I am starting a new weekly series, “My Story Monday,” where I will be anonymously interviewing foster parents to provide insight into what it’s like to foster. Most of us walk into this journey blind to what it’ll actually be like on a day-to-day basis, so an inside look into fostering is an unparalleled and powerful resource. Please enjoy our first moving and inspirational interview on Still Orphans!
My Story Monday
I had very little knowledge of foster care. My ideas of adoption ran more along the lines of international or private domestic adoptions. After having three biological children we looked at international adoption. It was overwhelming to me. My husband came from a very large family of 12 children, so he was much more enthusiastic about all of this than I was. I had thought that two kids would be our family. As our kids continued to grow older and more independent, my heart started to soften. I did not at all feel called to international adoption, but I wasn’t quite convinced foster care was the direction I wanted to go. I knew a private adoption would be expensive, but I’d also heard stories and known people who had adopted domestically through family members or friends of friends. I knew God was calling us, but I really wanted the easiest route. After all, adding another child was really out of my comfort zone as it was.
Then we got a call about a teenage girl who had decided on adoption but hadn’t chosen an agency yet and wanted Christian parents for her baby. Would we be interested? Yes! No! I don’t know… we have nothing ready. It never went anywhere for us, but it did push me to realize that if we were every going to do this, now was a good time to start. My baby would be going off to kindergarten for three days a week, and I would suddenly have extra time.
We asked around a bit and my husband called an agency that had been highly recommended. I made sure to announce that it was ONLY to get information. The licensing worker was awesome, very laid back, not pushy. She left us with paperwork that we could look through. I was still resistant. At this time, “coincidentally,” we started the small group study “Forgotten God” by Francis Chan. It deals with how we leave the Holy Spirit out of our lives and, in effect, live powerlessly. It really came up against all my fears and excuses against foster care. And as I yielded, little pieces God moved in big ways.
It took us about 8 months to complete licensure. During this time we were also finishing off the lower level of our home to give us more room. We moved slowly, intentionally so that we could pass all our home inspections. We knew we were licensed when we got our first placement call! Our license had not yet made its way onto paper yet, but we were assured we’d already been approved. We said no as the call was for three kids ages 1-8. It was hard to say no as they needed to be picked up from the ER, but we had agreed to two kids at most and between the ages of zero and three.
Honestly, the biggest challenge of foster care has been me. Doing foster care means stepping into someone else’s mess but having very little power to truly “fix” anything. It’s kind of like watching a pipe burst and being given a paper towel to start cleaning. You have so little control. You are expected to care for every little need and help kids heal while simultaneously watching visitations that unravel the healing progress, deal with criticism from the very people who did the damage, caseworkers who are overwhelmed, doctors who are critical of you and your lack of family history, family members who don’t understand, and random strangers on the street with looks and advice. The biggest challenge is not picking up the mess, handing it all back, and saying it’s not MY problem. Until you see a face and you remember it’s not about you!
The are other unexpected hurdles as well. Biological parents- I hadn’t planned on that. I had a caseworker who literally told me, “It’s about the foster kids and the rest of your kids’ needs come second.” I was surprised by the amount of damage that can happen to kids at such a young age. Lastly, I had to come to realization that while love is important, you can’t just love someone enough.
Ultimately, it has changed all of us… profoundly. As parents we were always intentional. We supported kids through World Vision, packed meals at Feed My Starving Children, put together Samaritan’s Purse Christmas boxes, watched movies, and read literature that gave the kids a more rounded world view. We also talked to the kids about the dangers of drugs and alcohol. Having kids in our home from broken places has taught them and changed them in ways nothing else did. Our oldest, nine years at the time we began the process, was the most resistant. As a teenager, he is now the one who most wants to continue this journey. When I asked why he wanted to continue his response was, “How can we not? How can we know what we have to offer to those kids who have nothing?” He agrees it is hard and “weird,” but he has learned that a bit of discomfort for us makes a huge difference for others.
The thing with foster care is that, due to the temporary nature of foster care, we don’t always get to experience the “success” of the work we’ve done. We had a sibling set that would fall asleep in the car. When we would get home, we would take them out of their car seats and try to keep them sleeping. Inevitably, somewhere between the vehicle and the house, they would wake and their fight response was in full effect. Holding onto them was like trying to put a cat in the bathtub. They’d been left at so many unfamiliar and unsafe places that they were instantly on high alert. We also found out that mom would drug them to make it easier on her. The first time each of them woke but laid their head back down on one of our shoulders was pretty amazing. It took many months before that happened.
“We thought maybe we’d do this for a little while, possibly adopt, then go on with our lives. It seemed simple and neat.”
Looking back on when we started this journey, we were pretty naive. I don’t really even know WHAT we were thinking. I guess we thought that there were kids out there who desperately needed love and a nice, safe home. I expected them to be similar to our own kids, but possible more shy. Our age range was zero to three so how bad could it be? We thought maybe we’d do this for a little while, possibly adopt, then go on with our lives. It seemed simple and neat. We’d rescue a child. I never even thought we’d come in contact with bio parents. I was in this to help kids, not deal with the ones who put the kids in a position to need our help. I didn’t even see the connection between the parents’ lives, our lives, and the life of the kids. Yes, I am surprised where it has taken us. I had no idea how it would turn into such a purpose for my life. And while I know we talked about adopting, doing something in theory and actually doing it are vastly different things!
Today was Youth Missions Sunday at our church. We sent kids to various places in the world. Most of them spoke about their conviction for the discontent they have had when they see how little others have. I am not against short term mission trips, though I have been seeing more and more that the huge amount of money spent would do much bigger things if sent to the people already “on the ground” in these countries and/or used for micro loans for women. I looked down the row and there sat my son and two of his friends. All three of those boys are on the mission field. They make sacrifices every day because their families have chosen to step in the mess of other people’s lives. They step up and give up their space, time, and sometimes plans. They see the poverty and desperation in our own backyards. They get stared at because of our large colorful families. For the most part they pitch in a don’t really complain. No one pats them on the back or asks them to speak. We do not have to stop going far and wide to share Jesus, but we have to change our perspective and see that missions is right here on our doorstep as well.
The last piece of advice I would give someone interested in becoming a foster parent is willingness. Willingness to be flexible even if that is not your strength. Willingness to say yes even when it is terrifying. Willingness to admit you need help and seeking it. Willingness to let go even if will break your heart. Most of all willingness to say, “Okay God” because all the rest will come if you first say yes to Him.
If you’re a foster parent and would like to see your story featured on Still Orphans blog, please send an email inquiry to firstname.lastname@example.org
[This interview has been edited slightly for readability]