Every month we dialogue with foster parents over email, face-to-face, or at speaking engagements, and the the common theme we hear is, “I had no idea what I was getting into.” We understand. Once upon a time, we felt that way. But we learned some valuable lessons that are important to understand before starting foster care.
Adventure. Frustration. Joy. Anger. Hope. Fear.
Six words that evoke so much emotion. Six words that possess power. And six words I would use to describe the past decade of foster parenting for us. It’s been quite a journey. There have been mountain top experiences and valley low trials. Several times, we almost quit and walked away for good.
But through the good days and bad, hopeful and hopeless moments, it has been one of the best experience of our lives. It brought 6 out of our 8 children into our family. We couldn’t ask for anything greater.
We stopped taking children through foster care in 2012 when the adoption of our youngest son was finalized. We felt we had crossed a finish line with him and so it was time to hang it up and focus on raising the family we had been blessed with. But in the 9 years we worked with the foster care system we learned some huge lessons. In fact, I’m asked quite frequently by people considering foster care, what advice I would give. Here’s what I often share in response:
- It’s an adventure. If I could equate foster parenting with an expedition I would say it closely relates to climbing Mount Everest. When climbing Everest, you can see the height of the mountain before you, you can research the climate, you can even learn from past explorers and chart your course based on their experience. But, there is an element of unknown that makes this a huge adventure. Adventure, as you know, has its ups and downs. You need to be aware of both. The ups and downs in foster parenting happen on a weekly (if not daily) basis.
- There will be frustration. Know this ahead of time. There are a lot of reasons this happens. You’ll be frustrated because you’re told one thing and then another thing happens. You’ll be frustrated because your child’s case gets pushed back another few months. You’ll be frustrated because, even after parental rights should have been terminated, you still have to do visits with birth parents. Going into this process with eyes wide-open is the best approach.
- You will grow. We find that we are wiser now that we’re on the opposite end of 8 years. We’ve learned so much about ourselves and it has been extremely valuable. We have a deep perspective on parenting that came through extreme trials and tribulations. We wouldn’t trade this growth (good or bad). Foster parenting provides opportunities for personal growth.
- The children placed in your care may be difficult. If you’ve read any of our previous posts on adoption or foster care then you know that we’re not fans of glamorizing adoption or foster care. Buying into this sets people up for failure. While I appreciate the commercials for foster care and adoption, often they do not paint an accurate picture of the reality. Don’t be lured into believing you’re on a rescue mission or a superhero. You are doing something valiant and amazing, but there is a reality that will catch you off guard if you’re not aware of it. Fact is, the children in your care need a person to love them for who they are and stay consistent with them through extreme circumstances. They’ve come from very difficult backgrounds and that will produce a myriad of emotions and struggles. This will come out big time in your home for many different reasons.
- The system is difficult to understand and navigate. The foster care system is extremely backlogged with case loads and high turnover rates among workers. Many case managers are overworked and underpaid. You may go through several case managers in the course of a 2 or 3 year period. Not to mention, timelines you’re given or details you’re provided, are usually inaccurate. We learned early on that when a child was placed in our home for “the weekend only,” or “a week or 2,” that instantly meant they would be with us for a minimum of a month, maybe more. Three of our children never left. And, we’re quite thankful for that!
- You need a support system. This is not your case manager, nor anyone in the court system. The reason is that they have to stay divided on their loyalty. It’s their job. You can’t fault them for this. That’s why it’s important to surround yourself with other foster parents who are on the same journey as you are. I would also recommend including some seasoned foster parents in your support system to speak wisdom into your life. We would not have made it 9 years if it weren’t for our support system. It was (and still is) invaluable!
- You will learn how to love unconditionally. You’ll learn what unconditional love should look like. The choice to put it into practice is yours to make. Your love and your emotions will be challenged and tested. You will learn so many lessons but most of all, you’ll learn about love.
Now, as I look back over the past decade, I wouldn’t trade one moment of foster parenting. It was unbelievably difficult and frustrating but it brought together our beautiful family. That makes the journey worth it! Our hope and prayer is that anyone reading this finds insight into the foster care journey that encourages and helps them succeed.
Question: Obviously this is not an exhaustive list. If you’re a foster parent, what would you add? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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