Foster Parent. If you say those two words, you get that sympathetic look. The knowing nod, the phrases like “You’re such a saint…there is such a need…wow, that must be hard.” Two out of those three phrases is true. It is hard. There is a need. But trust me (and those who know me will back me up on this), we aren’t saints. There is no such thing as a perfect parent, foster or otherwise, and just because we are a part of this journey doesn’t mean we feel qualified. Most of the time, we feel the opposite. Honestly, it works better that way. The quicker you realize this journey isn’t about you, the better.
Why am I talking about this? Two reasons: First, I want to answer a question that I hear more than any other about foster care and parenting. Second, I want to challenge your thinking about how you can be involved in foster and adoption process.
“How can you foster children knowing that you probably will have to give them back?”
If you have fostered, been involved in the process, or have friends connected to foster care, you have heard this question asked, asked this question, or processed through this question at some point. And it’s a natural and valid question. I mean, who wants to set themselves up for the hurt and pain of attaching to a child, knowing that they very well could be moving that child back into a home they may or may not agree with or approve of? Nobody, right? That would have been my answer 9 months ago. Sometimes it feels like the right answer today. But this was the also the question that God used to wake me up, to make me evaluate and respond to my own feelings, and in turn change the way I view being a foster parent.
In a vacuum, I would like to think that the system is perfect, that everything runs smoothly, and that every decision made in foster care is the correct one. Truthfully, it isn’t, just like another system I am quite familiar with: my own. You see, my life isn’t perfect, everything doesn’t run smoothly, and every decision I make isn’t the correct one. So why am I prideful enough to think my home is the correct answer to each child? It isn’t…and no matter how strongly I feel about a situation, I am not in control. You see, I found that when I evaluated why I didn’t want to foster, it boiled down to fear of not having control. Control over getting attached and having to process grief, of not being able to adopt when it might look promising, of thinking decisions that were made didn’t line up with my desires. And like a slap to the face, God flipped those evaluations into reminders of why I could foster: As a person of faith, who better to be able to process choosing to love and having to sacrifice, needing to rely on Him during times when I had no control, and releasing my desires to provide for the needs of a child. What better way to demonstrate God’s love than to foster a child? It forces you to choose to love a child that may or may not love you back, whose stay may be temporary or permanent, and who has experienced unbelievable pain. That description mirrors my life: God loved me despite my lack of love to Him, in spite of my wandering, pain, and despair. Unconditional love whether I loved Him back or not.
You see, fostering isn’t about the parent. It’s about the child. A friend who is heavily involved in the fostering/adoption process once told Elizabeth and I that we could never underestimate the effect that 1 day, 1 week, 1 month, or 1 year could have on a child’s life when they had the opportunity to be in a safe place. It could be exactly what was needed. No more, no less. That has stuck with me. Instead of worrying about how I will deal with the emotions of the endings, I focus on how I can show love to the child with us today. What can I do to meet that child’s needs? How can I make them feel like they are no different than our two boys? What can I do to make them feel unique and special? And if they leave, like some already have, at that point I can reflect, grieve, and rejoice that I had the opportunity to love a child that needed it desperately.
“How can I be involved in the foster/adoption care?”
3 quick ways you can be a support in foster and adoption care:
1. Consider fostering or fostering to adopt.
I know, seems obvious. But actually go to an informational meeting. Get some training. Don’t just shut it down. When people ask me why the system has so many flaws at times, one of my answers is that people who could be instrumental in helping fix the flaws won’t get involved. Remember, these are children in your city that need your help.
2. Find out who you know that is involved and be their support.
Please don’t do this in an awkward, unsure way. Get to know their foster kids, baggage and all, just like everyone else’s kids. Love them. Understand that you won’t know all the background, and accept that. Babysit for them, pray for them, let them know you care. Be there when it’s ugly, and celebrate when it’s not.
3. Help be a person that changes the stigma of foster care.
Even if you don’t foster, or don’t even know people that foster, remember that not everyone is out to make money by fostering. In a majority of cases, foster parents want to provide safe havens for children who need exactly that: a safe place. Don’t contribute to the horror stories, rumors, and bad side of foster advocacy. Be a person who communicates that fostering is a way of loving our city, one child at a time, and ministering in a way that may never be seen by the foster parent, but will be felt by the child.
I’d love to hear what ideas for ways to advocate and support fostering and adopting that you have…thanks for reading my heart today!