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As Mother's Day approaches, a local foster mom shares her experiences as a secondary parent

COURTESY PHOTO - Chandra says she was open to fostering because she already had experience as a step-parent and knew how intensely she could love a child who wasn't hers. Growing up, Boring native Chandra Padilla says she experienced a "really warm childhood." On Mother's Day, her father fixed dinner and they celebrated her mom as the traditional "little nuclear family" would.

"Mother's Day was flowers and homemade cards and my Dad making dinner," Chandra explains. Nowadays, one Mother's Day to the next is never the same for Chandra since she is a biological mother, stepmother and foster mom.

"It's always different," she says. "I've never had an uncomplicated Mother's Day."

Not that Chandra would have it any other way.

Chandra and her husband Pablo Padilla have been fostering children from infants to young adults since 2018. In that time, they've welcomed nine different children into their Boring home.

A home-based mission

Chandra's empathy and care for others originated in her childhood. Chandra says the church her family attended — East Hill in Gresham — taught her to live within the intersection of faith and social justice.

She also gained experience with foster care in her teens because her older sister started working at a medical foster home.

These experiences led her to pursue a career in mission work. After leaving college, Chandra worked for five months on a hospital ship in Africa.

"I had plans to go save the world and dig wells in other countries," she says. But, those plans changed when her father was diagnosed with heart disease and she was called home.

Chandra then enrolled at Portland State University to become a teacher. It was there that she met Pablo.

"That kind of reshaped my plans," she says.

As a young adult, Chandra had planned her life to live abroad, doing mission work. But after she married Pablo and became pregnant with her daughter, Isabel, Chandra realized her roots were in Oregon.

"As soon as (Isabel) was born it became obvious to me why people live near their parents," she says.

In 2014, the Padillas moved to Chandra's hometown of Boring, near where her parents still live in Sandy.

When Isabel was only a few months old, Chandra and Pablo gained custody of Pablo's daughter from his former marriage, Monikka. Though Monikka wasn't biologically hers, Chandra says she loved her all the same and realized her capacity to care for children to whom she isn't blood related.

"I had a really warm childhood," Chandra explains. "It wasn't perfect (but) not everyone has that experience. I wanted that for my own kids. I also really enjoyed the kids (at the foster home I worked with in my teens) and started understanding the dynamics of bio families and abuse. As a high school teacher for a while, I'd also see kids struggling without support at home."

All of these experiences led Chandra to explore becoming a foster parent.

"When I left teaching, it was kind of in my mind that this would be my next season," Chandra says. "I had step-parented, so I knew I could love intensely a child who is not mine. And I always saw our house as a place where kids could heal. I couldn't handle having empty bedrooms (in my house) while kids grew up in hotels. I can't take all of the kids, but at least I know those under my roof are going to be OK." COURTESY PHOTO - The Padillas have fostered children to young adults, from infants to 21-year-olds.

Nine kids in three years

Chandra and Pablo have fostered nine children since becoming licensed in 2018, from newborns to 21-year-olds just leaving the system. Their longest placement so far has been 20 months long, and they've fostered as many as three children at one time.

The Padillas have fostered both traditional placements and asylum seekers from other countries. One of the teens they've fostered was a 15-year-old unaccompanied minor from Guatemala.

"Over time, you realize what works for your family," she explains. "We've been through the experience of immigration (with Pablo immigrating from Mexico) and we're a bilingual family."

So far, the biggest challenge of fostering for Chandra is knowing every relationship could be temporary.

"We've had some really high highs and really low lows," Chandra says. "We just love the kids. With the little ones, we don't take them for granted — every hug, every smile — your time is precious and it's limited. If things go as planned, they'll leave you. Nothing can make that normal. You really try to feel the joy in the moment."

Fortunately, Chandra says, the babies they've fostered still occasionally visit because she and Pablo have a good relationship with their biological father and the older kids can often opt to visit themselves.

"With teens, they can vocalize their traumas and their dreams," Chandra explains. "(It's great) to see them being successful in the world. They get to choose to come back to you or not."

While Chandra says she's learned a lot about foster parenting over the past three years, she says she's also learned that there are many misperceptions about fostering.

"One misperception is that there's this dichotomy of 'the parents are bad and the kids are good,'" Chandra explains. "You have to keep an open heart and grace for their bio family. They love their kids whether you agree with their choices or not. You have to see bio parents as precious human beings themselves."

She says people also always tell her "I could never do it," but she doesn't feel special for fostering.

"You are unprepared (when you start fostering) for the emotional complexity that it brings," Chandra says. "Anyone who knows me knows the degree of grief I've experienced. Acknowledging that we've been wounded doesn't mean we have regrets."

"It's easy for people to choose not to engage," Chandra adds. "It's people deciding the kids are worth it and that that's all of our problem. I didn't do anything to be born into a family not trapped in addiction. We just decided to be disrupted by the needs of our community. Foster parents aren't these magical unicorns. Those involved in foster care aren't perfect; it's all a big mess of humanity. Foster care is not glamorous at all, but at the end of the day, all the kids around the world are our responsibility." COURTESY PHOTO - Chandra Padilla has been a biological mother to her 14-year-old daughter Isabel, stepmom to Monikka and foster mom to nine children over the course of three years.

Support foster kids

Gresham's Boxes of Love is a nonprofit organization dedicated to giving foster children something tangible as they go to new families.

The kids receive a box stuffed with new clothing, pajamas, shoes, and other comfort items they can call their own. It is a mix of practical and fun that removes much of the stress around those first few weeks in a strange home.

Boxes of Love is always looking for donations to help round out the boxes bound for foster kids. Learn more at boxesofloveproject.org


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