“I could never be a foster parent. It’s great that you can do it, but I could never love a child and then give them up.”
This is truly the most common phrase any foster parent will hear (well, either that or “Hey, we need to change the visitation schedule for next week”). Through the years I have had varying responses to this phrase.
“Yeah, it’s tough. But it’s worth it.”
“Foster parenting isn’t for everyone, that’s for sure.”
“You know, it’s not like they just show up and you have to hand back the child. You do have some warning to prepare yourself.”
But now I just feel tired of this conversation. We are in the hard work of foster care. We are in the risk and the unknown and the sleepless nights. We have dug in strong with this precious bundle of child because we are in it for what’s best for her. When I hear “I could never love a child and give them up” what I really hear is “That baby isn’t worth loving.” That baby I’m snuggling and singing to and taking to doctor appointments and dressing for visits with her Mom just isn’t worth it to you. You might feel sad when she left or your kids might be confused or you’d be upset at a system that didn’t protect her. I get that. I really do. It is a hard job and the truth is, it doesn’t make sense for us to take it on. The risks of almost certain heartache and the costs to our family would never make sense if foster care were just a math equation or a list of pros and cons. While we have seen happy endings, we know that they are not the norm.
So we don’t make a decision about foster parenting based on what would be easy for us. We make a decision to love these kids because what is the alternative? I had a friend just recently take a two year-old boy although her family had said they wouldn’t be taking any new placements. They heard this little guy was on his way to a shelter because there wasn’t a foster home available for him and they decided to intervene. That is the alternative. When we say “that would be too hard for me” we are choosing a life of shelters and foster families who deal with the heartache of foster care by choosing not to love or attach to these kids. It is precisely BECAUSE it is so hard for us to love and lose these children that we SHOULD be investing ourselves in foster care. No child should grow up in an environment where they aren’t loved and cherished even if that environment is only temporary.
If you’ve talked with me much about foster care, you’ll know that I don’t think it is for everyone. There are LOTS of legitimate reasons why it may not be right for a particular family at a particular time. I am also a big advocate of families knowing their boundaries and only taking kids that they can safely parent. Saying yes to a child out of guilt when you know you aren’t best suited to meeting their needs is damaging to the foster family, the child, and also to the reputation of foster parents in general. While we can’t all do everything to help every child, each of us can do something. Maybe that’s fostering teens or babies or maybe it’s supporting the foster families in your community by providing meals or diapers or getting licensed to provide respite so a foster family can get a break and recharge. There are lots of ways to be part of the solution for foster kids.
My plan is that we will not always be taking in kids as our family grows and we get older. But as long as the need is there, we want to be available. I remember once consoling myself during a particularly hard day with my two two year-olds a couple years ago (two of our kids are 9 months apart) by telling Brian, “We won’t always have two year-olds.” He said, “Well. . . actually, we might always have them.” As Jesus said in Mark 14 “The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want.” Foster children will always need care. The two year-olds may always be with us. And that’s okay with me. But my goal is to recruit YOU so as families reach their limits, new families are there to step up. My hope is that instead of caseworkers having to decide between placing a child with an already overburdened family or a shelter, they would have options of loving and willing families so they could pick the best fit. This would help foster parents keep from burning out and would also allow children to be in the family that can best meet their needs.
Foster parenting is hard. It is stressful and painful and full of the unexpected. We don’t do this because it’s fun. We do it because kids need love and because we know the joy of loving children, even the ones we cannot keep. This is what it means to be the Body of Christ. If you only love things you’re promised you can keep, what would you love? Our biological children come with no promise of long life or close relationships with us. Our spouses can fail us in all kinds of ways. And who of us would say, “We wanted to get married, but then I realized at some point one of us would die and leave the other one alone and I couldn’t handle that.” We know that investing our lives in another person carries with it the possibility of future pain, but we invest anyway. Opening yourself up to love a foster child and their family is no different.
Love is always a risk. And it is always worth it.