For as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to be a foster parent. I don’t recall when it all began, but growing up we had a family live with us while the father was in prison, and my best friend lived with us after her parents died.
I started fostering in 2003 as a single parent when my three daughters were teens (Angela is currently 34 years old, and Melissa and Christina are now 32). My daughter Christina had a “habit” of bringing home children who needed a family or some extra love. One particular time she brought home a child that ended up staying with us unofficially at first, and then the courts placed her with us pending getting my foster license. During that time, we received nine children in our home — all teenaged girls. I was amazed at how much my daughters stepped up to the plate during this time. I wasn’t surprised at the love and compassion they showed, they had always shown that, but I was amazed at how much they embraced foster care and all that it entailed.
I met my husband Mike in 2006, on e-harmony. At that time, I had made the decision not to date anyone that was not interested in supporting my fostering journey. Mike told me that he was intrigued and had never considered fostering until he met me. Mike not only embraced foster care by supporting me, he also supported the children who came through our home. In the beginning, he would often bring them a gift such as a stuffed animal or journal on their first night in my home. Mike and I got married and started blending our families. My children had moved out by that point, but his two children still lived with him (and then us). We needed time to work on our new family for awhile.
Mike and I started fostering together for the first time in 2013. It was so refreshing having a partner in the home to share it all with — the ups, the downs, the joy, the tears. As of today, we have received 72 teenagers (male and female) into our home and hearts.
Don’t let negative thoughts stand in your way, such as “I can’t do this. I’m not going to be able to handle it when they leave. It’s going to break my heart.” I am not an ice princess. It hurts. It is painful. But if we don’t care for these children, who is going to do it? If fostering doesn’t break your heart then you are doing it wrong; but it is so worth it.
When a child comes into your home, two of the most important things they need are love and stability. We work very hard to give each child those things. Even after they are gone, they know that we can offer a “home base” for them forever.
I love when one of “our” children calls us up after leaving our home and says, “Guess what, Mom” (or Mother Bear, Momma, Mamadukes, Mamamia, Maria, Miss Maria, Mamacita! Mike has been called Dad, Padre, Father Bear, Mike, Mr. Mike, and Father.) It is so nice that they know they can count on us, that we are there for them, that our house is home to them, and that they miss our family dinners at the table that sometimes lasted for a couple of hours. We have given each child a “number” that corresponds to the order that they came into our family. We didn’t intend to do that, but the children started asking what number they were and started having little competitions between themselves after they left of who was there longer.
We didn’t go into fostering with the idea of adopting, but then #57 came through the front door and God had a different plan for us. We are working toward that goal in hopes that this 17-year-old male can be adopted prior to turning 18.
There are times that I cry out to God that I just can’t do this anymore. I don’t want to do this anymore — my heart wants to do it, but I’m just physically and emotionally drained. I beg God to let me do something else and he says “no, I’m not done with you both yet.” God is teaching us what we can do with His help — that our limits are not His limits and he can give us the strength to keep going.
There is a desperate need for more homes willing to foster teens. There are many reasons why families are hesitant to take teens, but these children need people willing to take a chance on them. They may have never had anyone take a chance on them before. The teenagers often end up getting placed in group homes. Their desire for a family to love them is just as strong as a younger child — maybe even more because they are so close to aging out of the system. They feel the urgency to have a permanent family before having to go out into the harsh world alone without the needed skills and family connections to help sustain them.
One of the biggest surprises that has come out of fostering is that we assumed that we would be blessing children and their families; we learned that we quite possibly are receiving the biggest blessings of all by loving these teenagers and letting them into our homes and hearts.
We have made many life-long relationships as a result of fostering. Because we take teenagers, we often hear from them after they have left our home. We have become friends with their families to the extent that it is safe and welcomed by them. We have continued to be a resource to a few of these families and take the children to appointments so the parents don’t have to miss work. I was once told that I am like a mother to a biological mother, and she was only 10 years younger than me. We have even spent holidays with these families. There is no greater joy than to see a family that you have poured into reap the benefits of your love and commitment.
There is nothing special about our family. I am the most outspoken one; Mike is more even-keeled. I like to be on the go; Mike likes his alone time. We are consistent, but can go with the flow (which is extremely necessary with fostering). We have five grown children between us and eight grandchildren and together we make a family. Your family can look different than ours and still be an effective foster family. No two children need exactly the same thing. Everyone has something to offer — something that you may not even realize that you can offer to a child. But most of all, the fact that you read this far shows that in some way, shape or form, you care — and that’s what all people crave — especially a child in foster care.
Hear more from Maria about her foster parenting experience in this conversation “How are the Children?: Fostering During Uncertainty” from our parent organization, Fostering Great Ideas.