This is the 3rd post in a series, "Foster Care? I could never do that". Click here for the previous post.
Before I knew anything about foster care, I thought I knew everything. Between Hollywood and news stories I surmised that foster care could go one of two ways- either you take in a child like Michael Oher and receive all the accolades that accompany raising a future NFL football player, or you take your chances with another kid who ends up doing drugs and locked in prison. There was definitely no middle ground in my mind. Being a realist, I concluded that if we chose to foster, we would undoubtedly welcome a troubled pre-teen into our home who would teach my kids cuss words and how to roll a joint. (This is obviously a RIDICULOUS conclusion, but you get the point).
Having two small children, I was understandably cautious about bringing a foster child into our home. That is, until I became fully informed. All of my misguided preconceptions began to crumble before my eyes as I received more information. (But ignorance was bliss while it lasted!)
First off, foster parents have complete and total control over the types of children they are willing to care for. You can specify a gender, an age range, what special needs you feel comfortable with, what past abuse you can handle – the questions are endless. No child will be placed in a foster family’s home without their consent. This understanding was a huge relief to me. Having been a high school teacher, I have such a love for kids that age. However, with littles under my roof, I knew that a teenager wouldn’t be the best fit for us right now, so we agreed to take children ages 0 to 8. A child in this range seemed doable given our little ones, but still I wondered, “even a troubled 6 year old can be a bad influence on my children.”
And then I remembered – I am not raising little angels myself. I have a son who calls strangers “poopie” to their face and another one who throws hard toys at people when he doesn’t get his way. I adore them both with every ounce of my being, but I would be lying if I didn’t acknowledge the fact that THEY can be a bad influence on other kids (*Gasp*). As a Christian, I was faced with the vivid reality that each foster child was created in God’s image for us to love—and while I can consider my own children in the equation, I must remember that children in foster care are no less deserving of a loving family than my own kids. I cannot place my own children's value above that of children in care.
Therefore, what if we did welcome a sassy eight-year-old into our home? And what if they DID teach my kids cuss words? Might they also teach my children empathy? Might they help my kiddos realize how ridiculously blessed they are to live in a loving (and often crazy) home where their daily needs are met? Might they learn how to bridge the gap between the different worlds to gain an understanding of the hurt some of these kids are facing? And God willing, might we as parents be able to model how to respond to the difficult situations that arise in welcoming a new child? It was a hard pill to swallow, but this pill was continuing to heal my broken heart.
And so, with two of my biggest questions answered, I began to see the beautiful potential before me of how fostering children could transform my family’s life, but I wasn’t sold yet. “Do we really need to foster, or can we just adopt?” I whispered to God.
This is the 2nd post in a series, "Foster Care? I could never do that". Click here for the first post.
The phrases rattled off my tongue like clockwork as we tossed around the idea of fostering children.
“I could easily welcome a child into my home, but I would have such a difficult time giving them back.”
“It would be so hard on our family to only have a child for a few months. It just seems so unfair.”
“I don’t think we can do it, I would be too heartbroken when the child has to leave.”
This specific excuse was my golden ticket, I thought. I would use it in conversations about fostering, and specifically towards God in prayer. I mean, wasn’t it clear that I would totally be willing to care for a child if it wasn’t for the grief I would suffer? After all, isn’t it the thought that counts?
Then with the force of a thousand bricks, I was smacked in the face with a vivid reality. Every bit of this excuse began to reek of selfishness – every difficult part was something that affected me or my family and gave no credit to the child we would be serving. My eyes began to widen as I discovered the truth behind this excuse – I like neat and tidy packages with clear expectations and foster care is NOT THAT. It’s more like navigating your way through a junkyard searching for a specific car part with no guidance. It’s terribly hard work and requires a significant time investment, but the treasure is under all the rubble, if we simply keep searching.
I realized early on that as the stable, well-adjusted foster family we are actually the most capable people in the scenario to grieve a child’s transition from our home. We have community, we have support systems, and we have counselors and therapists at our fingertips. The grief and loss we experience is nothing compared to the grief and loss the foster child will wrestle with as he or she transitions back home. Furthermore, while the birth family may be elated to welcome the child back, oftentimes they are still facing challenges associated with living in poverty and battling addiction. Don’t get me wrong, they will have obviously made huge strides in establishing a new, healthy life, but the roots of poverty and addiction run deep and often take longer to completely uproot than the 18 months the state allows.
