Determining The Worth Of A Foster Parent

I’m trying to remember the last time I knew I fit in. I think it was pre-school. My teacher, Mrs. Green, called everyone to the story carpet. “Ok friends, time for a story,” she would sing. Friends. She always used that word, and I guess she was right. I liked everyone in that class and they liked me. I fit in there.

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The rest of my life up to this point has been a constant reminder that I’m not like other people. In Jr. High it was my choice to wear the thick pink glasses. In High School it was the loneliness of the lunch hour. Pretending to do schoolwork in the library, rather than sit alone in the crowed cafeteria. As an adult, it’s the family choices we’ve made. Counter to our culture, we are minimalists with very little technology, a small house, and a fairly large family. We are exclusively foster and adoptive parents. Our lack of biological children and our constant revolving door lead to that awkward silence when neighborhood conversation turns to parenting. I’ve been known to excuse myself when the talk turns to labor and delivery or the dreaded breast-feeding vs. bottle discussion.

Empty, awkward, silly, illegitimate. Sometimes, as an adoptive mom, I feel like I just don’t fit in.

A few years ago, my brother-in-law was celebrating his first Father’s Day with his newly placed foster son and daughter. After months of sleepless nights, a clinging toddler and a raging pre-schooler, he had earned this special day. He walked into church proudly with his beautiful family. As he was enjoying the hallmark holiday, someone leaned over to him and said, “Happy Father’s Day, I mean you’re like a pseudo-father, right?” Of course that’s not right but my brother-in-law didn’t defend his position. He accepted the misunderstanding, the ignorance and his role as an outsider.

So, if we live outside the norm, how will we ever know if we measure up? How will we know if we’ve had success?

In the 9 short years we were foster parents, we had 21 children walk through our doors. Eight of them stayed forever. Foster parenting is not glamorous and it typically doesn’t feel like a success. When you are a foster parent, you step into the darkest time in a family’s life. You get a front row seat to someone else’s embarrassment, shame and failure. Through court hearings, case conferences and supervised visits, we have only the goal of supporting a family through their turbulent time. We are distinctly separate from the biological family, yet deeply connected. When the case is finally over and a child is returned home or placed for adoption, it is likely the foster family will not be receiving a yearly Christmas card. Foster parents represent a memory most would rather forget. The success of a foster parent isn’t easily measured or publically recognized.

I know we don’t fit in, that’s a given, but do we measure up? Are we worth anything?

For me the answer came in the form of a phone call. It was late on a Monday night and I was settled in on the couch ready for a marathon of Netflix. The call was an invitation to our former foster son’s graduation from military school. It had been 8 years since he returned home from our care. His mom ended the conversation by saying this, “You guys will always be a part of my village… so it’s only fair that you see what you helped accomplish. I love you guys.”

The following Saturday we walked into the graduation, just as the graduates we’re lining up. There he was, a handsome, disciplined, young man, where last I saw an unruly child. I waved wondering if he would recognize me. I will never forget watching his composure crumble. He stepped out of line, tears streaming down his face and embraced each of us.

There it is, the answer to my question. What is the worth of a foster parent? Our worth is in the support we provide. It’s in the choice to extend grace. It’s in the second chances. Our worth is in the refusing to fit in. Our worth is in the acceptance of a different path. Our worth is found in the relationships we build and the people we are lucky enough to love.

Question: Have you struggled to find your worth as a foster parent? Share your story with us. You can leave a comment by clicking here.

 

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  • Jesse DeBoer

    You guys are an inspiration to us. Thanks for always sharing your real life.

    • Hey Jesse, it’s our pleasure! So great to see you commenting here. Let us know how life is going!

  • Gloria R.

    When you say, “Kristen is sharing today”, I know I better sit down to read the post, and I’m smart to have a box of tissues by me.
    This very morning ( and for a while now) I’ve been wondering about this, how our lives have changed, how much more stress we have to deal with, the people we have met through this experience ( most being down right difficult ), the many disappointments we’ve faced because we were lied to, pushed or dismissed. It hurts a lot. It hurts so much that a sort of cynicism has began to grow in me. I feel more skeptical of people’s interests, I question people’s intentions. I doubt people’s promises.
    Our old SW was so idealistic that she pushed us around a lot. Our new SW never shows up but likes to pretend she’s involved. Our CASA has never even been in our house since our placement almost two years ago, yet she seems to advocate for the other siblings far more than for our son.
    A birth relative, one we trusted, just broke our trust. Another just ignored our boundaries. That being on top of the very difficult road we’ve been walking with our son, whose struggles and traumas are pretty significant.
    I feel left out yet I don’t even have the energy to try and fit in. Who’s really interested in hearing about all of this?
    How to go back to feeling joyful and confident when there’s so much adversity?
    We are on our road to adoption (it’s been taking forever) and it seems that these adversities rob the joy of the whole experience. Instead of feeling like this is a wonderful thing, it feels more like … Well, I don’t know. I need to find that joy and confidence again.

    • Hey Gloria, thanks for sharing openly here. It’s such a hard road. We know. We’ve been there. Sometimes you just have to choose joy and positive thinking even when everything is negative and defeating.

    • Kristin Berry

      Hi Gloria, Thank you for the compliment. It sounds like our stories are so similar. It is difficult to find the joy in the midst of the ups and downs of foster care. Stay the course, you are not crazy to feel this way. You are making a difference in all you do!

  • Nora Matthews

    Extraordinary.

  • Thank you for sharing. While a newbie of sorts to adoption itself, my choices to take alternative paths from the norm, have always made me feel like a miss fit. Bless you for choosing the difficult road, because you knew it was the right thing to do, despite the difficulties.