is so much more to know and learn in this foster care journey.
I’ll never forget the day I learned a hard lesson at the grocery store check-out line.
I was standing in line at our local grocery store, fumbling with coupons that were meant to help me, a foster parent, offset the cost of our foster child’s formula. Using coupons, provided through WIC, a food and nutrition assistance program offered by the US Department of Agriculture, was not ordinarily part of my weekly grocery run, but in adding a newborn to our home, I found them to be a welcomed relief. But, as I stood at the check-out counter with the coupons, my eyes were opened to a whole new reality.
One of the first places my agency asked me to visit with my foster child was the health department. Locally, we have a great program for infants that monitor their growth, teach parents healthy feeding plans for the children, and assist those who need it. After the exam, the nutrition staff came in to explain to me how the WIC coupons worked, how often I would visit, and handed me a packet full of information. It sounded simple enough, or so I thought.
The first time I went to the store to use the WIC coupons was to purchase infant formula. I was in the baby food area trying to make sure I had the right formula, the right size, and the right number of cans. Luckily, I went alone—no kids in tow—to a WIC friendly store late at night when it was not busy. The cashier was very helpful and left me feeling confident in my abilities to use the coupons.
Fast forward six months later.
I am standing in line at my usual grocery store with a packed grocery cart and lots of customers waiting in front of me and behind me. I put the WIC items at the end of my order with the coupons laid on top of each pile to make the process go as smoothly as possible. By this point, I was feeling confident enough with using the coupons. I had done it before and knew the system.
Even though this was not my first time at this, it became clear that it was for the cashier. She had never accepted a coupon before and had to call someone over from customer service to assist her. This. This was when my eyes were opened, and reality changed.
“How does she even have those coupons?”
I subtly tried to look behind me, trying to see who this comment was coming from and hoped she wasn’t talking about me.
But, indeed, she was. She pointed out what I was wearing to validate her question. “Do you see her wedding ring?” And the list went on and on.
I did not handle it well. In my head, I was furious. I was defensive and felt attacked. I was fuming at the judgment she had of me. I wanted to say, “Lady, if you only knew. If you want to know more about foster care, I can drop some info on you real quick.” I kept it together and said nothing, trying to focus on the cashier helping me so that I could get out of there.
As I was having this internal struggle, apparently, so was the cashier helping me. She looked at the lady behind me and said, “Honestly, it is none of your business.”
The woman looked at her with shock. “Excuse me?”
The cashier said, “I am a single working mom who uses these coupons as well. That is how I am able to keep my children fed right now. Why this lady is using formula coupons is none of your business.”
My jaw dropped. On the back of her calm courage, I said, “this formula is for my foster child—not that it should sway your opinion. Anyone holding these coupons deserves kindness, not judgment. You don’t know their story.”
Now, if I see anyone with WIC coupons at the grocery store, I purposely try to get in line with them. I don’t want this to be their experience. I want them to feel compassion and kindness if they have questions, or need to run and grab a different product if the one they have doesn’t work.
My eyes were opened to the hard reality that so many walk through every day just for using WIC.
So, thank you to the rude lady at the grocery store. You taught me to not stand silent but to speak up in kindness.
Shannon is a wife and busy mother of four with a passion for serving and helping others. After experiencing the foster care system as a foster mom, her eyes were opened to the needs of the foster care community. She is excited to serve with the TFI National team in an administrative support role, as well as continue to support her local foster care community with her husband, Aaron.