For many years I didn’t think foster care was a viable option for me. I was stuck in the same place as many, many people I talk to about foster care. How could I love a child as my own and then have to let go? I felt foster care couldn’t possibly be for me. But as weak as my faith so often is, I serve a God who is eternally faithful. When the time was right, I went from being completely closed to the idea of foster care, to deciding I would foster only until I had a child who’s plan became adoption, to where I am now— a heart to foster for any length of time I’m needed. And I’m not certain adoption has to be the end result at all!
As excited as I was to get started, I honestly don’t think I went into foster parenting with blinders on. I was under no illusion foster care would be a replacement for the traditional family I had grown up dreaming of. I knew it would be hard and the children would have suffered trauma and carry emotional baggage. I expected to experience all the challenges of a “regular” family from sibling rivalry to power struggles, plus the added challenge of kids coming into my care who did not have a history with me or my approach to parenting. In fact, I knew they might have suffered the worst approaches to parenting conceivable. I would further have to deal with cultural clashes, attitudes, and a host of other concerns many parents feel for their children but are heightened for foster parents. I was fully cognizant that DSS would be overworked, under-resourced, and would sometimes view situations differently from me.
Yet even with the honest consideration of the hurdles I would face, I was still woefully under-prepared for what I would encounter in two and a half years “in the trenches”.
Surprisingly, bonding with the children was easier than I anticipated, despite many of the worst-case scenarios the kids had experienced. Their stories woke up my inner “mama bear”, and it has been hard when I haven’t been able to ensure what I felt was best for a child in my care. I have had to learn a lot about acceptance, humility, and trust in situations beyond my control.
One of my biggest frustrations with the foster care system has been the struggle to obtain information needed in order to make the best judgements for a child’s care. For example, I have felt a personal mission to support sibling groups (who might have otherwise been separated) by having them placed together in my home. In order to do this therapeutically, it has been important to have all available background information. It has helped me to know if there are behaviors to be cautious of, interactions to avoid, or even if it could be in the children’s best interest to be placed separately. It has been frustrating at times not to have this information.
When I started, I thought foster care was about providing a nurturing home, understanding and helping overcome behavior challenges, and following marching orders. I assumed someone else would tell me what appointments to keep or services to look into. I was wrong. I’ve learned if a child needs attention in an area, it will be up me to pursue it. From obtaining free childcare vouchers to Individualized Education Programs to developmental behavior assessments, I’ve had to learn from trial and error about community resources I previously knew nothing about. This has been a learning adventure and taken lots of time and energy from my personal life and work, but it has been highly educational and rewarding.
I have found that my recommendations as a foster parent are not always listened to. I do not get to make many decisions. I can advocate, and for the most part my opinions have been received with respect—but that doesn’t mean they were considered. I’ve had to constantly remind myself of all the factors at work, that some things are bigger than my perspective, and that I don’t know everything. I have had to humbly recognize times where I might have been wrong—even though I have struggled to understand decisions made. Nevertheless, this certainly hasn’t stopped me from advocating! It shouldn’t keep me from caring. And it really shouldn’t keep me from learning from each and every case, loving the children with all my heart for whatever time they are in my home, and being willing to accept the next placement.
In the past two and a half years of fostering, I have been surprised over and over by new and overwhelming challenges. I have felt on more than one occasion I was on the precipice of despair. I have said to myself, “this is it – there is no way I can do this anymore.” But I’ve always come out of it. My faith has often given me what I need to get through the hardest moments.
I have heard it said you don’t get a full picture of the whole journey because if you saw it, you would be completely overwhelmed and would never start on the path. This is probably true, as I am nothing like the smart (yet naive!) overachieving college student who believed I could do anything I put my mind to— it was easy to feel that way when I had never done anything too challenging or had my heart broken. Now I have had my heart broken over and over. I have hardened somewhat, but I am a more real person now. I’m doing something that really matters, so it’s important to trust that “this too will pass” and focus only on the obstacle immediately in front of me. In going through a rough patch recently, I read a quote I wrote down, “often, when our faith is shaken, it’s because we’re looking at a 12-inch section of a 180-inch screen.”
Over and over I’ve had to remind myself of a few things: I am not seeing the complete picture, nor should I wish to; if I get too close to the problem I stop being able to think creatively and find new solutions; and if I do not maintain serenity and humility, I will not be able to be at peace with so much that will absolutely be out of my control.
“God grant me the serenity to accept what I cannot change, the courage to change what I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
*This post was written by a single, South Carolina foster parent, who has chosen to write anonymously.