The question always comes up when I talk about foster care.
“But what about your real children?”
My entire body tenses up with just those words. Putting aside my emotions about the mistake of referring to any child as “real” or “unreal,” I am pretty lucky to have been on the side of a biological child in a fostering family. I know they want me to excuse their choice not to do it. I know they want me to say “It’s so hard on the biological children,
it’s not worth it.”
A friend of mine recently talked about it from her point of view as a former foster child and her reaction when people ask about her biological children and how they would handle it. I loved what she had to say, but I wanted to offer my opinion on it as a child who has been there. You know, one of those “real” children.
My parents took in their first placement when I was a young teen. I have two siblings who came to be in our family through adoption from foster care. We had a placement for years who eventually went on to be reunified with his mother. While we didn’t have many placements in the long run, especially comparatively, I am sometimes asked if I would have told my parents they should foster knowing what we know now.
(All my very “real” siblings and I)
My answer is an undeniable yes. Totally. Without a single doubt.
My heart broke with each goodbye when I was younger. I struggled knowing that we were left mourning each time we watched a child leave our house. I was(okay, I am) a person who loves with my entire heart immediately and each child who lived in our home was considered a sibling by me. Not less than my biological siblings; but equal to. So it was no shock that my heart was shattered after every good-bye.
Yet, I still chose this life. We chose to add to our family both ways, at the same time; we made babies, we fostered kiddos, and we adopted all within a year. Once we are at the point we can handle it again, we would love to foster more children.
If your worry is what fostering will do to the children already in your home, there is no shame in that. I can tell you first hand I’ve nursed my own broken heart and held my own crying children after a good-bye. I know people who look back and wish their parents hadn’t fostered that child, or as long as they did, or as often as they did. I can’t promise your children will love it.
To be completely honest, there were days as a grown adult, I truly hated it. There still are. This is a broken system, filled with amazing, loving, and sometimes shattered children. It’s heart wrenching, soul crushing, and at times…it feels totally not worth it.
But I can also tell you from one of those kid’s point of view-I would go back in a heartbeat and I would tell my parents to take the chances. I would tell them to let me cry my eyes out. I would beg them to open our home. Foster care made me the person I am today; my parents being foster parents created my dream of someday working within the child protective system. My next closest sister would agree, as she wrote her college essay on how adopting our siblings shaped her into someday helping kids in similar situations.
Foster care may have broken me many times, but it also created who I am today.
Because of foster care, I was able to truly appreciate the world I had been given. Many of my mother’s friends also fostered and I heard stories and horror tales long before I would have otherwise understood the brokenness of this world. Trust me when I tell you, the stories no longer shock me. They make me weep for the victims involved, but I’m rarely shocked by them any longer.
However, it also showed me some of the strongest men and women I know. I watched as adoptive and foster parents fought for the children in their homes. I stood silently on the sidelines, as a biological parent got clean for the first time in years…and stayed clean. I have seen children overcome obstacles beyond compare and they are now raising their own families, strong and sure of their parenting. Foster care may have shown me some of the ugliest parts of this universe—but I also saw some of the most hopeful and inspiring ones as well.
My father will roll his eyes, I’m sure others will as well, when I say my rose colored glasses and need to see the mason jar as half full comes from my parents doing foster care. The stories of hope may be far and few between, the stories of success and happy endings are as well—but I choose to see those.
Foster care gave me a crazy faith in those others have deemed unworthy or unfixable. The lost causes. The ones that it’s okay to finally give up on because they’ve had every chance and still aren’t better. Many people out there will roll their eyes at this, but it’s my truth.
(My very real family.)
Foster care taught me how to say the hardest good-byes growing up.
Foster care allowed me to carry a faith and have doubt in my faith…and still choose to have this faith. I was raised Christian. When we lost someone to death, it was hard, but I always believed they were on their way to heaven. When you say good-bye within this system, you don’t know if they are going to paradise. Usually, you have serious doubts they are. But I had to have faith that the children would be taken care of by a higher power who knew better than we did. Even when it felt like we were not.
Foster care taught me how to care without boundaries. How to love without fear.
I don’t believe in ignoring your children’s needs. When we were asked if we could take a break from fostering by our kids, it solidified our already made decision to take a break for a few years at least. You kids are living this, the same as you, in smaller bodies, with less ability to comprehend situations and less coping skills. It is so important to hear them and to listen to them when you begin fostering.
But don’t let that deter your choice to foster. At least ask. Or talk to them about foster care.
Your children are already exposed to foster care. There are children in it within their classes, there are kids in their Sunday School who are living with a foster family. Someday, you may watch as a friend or family member loses custody. Your kids will experience it in some way; so talk about it with them.
One of the questions asked at our training was “But what about my kids? How will this effect them?”
Our training social worker knew my past and asked me if I would share my opinion on it, since I was the only person in that room who had ever been there. My answer was simple, and it’s what I tell all the adults considering foster care as well:
This life will break your heart a million ways. You will cry yourself to sleep at night, you will curse the unfairness out there, you will become angry with the lack of justice and judgement of the system, you will experience a heart break you never knew existed. And every single one of those things is worth it.
Every single one of those children are worth it.
And my answer always has been and always will be, yes. I would have told my parents to do it. Undeniably, 100% yes.