Saturday night my family was welcomed into a friend’s home for a great evening of dinner and conversation. Our friends specifically wanted to have us over because they wanted to ask us about our experience fostering, as they themselves are praying through beginning that journey as well (I’m giddy about this because we LOVE it when our fostering community gets bigger!) They asked us pointed questions. They wanted to know the nitty gritty and the heart of what we do and why we do it. At one point one of them asked what the hardest part was. I’d been thinking about this a lot in the recent weeks and that night I had my answer. You see, the hardest part of fostering you would think would be letting go of the children we’ve cared for, or exposing our biological children to things that are less than desirable to them. You’d think it would be the constant wondering what the outcome will be for this particular child who is no longer just a case # to us, but a family member, or saying no to that placement request when you know the homes available are few. You’d better believe all those things are very difficult, but honestly, the hardest part about fostering for me has been the outside world around us who looks in on what we’re doing.
This post is not intended at all to offend or belittle anyone. I’m writing this because I once lived in ignorance like so many of you. Never would I have dreamed my eyes would be opened like they have been. I don’t blame anyone. I’m not mad. But it does get wearisome to bear and I want to bring you to a place of understanding as I too have been. Here are some key things I have noticed and experienced that can be helpful.
1. Please don’t ask if we’ll get to “keep this one”. Many know we hope our ultimate goal of fostering will be adoption but we also see the beauty of the here and now needed for these children and want to provide a haven for as long as they need. While this can be a battle of constantly wondering if adoption will become their goal, we aren’t effective day-to-day if we operate under this mentality.
And they’re not a puppy or a watch we received as a gift. They’re a child.
2. Please don’t ask us all the details about the reasons they came into our care. Not only are we not allowed to share this information with you, it really isn’t any of your business and should not affect how you feel about them or treat them. In some cases when it’s necessary for you to know something to more effectively care for them, we’ll share that with you…privately.
3. Please don’t assume they are so much better off with us than with their birth family. It depends on the case (because that may, in fact, be true) but sometimes these kid’s parents are able to work through their issues and provide a good home for them, even if it doesn’t meet our high standards. And for sure do not tell my older foster child that they will never know more love and safety than they will have with us and how blessed they are to have us. This is confusing for them. All our kids know is that they were taken from their parents and in most cases, that’s the best love that they know and they don’t think there’s much wrong with it.
4. Please do not assume every foster child’s birth parent is a horrible person who should be banished from the Earth and never gain rights to their child again. They are human and deserve to be treated with respect. Yes, they are faulty, but you and I could be there if not for God’s grace and a lot of other factors. Don’t assume they don’t love their child. More times than not, a lack of parenting education and role modeling is the issue, not a lack of love for their child.
5. Please do not tell us continually that you don’t know how we do what we do and that you couldn’t ever give a child back after caring for them. It’s not a cake walk over here. We’re not saints and don’t have any kind of giftedness that you don’t have. If you can give love and safety and structure, you can do it too. Maybe you just don’t want to. And that’s ok, but don’t tell me it’s because you couldn’t do it. Besides, that’s really not helpful for us to hear. Instead, why don’t you tell us that you see how difficult it is and ask us how you can pray for us.
Now after all that I’ve got to say, the community that surrounds us in the form of our local church and family and friends, has been unbelievable through this journey. If you’re one of those people reading this, please know we love you, we feel your support and you are our lifeline some days. It would be unreasonable and unfair for me to expect total understanding from anyone who has never fostered, but I hope this helps bring a little bit of new insight and understanding to you. Foster care is an unfortunate reality. It’s a terrible, ugly beast. Little by little, child by child, we will conquer the beast. Thank you for joining us in that.