Being a Foster Parent

Momsinministry

A little over a year ago, my husband and I made the decision to open our home to foster children.  It had been something I always wanted to do, and it seemed the right time in our lives: we had no biological children, so we didn’t have to worry about this decision affecting them, we lived in a big house with three empty bedrooms, and we were working with schedules that made it possible.  Added to this list came the organization that we decided to work with; they had an excellent staff, were on call 24/7 and did the training around our schedules.  When we signed up to work with them we knew that we would be working with kids who required a higher level of care, but we also knew that we’d be getting the support we needed.

At the end of May, they called us with a placement possibility, and so we fast-tracked our training to be able to open our doors to a 14 year old boy who needed a home.  He lived with us for seven months, and while it was not always fabulous (oh the stories I could tell), he taught us a lot.  Together, my husband and I learned what it takes to be good parents: patience, communication, love, a strong relationship, and lots of faith.  We learned to laugh at ourselves, and even at the things he did that at first made us furious.  After he left, we welcomed a 16 year old girl into our home.  She was with us two-and a-half months, and while she wasn’t the best fit for our family, I think my husband learned a lot about what it is like to live with a hormonal teenage girl!

Over the past year, I’ve found when I tell people about what we’re doing that I get a lot of the same response.  People usually say things like, “you’re such a good person,” “I don’t know how you do that.”  Or even a few times, “you must be a saint.”  And while I think I’m a good person most of the time, I know that my family would tell you I’m far from a saint.  At first I didn’t know quite how to respond to those comments.  I’ve never been good at accepting compliments, but these made me even more uncomfortable than normal….what do you say when someone tells you you’re a saint? Make a joke? Say thank you?  Deny it?  I tried all of them, and none of them felt right.

After a while, I realized that the real problem was that these comments made me angry.  I  know I’m not a saint, and I feel like I’m just doing what God has called all of us to do: care for the left out and the forgotten, the pushed aside, and the shoved away…..who else falls in that category than kids “in the system?”  These are kids that have been abused or neglected by their families of origin, that often times have been moved from group home to foster home to group home, and have learned behavior that helps them to cope, even if that behavior is unhealthy.  Isn’t the church supposed to be right there in the midst of their need and brokenness?  Aren’t we called as Disciples of Christ to be where brokenness exists and to help in the redemption of the world? It doesn’t make us saints, or good people, it makes us the body of Christ doing God’s work in the world. 

The other response I hear from people is that they wished they could do foster care but they worry about their children, or don’t have the time, or some other excuse.  I wonder to myself, how often do we excuse ourselves out of doing what God has plainly asked us to do?  A few months ago news broke of a case near my hometown where two little girls had been severely abused and then killed by a woman who adopted them after being their foster mother, and that one little girl had narrowly escaped the same fate.  People were appalled that the system could allow this to happen. 

But I look around and see people doing nothing. . .other than talking about it immediately surrounding the news.   Sure, we might send some money to the organization, or donate Christmas presents or Easter candy.  But how can we expect the world to take care of these kids, when the Church is ignoring them, and pushing them away?  We have a lot of excuses, but the truth is we are the perfect people to offer help; we are a people who have the love of God in our hearts and the body of Christ surrounding us with support.  If we can’t or won’t help, then how can we expect others to?  I won’t promise it will be a cake-walk or that helping in this exact way is what everyone is called to, but I do think that more of us….more clergy, and more people who are a part of the body need to look at this as a real ministry opportunity.  We need to take Christ as our model in all things.  Remember His response when the disciples rebuked the ones who brought children to be blessed?  "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these."  That should be our response too: let the little children come.  Let them come to our homes, to our schools, to our neighborhoods, and our churches, and most importantly, to our hearts.  Let them come.

Comments

I have questions in two areas:

1) How do you handle admiring comments now that you have recognized your anger? Do you express that anger to those who admire you? Do you find it motivates them to reach out to children in need?

2) You begin by saying that you and your husband chose to foster now because the time is right; you now have much to offer children in need. How can you make the judgment for other people when the time is not yet right for them because of the need to honor other responsibilities, and when they're evading God's call with excuses?

Thanks for this article, Tricia. I think you do an excellent job of capturing the feelings of ambivalence and difficulty that work hand-in-hand with the love and care required for such an important task.

LC- I am sensing some serious anger and hostility from your questions. I imagine it would be more productive for you to share your experiences and opinions rather than pose unanswerable questions.

I do believe that not everyone is called to serve or parent in the way Tricia describes. I don't necessarily think that we are all the "perfect people" to become foster parents, though we can all help. This is not something that should be entered into out of a sense of guilt or shame. The example of the woman who harmed her children in Tricia's hometown might be an example of just this problem; we are not all called to this particular life. God obviously did not call her to hurt her children.

This is a complex issue. The friends I've known who have fostered children have all had complicated experiences, which is to be expected when the children come from such tragic backgrounds. What would be helpful for me to hear more about from Tricia and other foster parents is how they coped with those complications. How can the church support those parents?

You are amazing Tricia. You know I think that! I love this article and give thanks to God that you have answered the call to be a foster parent.

Tricia, thank you. I think that this is a wonderful example of walking the talk. It's funny to read this today after a tough conversation at church where I was challenged with a similar question.

So I wonder, for those that are not ready to be foster parents (I've also considered it but don't know if I'm willing to be a single parent), what wisdom can you give about how we can help?

I think one of the most helpful things we can do as clergywomen, if we're not fostering, is to foster (sorry couldn't help it!) an atmosphere that would help people feel like they'd get support if they took on such an endeavor.

LC and Alex have excellent points, i don't feel like EVERYONE in the world is called to this, and certainly not everyone in the church.....but i think more of us are called than realize it, and more of us are at a good time in our lives than think we are. Not having children isn't the only perfect time. I know others who do it with 3 or 4 other kids, and it's the perfect time for them.

I think we need to talk about it more in church. I think it would be awesome if church's worked with agencies to provide training, networking, support, (or even short term respite...ie babysitting!) for families that are involved. My main point is that the church and its people need to be involved more instead of letting the "world" take care of our children and then getting mad when things go wrong......

Tricia, thank you for this article. Knowing you, and seeing you walk through foster parenting, I think hands down you answered a call in your life.

I applaud that you want to make this something that churches acknowledge, talk about, and do. As someone who has worked with foster children, I know all too well the heartache these children face ... the pain they go through when a staff person tucks them in at night, not a parent; when a facility nurse gives them a band-aid instead of a guardian with a kiss for that "boo-boo" to go along with the bandage; or when they miss out on family events at school or church. Foster parenting is such a wonderful way for people to reach out and make a difference, to give hope to children out there that have forgotten what that is.

I appreciate your comment on this article that points out other ways individuals / couples can get involved without fostering. At this time in our lives, my husband and I would love to foster, but due to a chronic illness in our lives it is not possible. However, providing respite, visiting with the family, or cleaning a foster parent's house - or even just the bathroom!! - would provide immeasurable support.

So thank you again for this article and bringing to this our attention.

We who serve churches also have space! The church where I serve recently allowed its facilities to be used to host open houses and then classes for people interested in becoming foster parents.

Ann- That's great! Since our recent move to West Virginia, i've been thinking about this as an option for our church. Hosting classes, training etc. is a GREAT way to let the foster-parenting community know you welcome them....even if it's just in your facility!

And thanks Shanda, for the nice comments about me...you are too kind! :-)

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