I was driving my daughter, and some of her fellow students, to school the other day in our hometown of Indianapolis, Indiana enjoying a nearly perfect spring day. My mind bounced back and forth between all that I had to accomplish in the day and the excitement that I finally felt knowing winter was over. As we drove along the beautiful street, leading straight into the heart of our city, one particular sign, out of the thousands we passed, caught my attention.
In was posted in front of a building near the street, and it said, “Time. That’s all you need to be a foster parent.”
I drove a while longer, thinking about it, and processing it in my mind. I thought about the many years we spent in the system, caring for vulnerable children. I reminisced back to the dark days, where frustration and anxiety invaded our hearts and home like an army invading enemy forces. I replayed conversations with case managers that seemed to get us no where, and repeated outbursts from some of our children, in public places, that sent us running for our car.
And then I shook my head and whispered, “Wrong.” I’m sure the girls riding along quietly in my car couldn’t hear me, but the further I drove, the greater my disagreement with this advertisement grew. Frankly, it was misleading. Sure, you do need time. Lord knows, we gave a lot (I mean, A LOT) of time during our years of foster parenting. But that wasn’t all we gave, and it certainly wasn’t all it took to travel this journey, and do so with success.
So, later that day, I made a list of some of the other things I believe it takes to be a foster parent. Here’s what I came up with…
- Unconditional love. Fact is, this journey will test you. The children you are caring for will test you. It’s not because they intend to be bad, they’ve just come from a place of trauma (sometimes extreme) and they are speaking from that place. You must have a heart that is open to loving even when you receive nothing in return for it. And especially when you are pushed away by a child after giving the utmost love you have to them.
- Resilience. There will be more days than not, when you feel like giving up. You will look at your situation and feel hopeless. You’ll wonder why you signed up for this, if you’re making a difference, and if anyone in the system is actually listening to you, or cares that you are doing a great service. Resilience is the game-changer here because it keeps you moving even through the roughest storm.
- Time. Yes, you DO need this. There’s no question. You will end up giving lots of it over the course of your career as a foster parent. But time is accompanied with the rest of these points. It has to be. It cannot stand alone. Perhaps the sign I saw meant more, or maybe it was part of a campaign. Not sure. But, to leave it without explanation could lead someone down the wrong path if they’re not equipped with the entire reality.
- Belief. You must believe in yourself, your influence, the child you are caring for, and the difference this work is making in the world, even when the vast majority of the world will never acknowledge it. Believing in you, your influence, and the child in your care, goes a long way to finding success on this journey. Plus, it greatly impacts the child. He or she needs someone to believe in them. They need a cheerleader, even if it’s for a brief time.
There you have it: love, resilience, time and belief. I know there are so many more characteristics I could list here like patience, compassion, and servanthood (lets file those under love shall we?) to name a few, but these 4 coupled together paint a more accurate picture of what it really takes to be a foster parent.
Time? Yes. But time alone? Nope. The foster care journey is beautiful, amazing, and worth it! There’s no doubt in my mind. If you’re considering it and have the heart, time, resilience, and belief that you can make a difference, go for it. But, be ready. It will stretch you. That’s why I have to disagree with an advertisement that only paints one pixel of a much bigger picture.
Are you a foster parent? What else would you add to my list? Share your comments in the comment section below.