How do you know your marriage is ready for fostering? I’ve heard the question before and I’ve never known how to answer. I think the truth is (as with so many things in foster care and in life) that there is no one right answer. Everyone approaches and enters foster care differently. That’s a beautiful thing. We need diverse foster parents just as there are diverse children entering foster care.
You don’t have to be married long to be a great foster parent. You don’t have to have the perfect marriage; who does? But if you are entering foster care as a couple, there may be some things you want to consider together to assess if your family (in whatever shape and size it may currently be) is ready to foster. It’s also worth stating that you don’t have to be married or in a relationship to be an amazing foster parent. Single parents thrive in fostering for so many reasons.
Because there is no one right answer for “how long should you be married before you start fostering?” or “how do you know your relationship is ready for fostering?,” I wanted to share with you three different perspectives from families that approached foster care at different stages in their lives and relationships. There is much to learn from each of them.
I started fostering as a single mom. I only had to think of how it would affect my life and if I was ready to take on being a single, working mother. It is different now that I am fostering as a married woman. I already knew about foster care, I had been in the trenches, and I had experienced the highs and the lows. It wasn’t new to me, but it was for my husband. We got married in 2018; a former foster mom and an adoptee, fostering was something we talked about early and often. We started the process to get licensed when we had only been married a year. We were still newlyweds, but felt like it was something we were called to do, so we took the leap – together. It was a step into the unknown since our marriage was so fresh and the world of foster care is so unpredictable. How did we know we were ready? To be truthful we really didn’t. We just trusted the process, trusted each other, and took the next steps as they came.
Looking back, if I had to offer advice on “when” the right time is, these are the five questions I would ask.
For us, all of these questions were answered with a yes. At the end of the day we knew we were called to foster and we knew it would change our relationship. Most days it is for the better. Some days we extend grace and we try again. We never really thought we were ready, but we knew we were better together– even in the unknown.
My husband and I had been married less than a year when we started the foster care licensing process. We were young and naive, unsure of what the future held, but excited to embark on an adventure together. We had talked extensively throughout dating and engagement about our hopes and dreams for the future, the family we wanted to create, and our expectations for our partnership. In our marriage, we found that we agreed on most big things and our values were very similar. We disagreed on how to load the dishwasher, how much ESPN was too much, and who would make breakfast on Sunday mornings. All in all, we were equal partners committed to respecting each other, honoring each other’s needs and boundaries, and supporting each other’s goals.
When I brought up the idea of foster care, it was sort of out of the blue. It was new to both of us. So we did what we had always done as a couple. I went to obsessive research mode, talking to everyone I knew, learning as much as I could, and charting a course forward. My husband, my perfect match, processed all his thoughts and feelings internally and did not share them for a few weeks until I eagerly said I was ready to fill out an application. I had all the facts (or so I thought). We could do this. It made sense. It was in line with our goals. But, truthfully, I needed to slow my roll a little bit. I needed to share the information I had, ease some of his concerns, answer his questions. We weren’t necessarily on the same page right away. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to foster, it was that we were moving forward at a different pace.
There is no perfect time to become a foster parent. There is no perfect amount of time that you should be married before you’ll make a great foster parent team in my opinion. There is no perfect season for fostering – no kids, young kids, empty nesters. We didn’t have biological children when we started fostering, but still we found our way. Was our marriage ready for the roller coaster of fostering? I think so. Were we really ready? I’m not sure. We’re still doing it two years later, so maybe. The key for us has been to continually reassess where we are at, communicate our feelings, and respect each other’s boundaries.
When we began the licensing process for fostering, my husband and I had been married 15 years and our biological twin daughters were nine years old. One evening, completely out of the blue, my husband said to me: “We should become foster parents.” My immediate response probably looked like some bumbling cartoon character stuttering, “Wait, what?!?” Then I took a deep breath and said, “Okay, let’s talk about it.”
Turns out he kept stumbling across online articles and information about the desperate need for more foster homes in South Carolina (I woke up the next morning to find links to a few of those articles waiting in my inbox) and he had been thinking about fostering for some time before he first mentioned it to me. I immediately began my own online research and signed up to volunteer at a local group home, eager to learn everything I could about children in care. My husband planted the seed, and the roots needed a little time to take hold. I needed to get my head around the idea, yet it took a surprisingly short amount of time for heart catch up. Over the next few months, I wriggled my way out of a few community volunteer positions, and gave notice at my place of employment.
These preparatory steps felt very much like lining up all the chess pieces as we got ready to play a new game; problem was: it’s a game we had never played, and we didn’t even know the players or the rules. However, I knew that with my husband and daughters on my team, I was willing to try anything. We were altering our lives in preparation before I ever made the first call to Heartfelt Calling. (This is who you call if you want to foster with DSS).
My confidence that we could handle fostering was bolstered by the fact that, together, my husband and I had dealt with some tough issues and come out the other side with our marriage solidly intact. One tragedy we faced together was the loss of our week-old infant son in 2003. Fertility issues and infant loss are not for the faint of heart. The fact that our struggles brought us closer, rather than driving a wedge between us, served as testimony to our shared commitment and ability to weather nearly any storm life could bring.
Let me be clear: our marriage isn’t perfect. Our communication lines are not always open. We aren’t always on the same page, and we disagree about plenty. But love and respect for one another can take partners a long way, and we each need to be willing to compromise on the rest. My husband and I agree wholeheartedly on one critical thing: fostering isn’t about us; it’s about the kids.
It may never feel like the right time to begin the licensing process. However, you can’t wait for the right amount of savings, the right job, a bigger home, or for your kids to get a little older. In life, it seems the stars never align perfectly in ways that tell us “now’s the right time.” You simply have to take that leap of faith and enter it with limited expectations, accepting the fact that it may not work out. Ask yourself this: If you were able to help one child (just one!), wouldn’t it be worth it?
I encourage you to look back over the questions that Crystal proposes above. If you can answer yes to those questions, then right now might be the perfect time for you to become a foster family.
So, how do you know your marriage is ready for fostering? There is no one right answer. Everyone comes to foster care in different ways. We need foster parents that come with open hearts, open minds, and open arms to welcome children into their homes.
You have multiple options when choosing a foster care licensing agency. There are some private foster care licensing agencies that do require married couples be married for a certain length of time. Visit care2foster.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org to text or speak with someone that can you help you make the right decision for your family!