Far and away the most common response I get when telling people the infant in my care is a foster placement is something to the effect of “You are so amazing/it takes a special person to do that/I could never do that” etc. etc. etc.
I have yet to say what I am really thinking for fear it will sound snarky. I lean heavily on snark on the best of days, but when you factor in some sleepless newborn baby nights, it feels my only publicly appropriate response is total self-restraint.
But total self-restraint does not an interesting article make, and so here I give to you my absolute truth-teller response to “it takes a special person to be a foster parent…”
In fact, I can give you a quick quiz to let you know if you have what it takes to consider Foster Care for your own family (and to be clear, I am not implying every family SHOULD foster, just that many that assume they couldn’t actually COULD…)
1. Are You An Adult?
Many people think that it would be too hard for them to say goodbye to a child who came into their home and then had to leave. And it is devastating. The day after I wrote this post, they called me to remove the baby I had come to love, and I cried so hard I was snotty and heaving. It was excruciating.
But I am an adult, and the children in foster care don’t have a choice about saying goodbye. They face the loss of their primary caretaker, and they don’t have the tools to process the loss yet. I have faced loss in my life. I am equipped to hurt and process my hurt and to heal from loss. If some of us aren’t willing to open our homes, if we aren’t willing to hurt on behalf of the hurting, if we are going to assume that the call isn’t for us because we would be sad to say goodbye…let’s just remember who the adults are in this situation.
2. Do You Realize There’s A Need?
Before we got licensed to be a foster home, I remember hearing that if one family from every church in Texas took in one child in foster care, there would be no more need for open homes in the state. We heard stories of all the open homes filling up, and of children spending the night in CPS offices on Christmas Eve because there was nowhere for them to go. Teens are aging out of the system daily. The state will pay for these students to go to a state university for free, but most don’t take advantage of that because they don’t have a support system telling them that college is important, or showing them how to fill out a successful application, or advising on how to juggle a job and classes.
Do you believe in breaking the cycle of poverty? Get certified as a Foster Home. Do you think women who are addicted to substances need support to break their addictions? Get certified as a Foster Home. Do you believe in standing for the lives of the unborn? Get certified as a Foster Home. Republican or Democrat, Religious or Not — once you realize there’s such a great need it sounds a little trite to say only special people can be Foster Parents.
3. Can You Be Open To Considering It – Even If You’re Terrified?
We started our journey pretty clueless, but first, we said yes to an intro class. Then we found out how hard it was for foster families to get help through respite (short-term) care, so we said yes to that. Then we said yes to the whole shebang because why not just go for it? Our first “yes” to a baby wasn’t a “yes to all the babies for the rest of our lives.” It was to one child. Then one more. The current newborn is our third placement, and maybe after this we’re done. Or maybe we do it the rest of our lives. Either way, when it gets to be too much, we can stop. What if by being open, you could serve one child from the system? In our training, we learned that ONE secure connection in a child can rewire his brain in such a way as to impact him for life. That was the game-changer for us: changing the trajectory of one life permanently seemed worth the hurt we knew we could anticipate. So we were willing to say yes at least once.
We aren’t special.
We’re still terrified.
We’re soooooooo sleepy.
But my goodness, we are so thankful for all that this journey has taught us. We are thankful for all the journey has taught to our children and to us. I can say confidently we wouldn’t change it for the world; not for less tears shed; not for months of sleep, not for the money or the time that we’ve spent.
So there’s my real answer. But if you tell me I’m so special in person, I’ll probably just say “thanks.” You know, self-control is a virtue and all.