if you’re going to do foster care

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Usually, I say different things to people considering foster care than I say to people already in the trenches. We all have a tendency to paint rosier pictures of things that we’re trying to convince people to do. I’ve been trying to formulate concise and helpful thoughts…here’s the top things I would want to say to you if you told me you were considering foster care.


1) Have a clear calling.
This is not a job to take lightly. It will take everything you have. There are many times when our certainty of our calling was what carried us through. If you’re uncertain, it will be infinitely more difficult to do well. (If you’re married, my recommendation is that both of you feel equally committed to doing foster care.)


2) Be ready for a broken heart.
Tip: Never tell a foster parent that you couldn’t do what they do because you’d just love the children too much and you wouldn’t be able to give them back. Ugh. I can barely write that statement out. OF COURSE you love the children that much. To approach this with anything less would be such a disservice to the children (and to you). You love each child with everything you have. You ‘give them back’ because they weren’t your children. It does hurt when they go home, but it is a good hurt.

The broken hearts come when you see and experience first-hand the pain and trauma that these children have gone through. Things that most of us can’t even imagine living through. The broken hearts come when you have to comfort a child in the middle of the night who is just missing her mama. When you hug a baby close while he cries because he just doesn’t understand why everything is different. When a little boy comes to you after 3 months of living with you and asks, “Are you my mama now?” That’s when your heart will break. Again and again and again.


3) Have a strong marriage.
Our marriage had been through some Very Hard Things before we started fostering. We are stronger now than when we started, but one thing I know for certain - if our marriage had not been strong when we went into this, it very well may have torn us apart. We have had little time to spend alone with one another. We have had little energy to do anything except concentrate on parenting the children in our home well. The rules and regulations of foster care make it complicated to do a date night or to get away. We have shared our room with children. We have spent hours and hours a day in a trade-off dance spending time one on one with a needy child. This journey is difficult. It is a huge stress on a marriage, so you better make sure yours can withstand the storm.


4) Be willing to get dirty.
Things are complicated in the foster care system. Families are dysfunctional, yes. Abusive, sometimes. Neglectful, often. But loving? I can’t think of a single person I’ve met while doing this that didn’t love their children to the best of their ability. Situations are rarely clear cut, and poverty, mental health, drug addictions, and more can make an already messy situation even dirtier. Things can’t be solved with simple solutions. ‘Get a job’, ‘stay off drugs’, ‘the American dream’, and other phrases of the like are quickly found to be less than sufficient when you’re working in the trenches. If you do foster care, you will get dirt on you.


5) Have a solid support system.
We literally could not have done any fostering without our support system. Our family, who has babysat an extremely high number of times, our church, who has loved each child like they have our own, our friends, who have prayed for us and cried with us and loved on us…we just could not have done it. Not to mention a beautiful online community where we have found support, encouragement, and a real understanding of all we’re going through.


6) Be flexible.
This is just one of those practical things that wasn’t truly explained to us before we began. Fostering takes a lot of time. There are appointments. So many appointments – doctor visits, mental health appointments, physical and occupational therapy appointments, parental visits, team meetings, school meetings. Strange people come into your home multiple times a month. You’re adding to your home, so schedules are disrupted, space is at a premium, and time is scarce.


7) Have a life ready to be changed.
Because it’ll change in every way imaginable, and while some days you just wish for a regular life back, you won’t have traded any of it for the world. National Foster Care Month’s tagline is ‘change a lifetime’, but if you start down this journey, you’ll find the lifetime that’s been changed the most is yours.


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