I am continually amazed by the number of people who rank foster care licenses right up there with a full papal designation of sainthood. This past weekend alone, I spoke with four different women who couldn't tell me often enough how "wonderful" it was that we "are doing that." How we "were blessing so many children." How foster care is "such a wonderful way to serve." How "it's so needed." How "more Christians ought to get into the system like that."
I have learned to wait patiently when people are singing my praises. Inevitably, the tide turns and people begin to feel the need to explain to me why they aren't doing the very thing that they seem to value so highly.
The most common threads revolve around the a handful of standard themes that I have mulled over for quite some time. The thing is, most of them are based on things I actually held true in my own heart prior to the Lord convicting me to jump from the boat labeled "Mary Grace's Ideal Family" into the one labeled "God's Vision for Mary Grace's Family." Care to ride over the falls with me?
"I can't be a foster parent, because I could never give up a child that I loved."
This one always gets me, because it makes the assumption that a) your children belong to you b) your children will never be taken from you in an untimely fashion and c) love that does not come with a lifetime guarantee is somehow not worth the emotional investment.
When you begin to process--and I mean really process, not just flirt with the notion-- that "your" children do not belong to you, this argument falls apart. I hate to be the one to give you heart palpitations this afternoon, but the fact of the matter is this: YOU WILL GIVE UP THE CHILDREN THAT YOU LOVE. It's cold, and it's hard and it's awful ... but it is life as God designed it. Those adorable babies that you tuck in at night are merely on loan to you. The difference between God's idea of loaning and the state's idea of loaning is that God doesn't give you a timetable for how long you have to look forward to those little mouths at the table. If you are truly blessed, it will be until the day you see them walk down the aisle. Or until you die. You will never deal with a teenager who rebels and walks away from you for good. You will never be one of the crushed souls who visits at grave to mark birthdays and holidays. You will never have a child who speaks to you only on the rarest of occasions.
You may get this. God willing, you will be so blessed.
But you may not be counted among these parents. You may be one of the ones who has loved and who seems to have lost.
And if you knew right now, this instant, that the little one who is laughing down the hall at this instant was going to completely walk out of your life in fifteen years, would you love him any less today? Would you refuse to give him food and shelter and safety and your heart ... all because you had the knowledge that this thing you call a family would eventually be shed from his memory like a skin that no longer fits?
Love is worth it. Invest in the moment. Expect no guarantees.
"Having children come and go would be too hard on my kids."
Again, some assumptions are being made here. Your family--even your extended family--is a fixed object in the sky. No one in your neighborhood will ever move. You will never change churches. Cross-country relocations are out of the picture. Grandparents will never die. And the group of friends your children have now will stay the same forever and always.
I don't know anyone who can say with certainty that this is the way their children will be raised. It's completely unreasonable, isn't it?
The deeper fear here is that biological children will become attached to foster siblings. If reunification is the ultimate goal in fostering (and nearly every case starts this way), then you have to be prepared for a temporary relationship. Hence the fear: I don't want my children to be hurt.
This is a natural, healthy notion and a sign of good parenting, in my book. But the truth is that you can not protect your children from the sting of loss. In fact, I'm going to argue that you shouldn't. There is something far greater to be gained--especially for children--in learning to live with a daily mindset AND an eternal perspective. On a personal note, I have seen such growth in Jo since the beginning of our fostering journey. The girl has learned at just 11 years old to sacrifice and to love even when it hurts. I didn't learn those skills until motherhood was upon me. Which one of us, I ask you, would have been the better candidate for following God's call upon our lives?
"I have to think of my own children first. I can't expose them to the baggage that foster kids bring along with them."
Sure, the statistics for physical, emotional, verbal and even s@xual abuse in children is frighteningly high, but of course, your community is completely immune. The children sitting in class with your little ones all day sprang right out of Leave It To Beaver homes. Ditto for Sunday School. Scouts. The park. AWANA. The library. Not a single bruised soul anywhere in your zip code, actually. Aren't you lucky?
Odds are that right now, less than five miles from your house, a child is being abused. Tomorrow--maybe on your way out to the grocery store or some other random errand--you will drive by the scene of this crime that no one knows about. And you will think nothing of it.
That's how close abuse and neglect are to you at this minute.
It is not something confined to a single geographical area. An income level. A class group. Abuse and neglect are everywhere.
Which means that your children have already rubbed elbows with the outcome, no matter how sheltering you are. Comforting, huh? Maybe it's the boy in Sunday School who uses a constant stream of foul language to get his points across. The girl your daughter sits by on the bus who knows a little too much about reproduction. The preschooler who hits and spits and screams and kicks at the park.
I don't want to bring it into my house, though, MG! you say. And I will tell you that honestly, this is one of the stickiest points of providing in-home care for children who aren't your own. Backgrounds of horrendous abuse generally do not make for well-adjusted children, let alone pleasant playmates. Even your standard neglect develops character traits that are not, shall we say, acceptable in most homes where respect, calm voices and general kindness rule the day.
Many, many people do not realize it, but foster parents do have a say in what placements they accept. While a social worker may try to convince a foster parent to take a particular child that they have reservations about, it's the foster parent who has the final say so. This means that unless you o.k. a known arsonist being placed with you, it won't happen. (Unless info is being concealed ... which we'll get to later!)
Here's the balance we have struck:
First, we were very selective in the area of placement agency. Second, we educated ourselves. Specific kinds of abuse produce a specific spectrum of behaviors. By honestly accessing our capabilities as parents, dh and I were able to then set up some guidelines for our agency. It is for this reason that I do not get calls about children who have suspected s@xual abuse in their backgrounds. In addition to the fact that I think some of the potential behaviors could possibly serve as personal triggers for me, I know that I can't provide the level of one-on-one supervision that a child prone to acting out s@xually needs. I do feel o.k. handling a drug-exposed infant, though. So I am on the call list for fussy, underweight babies who might keep my other children --and me--awake at night. Other foster parents may not feel comfortable with inconsolable infants. See how the gaps are filled in just this way?
When you are a foster parent, YOU decide what kind of baggage comes into your house. Just remember ... it's right outside your door, anyhow.
To be continued ....