Every family is different and unique, and we all have our own stories to tell. Some families have one parent, some have two. Some families have children, some are childless. Our family began with two biological children, grew by fostering children, and eventually expanded by adopting three of the children that came to live with us.
Becoming a foster family is not for the faint of heart, and definitely needs to be something you choose to go into with your eyes wide open. For families of faith, it also needs to be a directive from God for your entire family, because it will definitely challenge and change all of you. For our family, we wanted to share God’s love with children by providing a safe and loving home when they couldn’t be with their family of origin.
After following God’s prompting, the first thing that you will want to do is to make sure your whole family is on board with this decision, starting with you and your spouse. Are you both really in agreement, or is one agreeing to it to please the other one? My husband and I prayed about becoming a foster family and discussed it before we ever got married. We agreed that if we wanted more than two kids, or if we were unable to have biological kids, we would foster and/or adopt. After our first two children were born, we wanted to explore becoming a foster family. We talked about it with our kids, then age 9 and 6, and they said they were looking forward to it. I think we all had kind of romanticized ideas of what being a foster family would be like. My biological children thought it would be like having a constant sleep-over with friends. My husband and I thought that it would be hard for a bit, then the child(ren) would adapt to our loving family, and would become a seamless part of it.
The reality was far different from our imagination. We learned that the kids all had a past that didn’t include our values, or our happy memories. Many of the lessons they learned in their life before us were so contrary to anything that we ever experienced. One child thought that it was normal to take whatever you wanted from stores, and put it in their pockets, because that’s what their grandpa taught them. Other children flinched from any touch, even kind and loving touches, because they were so badly abused by the adults in their past. Many of the children lied better than other people could tell the truth, causing a lot of problems in otherwise healthy relationships. These were the easier problems that we had to face. Many families have much more difficult situations with their foster children. This is why is must be a family decision, and must also be a God-prompted decision. When you consistently bathe the decision, your family, and your foster children in prayer, it helps to keep your focus on the ministry of being a foster family, and off of the immediate struggle.
Let me back up a bit. One of the most important things I learned in our foster parent training was to use the word “no” with purpose and with enthusiasm. As a foster family, you get to choose the number of kids you will add to your home, the ages you will accept, and the types of problems you are willing and able to handle. For example, we chose to only take in children that were younger than our biological children. This kept the “pecking order” intact, and proved to be a good choice for us. We also chose not to accept children who acted out sexually, were fire starters, or had physical disabilities that would not allow them to walk upstairs to the bedrooms. Our trainer told us that we should not accept children that were outside of our parameters, as the case workers from the agencies would regularly try to push those boundaries. She said that telling them “no” was not only okay, but it was wise and healthy for everyone. She reminded us that even when we declined a placement, another one that was a better fit would come along sooner than we may expect. It turns out that this was some of the best advice we ever got.
Another thing that we learned was to ask for help when we needed it. Sometimes it came in the form of a listening ear from a caseworker, or counseling for our whole family. Sometimes it was hiring a babysitter so we could go out for a date night. Sometimes it was even asking for respite care during a difficult time so that we could re-group and figure out a better way to deal with whatever the situation was that caused the distress in the first place. Joining a foster parent support group is always a huge help. Getting ideas from others who may have experienced something similar is so beneficial. It really helps having someone to talk to who knows firsthand the pain of loving a child for a time, and being willing to bear the heartache of letting them go when their family is doing better.
One thing that was kind of hard to deal with was the comments from other people about being a foster family. People often make weird comments that are a compliment, but can feel like a backhanded criticism. They say things like, “Oh, you’re such a saint for doing foster care. I could never do it because I love kids so much, and I would never want to let them go.” Umm, so you don’t think I love them as much as you would? Or you think it’s easy to let them go? Then there’s the guilt of knowing that you just yelled at your kids, and this person thinks you’re a saint for doing foster care. It’s hard to say an honest “thank you” when you’re feeling such a jumble of feelings.
The leaving part is almost always hard for the foster family left behind when a child is reunited with their family or moves on to an adoptive placement. You miss the child, and usually never find out how their life turned out. All we can do in those circumstances is to pray for them and trust God for their future. This is also a good time for you, as the foster parent, to seek good counseling to process the feelings of loss, relief, guilt, or whatever it is that you are feeling.
Know that if God has called you to open your home and your heart to love and care for a foster child, that He is the One who will give you the wisdom and strength to do it. And when you have those shining moments when you see your foster child grow or learn to accept love in a healthy way, you have been a part of something holy.
If becoming a foster parent is something that you find interest in and would like some guidance navigating the ropes please consider contacting New Vision Counseling and making an appointment today! You can contact us by calling (405)-921-7776.
By Kathy Gissler, LPC