Quite possibly the most convicting answer came as I thought about the potential grief we would experience - it is an expected grief. This is not the same sorrow someone feels with the unexpected or tragic loss of a child. This is a grief that can be anticipated and planned for accordingly. Appointments with therapists can be obtained long before the child leaves my home so that we, as the foster family, can prepare appropriately.
Lastly, I must consider what it means if a child is able to be reunited with his family. It means that parents have fought their way out of addiction, they have obtained a job, they have received counseling to become better versions of themselves, and have created a safe environment for their kiddos – Is that not WAY BETTER than having a child in foster care forever? Instead of helping one little life, foster families have an opportunity to change an entire family's legacy by allowing parents time to focus on their own needs. When my gaze focuses on this possible outcome, I am overwhelmed by the potential in each situation. What greater story exists than watching a family break the vicious cycles of addiction and poverty? And if all that's required on my part is to be a long-term babysitter, I think I can handle it.
So there I stood in the face of this new discovery. "Fine," I whispered to God, "I am willing to risk grieving to serve a child in need, but what about my own kids?"
This is the second post in a series, "Foster Care? I could never do that". Click here for the first post.
Next Post: Foster Care? I worry about the influence on my own kids.
A couple weeks after moving to Hawaii, we began the search for friends in our neighborhood. That’s when we met Mary and Troy. We were immediately captivated by Troy’s magnetic storytelling abilities. He is dynamic and hilarious, and is a former-military man turned stay-at-home dad. Mary and I instantly hit it off when we realized we are both highly sarcastic, have similar laidback parenting attitudes, and share an affinity towards wine. To make a great situation spectacular, they have children the same ages as ours. In so many ways, they are like us – a middle-class military family, financially stable, authentic and compassionate, with two biological children. But something is different. Mary and Troy are foster parents. In addition to their biological children, they also care for two foster boys.
Later that evening Daniel and I came home to recap our first friend-venture. “Do you think you could ever foster a child?” I asked Daniel.
“No way!” He responded. “I don’t know how people do it.”
“I know, right?” I affirmed. “How do you give them back?”
“Or what about our own kids? How would they respond?” Daniel wondered.
“I would be open to adopting, but fostering sounds like a rollercoaster I don’t want to ride,” I responded. “Plus, Mary and Troy seem so normal, they definitely don’t fit the stereotype. I mean that’s great they do it, but I never could.”
It was settled. Kaput. No foster children for the Riches – we could never do it.
If you’ve been following our journey, however, you’ll know that the story didn’t end that night. It would’ve been easier if it did, though. And, if I’m being completely honest, I might have been ok with that. After all, I’ve spent my whole life doing the “easy things” to care for those in need – handing out homeless goody bags, buying lunches for strangers, and writing checks to good causes. I like those activities, the easy ones. They demand a level of generosity that requires little risk on my part, and for the greater part of my life, I have been content with that level of investment.
Unfortunately for me, we met Mary and Troy during a time my heart was aching for intimacy with Jesus and I had begun praying a silly little prayer – “Break my heart for what breaks Yours.” It was a rookie mistake, you know, to pray such a bold prayer when I like doing easy things. I should have known better. I wrote all about the shattering of my heart in this previous post.
But what I didn’t fully explain is how God began to mend my heart after He broke it – how He surgically repaired it by challenging me to step beyond the simple tasks and take on something with greater risk.
This heart surgery took about two months to complete, and every healing stitch came in the form of an answered question – namely the questions Daniel and I asked one another the night we met Mary and Troy.
Maybe you’ve asked these same questions at some point in your life. Maybe you’ve written off serving a foster child because of past assumptions or misconceptions. Or maybe you are simply curious to learn more. Well stick around, friend. In a series of upcoming blog posts, I will be sharing the answers that healed my heart. Together we will tackle one question each day as we consider how we can serve bigger and better – even when (or especially when) it isn’t easy. I hope you will join me!
I am a lover of people, a child of God, and a laugher at jokes. I write words, cry tears and smile at strangers.