I stand on the other side of 8 years, grateful. If it weren’t for foster care, I wouldn’t have the priviledge of being the father to 6 of my 8 children. We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it for the rest of our lives…we couldn’t have scripted life any better. Foster parenting enriched our lives in ways we cannot begin to count. This blog exists, partly, from that experience. For my children, and the opportunity to reach hundreds of thousands of parents around the globe every month…I’m forever grateful.
The Rollercoaster Ride of Your Life.
It was an exciting adventure. No doubt about it. It also had its fair share of trials. To be honest, our years in the system were some of the most difficult of our entire parenting career. It was like boarding a rollercoaster with so many twists, turns, and loops that you feel it’s never coming to an end. Nor will you never be normal again. But maybe that’s exactly what it’s supposed to be.
As I look back, across the canyon, I can say this without hesitation- We learned a lot. We grew more than we thought we would. We became wiser human beings. We also walked away passionate to teach and reach people who are currently, or soon will be, serving as foster parents. In our years, we gained enough first hand experience to write a book on foster parenting. Before anyone begins this journey, expect the challenge to be great for several different reasons!
- You Will Become Attached. It won’t take long for this to happen. In fact, in 2004, when we welcomed our first 2 foster children into our home, I fortified my heart for this very reason. I believed it would make it easier for me to detach from them when the time came for them to return home. I’d been told that it was nearly impossible not to love the children you were caring for, as if they were your biological children. “Watch me,” I thought. But a few weeks into fostering, I was hooked. Truth is, you will become attached and that’s not a bad thing.
- You’ll seldom receive accurate (or timely) information. Most of us live in a world where we receive updated information in a timely manner within a few hours of inquiring. From co-workers, or from the internet, it’s something we’re accustomed to. Not the case with foster care. You may go days without seeing a reply to your email. You may never receive a call back. Remember, you are dealing with a system that is back logged. It has a very high turnover rate, where most employees are overworked and underpaid. You also deal with a court system that is buried under mountains of files and thousands of cases. You have to wait in line. It’s infuriating at times but it’s a reality.
- You’ll be tempted to spill. And by spill, I mean gossip. Don’t. That’s the best advice I can give you. Don’t engage in the gossip over your child’s birth parent, their difficult history, the diagnosis you received from his or her pediatrician, or anything regarding the children in your care. People will dig for information. Especially if they aren’t involved in the foster care system. It’s typical human behavior. For the sake of the innocent children you’re caring for, don’t give in to the temptation to spill private information. It’s no one else’s business but yours and your children.
- You will be exhausted. If you’re a regular reader of this site, you’ve heard us talk openly about the exhaustion you face as a foster parent. In fact, we wrote an entire book on how to escape it. Most of this could be attributed to our years as foster parents. We burned the midnight oil on more occasions than we can remember. Plan for exhaustion (if there’s any way to do that!). And, plan to take breaks. You’re going to need them for your own health. Our advice would be to take advantage of respite care your family services department permits. Respite is basically provided care for the children in your care, from other licensed foster parents. Don’t get the idea that you can handle everything and never take a breather. You will crash!
- You will learn about special needs you never knew existed. I had heard of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), Reative Attachment Disorder (RAD) and several others, a few times, back in my high school and college days. Heck, I think we even had a guest teacher in one of my high school science classes talk about FAS. But I never really knew how real it was. Nor did I know anything about trauma. Two of my kids suffer from FASD (Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder), and several we’ve cared for have dealt with trauma. These are very real needs and very difficult to manage at times. These needs, and many more like them, run rampant in foster care. The likelihood of caring for a child that suffers one or more of these special needs is likely. Once again, it’s the reality of caring for children through foster care.
- You will discover how great the need is. This is the most important point I can make in this entire post. If you’ve captured nothing else I’ve said, capture this: Beyond the frustrations, the lack of information, the exhaustion, or the difficult special needs you could encounter, there’s an overwhelming need for loving people to step up to the plate. There are unexpected blessings if you do! Foster care is hard. It can take the life out of you. But, it can also fill you with life if you open your heart up! We’re eternally grateful we chose to be foster parents for the 8 years we did. It blessed us with the family we have today. We wouldn’t change a thing. You may be just a few steps away from experiencing something amazing and life-changing yourself.
The Great Depth of Your Heart.
Back to what I said in the beginning of this post- you will become attached and that’s not bad. After all, we’re human beings, created with a great capacity to love. It’s what makes us human. It’s in our DNA. Your heart will break for the children in your care, and it should! You won’t want them to leave. You’ll grieve if or when they do. To not do so would make you non-human.
You’ll be amazed at how deep your heart can go. Our advice…let it go as deep as you can. Let it love these precious children extravagantly. Let it grieve for them. But most of all…let it lead you to live a life of compassion and generosity!
Current or former foster parents, what have we missed with this list? Share your thoughts with us.