I was reminded of something last night and it’s been on my mind and heart all night. We have been foster parents and then adoptive parents for many years. Including our own children, we have raised more than twenty-eight youngsters. These kids ranged in age from nearly newborn to young teens. Most, not all, had and probably still have some severe emotional or physical trauma that affects them. In some cases, this trauma is apparent, in others, not so much. As the ‘parents’ of these kids, we have been called saints. While the sentiment is nice, I can tell you, that foster and adoptive parents aren’t saints. We’re just people, like you, doing the best we can.
In an era where the divide between races seems starker than ever, that line doesn’t exist, or at least for us, didn’t exist, while fostering. Kids are kids, no matter the color, gender, or background. I will tell you that members of my own family thought we were crazy for fostering, after all, we already had birth children our own. I can also tell you that fostering, and adopting is not something that everyone should consider. It is much harder than you can imagine, but not for the reasons that you might think.
The ultimate goal of the foster care system is reunification. That means the foster parents are in the role of ‘mom’ and ‘dad’ only temporarily for the children while the birth parents are working on whatever problem they have that resulted in the kids being put into the system. It also means, in most cases, the children will be going back to their birth parents at some point. Imagine raising a child for a year, two years, or longer, and then having to see them leave, likely never to return. That, at least for us, was the hardest thing about fostering. Yes, the children will act out, sometimes really aggressively, but we are trained for that. What you can’t train for is the emotional vacuum left when it’s time for them to go home.
Every child we got was given the choice, the could call us mom and dad, or uncle and aunt while they were with us. I can’t remember a single one choosing to call us uncle and aunt.
There are people who foster for money. I can’t even imagine that. There is simply no way that I can see what a state pays for fostering even beginning to cover what it costs to raise a child. I know that we spent far more on each one than the state could possibly cover. It’s what you do for your kids. But money isn’t and never should be the point. Love is the point. There are over 400,000 kids in the system today. Think about that number, it’s overwhelming. For one minute, just one minute, put yourself in their place.
You are a child. No matter how bad the situation, you’ve been taken away from the only home you’ve ever known, the only parents you’ve ever had in the dead of night. Some stranger has driven you with a few of your clothes and maybe a toy or two to some other stranger’s house. These people, who you don’t know put you into a bed you’ve never slept in before and tell you to go to sleep. You are in a house with sights and smells that are completely alien to you. How do you think you’d feel? If the word terrified popped into your head, you are 100% correct. That is exactly how these kids feel. They don’t know how to act, they don’t know what to say. If they are lucky, they’ll cry themselves to sleep that first night, if not, they’ll just lie there being scared. Nothing the foster parent says or does is going to change that on the first night, nothing. That’s a heartbreak every foster parent has felt, the helplessness of night one.
In the morning, most of these kids will tell you they aren’t hungry. They’ll start asking questions about going home, questions about what is happening with mom, questions about their siblings, questions you can’t answer. Often, more tears.
Am I painting too bleak a picture? Then let me also say that once past the first few days, once a routine is established and some slight bond of trust is built, it gets better. The kids may or may not open up about their situation, that isn’t up to the foster parent, it’s up to the child. What you are looking for is the first smile. A real smile, not one generated as a mask to the world.
I don’t have the time or space to teach a course on foster parenting here. What I wanted you to know is that we struggle just like you. Every kid is different, every single one unique, and wonderful in their own way. It’s hard sometimes, what worthwhile things that we do aren’t? If you have ever considered fostering, even for a moment, please take the time to check into it. These kids need you. There are so many foster care organizations out there I can’t even begin to list them here, just GOOGLE foster care. You’ll find an organization near you that can give you more information to get started.
Really change the world, be a parent to a child in need.