I have come to realize there are two types of foster families in this world: Those that do foster care without biological children and those that do it with biological children. [I know I’ve just stated the obvious]. To those who start foster care without having had biological children first– WOW. Give me a high five x 20!! Being first time parents of your own flesh and blood is hard. But becoming first time parents to a child who is in foster care takes superhuman skills. Not only are you learning how to be a parent, you have the extra stresses of what comes with children in foster care and the added pressure that you can’t mess up because CPS is literally breathing down your neck! Parenting foster children when you’ve already been a parent is like riding a bike with square wheels: you know how to ride it, you can make it move, but there’s a lot of sweat and your legs feel like jelly!
When we started this journey my husband and I established a rule that if at any time our family’s health (physical or emotional) is compromised we need to stop or take a break. Starting foster care with biological kids is a little scary as a parent because you naturally worry how they will react and handle it. I think the best thing we’ve done is have many conversations with our girls about what is going on. We often tell them that we want to hear their opinions on things but know that Mom and Dad ultimately will make the decision. When we were first licensed we asked our oldest daughter what she thought about having a child in our home that was older than her. She had a strong desire that she remain the oldest as that “position” meant a lot to her. We have been purposeful to honor this request. Now the baby of the family…well she just wants to know that she’ll always be Mommy’s Baby no matter if there are smaller kids in the family or if she’s 21 years old.
Five ways foster care has impacted our children:
Understanding the Real World.
- In a recent blog post I talked on how we do not help our children when we totally hide them from the realities of the world (you can read about it here). Our children need to know that there are injustices in this world and people in need all around them. Opening your home to children who have been removed from their families automatically opens your home up to facing raw realities. We don’t tell all of the story to our biological children but we share bits and pieces that are important for them to know in order to help their new siblings. Some of our children have been pulled from such horrific conditions that were published on the front page of the newspaper and I found it too disturbing to let my children read it. They don’t need to know the details, they only need to know that these kids had parents who made bad choices, are in jail, or did not have enough food to eat or water to drink. And that’s good enough. What it has done is opened their eyes to others kids around them in their day-to-day environment.
Trusting in God/Praying.
- I have learned more about prayer and trusting God in the last two years than in all my life. When you are living in foster care, surface level prayers do not cut it. This is spiritual warfare and we are on the front lines. Through our leading, our kids learn to pray; to pray big and boldly and then trust. They pray each night for the children who have come through our house and gone on. They pray for their futures, for their parents, and that they “will have fun” (as my middle child always throws in).
Independence and Teamwork
- I’ve seen our girls grow more independent in the last two years than in the last 10 years of having kids. It sounds like an oxymoron, but their growing independence means better family teamwork. They’ve learned that we all have jobs to help make the family unit run smoother. They know that Mom and Dad’s time may be more tied up with new kids or higher needs, so they help get a sippy cup filled with milk, play with the Littles while I cook dinner, or share toys with kids who come with none. They look after the kids on the bus rides home and my first grader reads to the Pre-K and kindergartener to pass their time. They have come to understand that what we do together is mission work for these kids. They are learning to love their neighbor together.
How to change diapers
- Our oldest has put off learning to change diapers for far too long in my opinion. But finally we got her to do it! (except only the pee ones). If you’ve got big kids and you start fostering little ones, this is an opportune time for your big kids to learn basic child care and apprenticeship for babysitting. Our oldest will do all the “responsible” things, our middle is exceptional at creating entertainment (she’s created a Zombie-Doctor game, “Hot Lava” (a favorite) and good ol’ fashion wrestling matches), and our Baby plays with them as an equal but shows them the ropes along the way (i.e. “we don’t put stickers on walls– only on paper,” or “don’t eat the fake food” and she’s a world-class tattle tale).
Love your neighbor [“The world doesn’t revolve around you.”]
- I think I hear my husband tell the kids, “The world doesn’t revolve around you,” at least once a week. It may sound harsh to some of you, but guess what: it’s true. Maybe President Trump would’ve been a nicer person if his dad would’ve told him that a few times! (and I am a republican). When we teach our kids the concept of loving our “neighbors” we are essentially teaching them to put others first and themselves second. That can be a tough concept to grasp for a youth. Being a kid in a foster family makes the tough concept tangible. We all sacrifice together as a family to help these kids who come into our home.
My oldest daughter, Ella, has ambitions to start her own blog. She is an avid reader and writer and is at the ripe old age of [nearly] 11. She’s working on building up some entries before we launch it, but I want to share an excerpt from her description about our family. When I read it the first time it gave me a better understanding of how our kids were handling the journey of foster care. These are her words; I have edited nothing. And when she launches her blog, I’ll be sure to let you know! [addendum: you can now read it here!]
To start things off, I have a family of five…most of the time. What I mean is, my family does foster care. If you don’t know what that is, you’re in luck, I do.
Sadly, some kids are abused by their parents/guardians. Or in some cases, their parents aren’t able to take care of them because they don’t have enough money or they’re in jail/prison. These kids are usually then placed with a foster family. They stay with their new family until their parents can take them back, or they’re placed with a different family, or they can be adopted. My family is a foster family.
My family has learned so much from being a foster family. We have learned to love the little girls and boys who come and leave our house. Like the verse: Psalm 10:14 You are the helpers of the fatherless, we have done our best to love and spread God’s love through the little children who come to our house, and try our best to be the family that they so desperately need.
Some of the kids who come to us have nothing of their own except for the clothes that they’re wearing. Some do not have manners; no ‘pleases’ and no ‘thank yous’. Some only are familiar with junk foods to eat, like hot dogs. It’s hard to believe that some parents do not focus on loving their kids or caring for them.
One of the hardest things is saying goodbye. After kids have stayed with my family for a long time, they seem like actual biological siblings. That’s why it hurts so much when they leave. It feels like a piece of me disappears.
Fostering children with children is a circus-class balancing act of trying to meet all their individual needs. We need to have extra sensitive eyes and ears to gauge how they are handling everything. We need to set individual time aside with each one to show that they still matter and are loved. We need to have grace for our children who are handling big things. And thankfully my kids are pretty gracious with me, because I’ve forgotten to pick them up from school or practice or church way too many times!