04 Sep Who Can Be A Foster Parent?
I get a lot of interesting reactions when I tell people I’m a single foster parent. One of my favorites is the head-scratcher, “oh, we’ve thought about becoming foster parents / adopting!” I’m not sure how to respond or what the goal is here. Should I say, “thanks for thinking about helping”? Or, “what stopped you?” Or, “it’s the thought that counts!” I’ve concluded that people are trying to tell me they are aware that 400,000 kids are in foster care in the U.S., they are concerned about them and have thought about how to help, but they decided not to (now or maybe ever) for one reason or another. I get it. I don’t think foster parenting is for everyone, not by a long shot. But before you disqualify yourself, I want to share my vision of a great foster parent. Could this be you?
Qualities of a Foster Parent:
Someone should first and foremost be interested (or alarmed? devastated?) in the welfare of children who are not biologically related to you. It’s critical to believe, deep down, that these children are not “those kids”; they are OUR kids in our communities. They’re children created by God with a unique purpose and gifts and struggles and personalities, just like the children we reproduce. And we have to be interested – invested even – in the welfare of not just the children, but their families. Foster care is about restoration: restoring parents to health and children to parents. That has to be our primary goal and our deep hope before we dive deeper into foster care.
- Willing to Sacrifice.
I thought I knew what it was to sacrifice before becoming a foster parent. This is next-level sacrifice. You start with the practical sacrifices – your home, schedule, wallet, relationships, but your expectations all get shifted, torn down, and rebuilt around new needs and priorities. I’ve had to get a new job to have more flexibility, move to a bigger home, rearrange our days around medical and other appointments, and can’t travel without permission from a caseworker. But then comes the gut wrenching sacrifice that you can’t prepare for or minimize: saying goodbye to children you’ve raised for weeks, months, even years. Handing a one-year old I’d raised from four days old to his new, adoptive family and saying goodbye was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Nothing about it felt good, and there wasn’t a silver lining (for me). You don’t have to be an exceptionally brave or stoic person – I cry at commercials – but you should know that you are putting everything on the line. I always remind myself that these kids deserve to have someone be heartbroken when they leave.
There are minimum standards in every state for becoming a foster parent. You have to meet requirements for housing (amount of space per kid), income, background, training, employment, etc. Many people can qualify to be foster parents, including single people, older people, LGBTQ people, and people who have been in foster care or experienced childhood trauma. If you’re interested, the first step is going to an information session with an agency or the child services department in your state.
- Imperfect and Ready to Ask for Help.
I’ve realized the best thing I can do is remind myself that I am not a perfect person or parent or helper or advocate. I’m human. Sometimes, my feelings are the opposite of what they should be. Often times, I think I know what’s best for a child but I actually do not. Admitting that I am not God, and that God loves these children and families more than I do, helps me to serve in my specific role instead of taking on the world as if I know best. I also need to know my limits, know what things other people can help with, and be ready to ask for help. I’ve gotten comfortable with the idea that I am on the front lines, but my village is right behind me. If you are not called to be a foster parent, find someone who is and become fully invested in helping their family thrive however you can.
Is foster parenting something you’d like to be a part of? I have been stretched in ways I never wanted but desperately needed to be. I have seen the best in people and brokenness I cannot forget. I have been handed shower gifts for a newborn by his sobbing mama before he headed home with me, not her. This life will change you. It makes black and white, grey. And I promise – it will be the hardest and best thing you will ever do.