When we became foster parents about 9 years ago, we had a very small circle of support. We had a group of people who loved us and encouraged us, but the amount of people we knew who had been down this road that we could vent to or ask questions. . . I can think of two families who might have fit that description, but we weren’t really close to either of them. It was lonely and hard sometimes. The people who loved us wanted us to not get our hearts broken. The people who knew foster care well, knew we would and they were pretty resigned to it. It was hard to feel understood, heard or safe to struggle in either environment.
So when we adopted our first two foster placements and had a bit of a breather, we decided to become advocates for the kind of support we needed. We wanted to encourage a community of honesty and safety for people who loved foster care, but sometimes kind of wanted to burn it down and walk away. We knew creating that kind of climate required being honest ourselves and pushing in a bit even when people acted like they didn’t need support.
It may take a foster parent to create that kind of community, but it’s hard for foster parents in the trenches to even get their head up far enough to see what kind of help would be beneficial. This is where those of us who are taking that breather can be useful. We can talk to our churches about what kind of help we needed. We can talk to our agencies about what would have communicated support to us. We can volunteer with advocacy groups or coordinate our own efforts to be the help we needed but didn’t get. We can complain about what doesn’t exist, or we can go out and create it.
I have seen incredible beauty as I’ve been able to come alongside other foster families. I see people who aren’t burning out at the rate foster parents normally do. I’m seeing families who thought foster care would be too much of a stretch for their family, step out to do it because they know they have a team behind them to help. I’ve seen children blessed by not just a loving foster home, but by a community of people who express love to them by supporting their families (both their foster family and their biological family).
I haven’t forgotten those early years of not having the support that would have most benefitted us during our first foster care experiences. I know not everybody lives in the kind of foster care and adoption aware community that is now our normal. For those foster or adoptive parents who are struggling alone (and really for all foster or adoptive parents), it can be such a blessing to find likeminded parents with similar struggles in order to normalize what you’re going through. Attending a conference or retreat can be one great way to do that in an intensive environment that will refresh you and remind you why we do what we do. I’m excited to be involved this year in a retreat like that.
I will be speaking at the Together in the Trenches retreat. I’m going to be talking about how God uses motherhood—the unique role we get to play in the lives of the kids God gives us, the role our own moms played in our lives, and how we can encourage the other moms around us. I’m excited to be able to meet with other women who are living this life and I’m also excited for the ways the women planning this retreat are intentionally wanting to spoil these ladies. In talking to one of the ladies coordinating the retreat, she used the phrase “constant food” to describe the environment and that’s about the most wonderful description I’ve ever heard for a retreat. There’s a desire to help women understand the importance of self-care by showing them how they can incorporate it into their daily lives through art, crafts, doing nails, and all kinds of little pampering activities. I’m pretty sure if I just read the phone book during my speaking time, these women would still come away refreshed and encouraged just by being in this supportive and beautiful environment (the grounds of the retreat center are just gorgeous and restful). I’m hopeful I can add more than just a phonebook reading to what’s happening, but I love knowing this isn’t just about giving women knowledge or parenting tools, but about actually caring for their needs for rest and encouragement.
If you’re interested in participating in this retreat, there’s still time to register! You can get all the specific info at this link: http://orphancarealliance.org/together-in-the-trenches/ I’d love to see you there!
Foster parents and adoptive parents need community. We need that normalization that can really only happen when we find others who have walked where we’re walking. I think we all have a role to play in finding or creating that community. We can prioritize it by attending retreats or support groups. We can offer it by facilitating support groups, planning retreats, become a safe place for foster and adoptive parents to share their needs. We can benefit from it by showing up and admitting this can be an isolating journey. As a church body, we can encourage it by offering to help cover costs for our families to attend retreats or conferences that help them live this life with strength and conviction. Whatever our role is in the process, if we want our most traumatized kids to be loved and find safety and healing, we need to be sure their parents are getting the support they need. How can you be part of that support team for the families you know?