Thinking about becoming a Foster Parent?
There are over 400,000 children in the foster care system in the U.S. On any given day, over 400,000 kids are not being cared for by their first families. Some are in foster homes, some are with grandparents or other family members, and some are in shelters.
For every child returned to their first families, there are one or more who are removed. And they need families to take them in and care for them.
There is ALWAYS a need for foster parents. ALWAYS.
It Starts With a Phone Call
My husband and I were foster parents for about 9 years. We almost always had 4-6 kids at a time, newborn to age 8 or so. When we adopted our youngest two kids, we decided our plate was full (and so was our van!), so we let our license expire. I certainly don’t feel like an expert on foster care, but I can tell you about our experience.
With that first call, we embarked on a whirlwind experience the likes of which we never could’ve imagined. I could write a million blog posts about all the kids we’ve loved, all the experiences we’ve had, all the things we’ve learned (that we wish we didn’t need to know). And I may do just that.
But this series is about the roller coaster of emotions you will experience as a foster parent. Most people who become foster parents do so because they LOVE kids, and they desperately want to help those who are hurting. Perhaps they want to adopt too, as we did. Or perhaps they have their faith or their own childhood experiences spurring them on. Whatever your backstory, you need to know a few things about how fostering will affect your heart.
When I was about 11 years old, I felt a very strong calling on my life. A calling to adopt my future children. I knew nothing about foster care at the time, but I’ve always loved kids, worried about the hurting ones, and wanted to do something about it.
Fast forward nearly 20 years, and my husband and I decided to open our home to foster children. We took the training, filled out mountains of paperwork, gathered letters of recommendation. We bought beds and toys and mac & cheese. I painted and sewed, bought and sorted random kids’ clothes, because I had no idea what we’d need. I studied the carseat laws and read books about keeping kids healthy. Clearly, I was nesting 😉
And I was hoping. Hoping our license would get approved. Hoping we’d get a call soon. Hoping I would be a good foster mom. Hoping our foster children would let us love them. Hoping we could take good care of them and help them heal.
We jumped every time the phone rang. Tried to continue on with our regular lives, but lived on the edge of our seats for what seemed like forever. Finally we got the call. THE call.
The call where the voice on the line says there’s a child who needs you, will you accept the placement? In our case, our first placement was a newborn who ended up staying forever. (Disclaimer: this is highly unusual)
We were beside ourselves with excitement. The story of how my husband reacted is a hilarious and often-told one in our family. We FLEW to the hospital to pick him up. He was so tiny, and so precious, and we were so excited for the chance to take care of him.
In fact, for the next 9 years, every time the phone rang, I felt an jolt of excitement and hope, that there was another child who needed me. I could hardly breathe while I waited for them to arrive. This is what I’d wanted to do my whole life, and it was so EXCITING to be part of something so big, something so sacred, as caring for these babies (of all ages) who so desperately needed someone.
There have been many times, especially in the beginning of our journey, that I felt pretty invincible. Here I was, Supermom, caring for several small children at a time, some with complicated medical and behavioral needs. I was doing what other moms could not. And I was doing a good job of it. Everyone told me so. I felt like a hero.
(Be careful with this one. Feeling invincible can cause you to say Yes to too many of those exciting phone calls, and end up with more kids than you can do a good job with. It can lead you to foolishly accept placements whose needs are beyond your ability, which is not good for anyone.)
But I think a certain amount of feeling invincible is necessary for foster parents. We’re up against tough odds. And most of the challenges we’ll face will be surprises we couldn’t prepare for. If you don’t wake up feeling like Supermom, it may be a tough day indeed.
Now pride can be tricky. Pride in yourself, because you’re an Invincible Supermom who feels superior to others, can lead to a nasty fall.
But taking pride in how you handled your foster child’s meltdown can save your sanity. Being proud of your foster children’s resiliency and steps toward healing makes the hard times worth it. Being proud of a kid who never gives up despite incredible odds, reminds us of why we do this.
Being proud of a child who finds the strength to be brave enough to let you love him, can change his whole life. Being proud of the birthmother who kicks the drugs for real, and gets her child back, is a reward unto itself.
Love is the best of all. I feel so lucky that there are so many children walking around with pieces of my heart. I’ve loved them all, even the hardest ones. And I know I will love them forever.
Love is NOT enough to fix everything, however, when a child is dealing with severe damage from early trauma. This is one of the hardest thing for foster parents to accept. But love is critical. Love will be the thing that carries both you and the child through the worst of days.
Every child must have someone who loves him. Someone who keeps trying, keeps loving, keeps hoping for him. He may not be able to accept it for a long, long time. And he may make your life miserable because of his own misery. But we love them anyway, don’t we? That’s why we foster.
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