Thursday, October 16, 2008

I can't be a foster parent, because .... (part 1)

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 ....


Hadias said...

Hello Mary Grace~

This is a very good post. To many people make to many excuses therefore leaving our foster care system overflowing with children desiring a family that will take them in.

I am a product of the foster care sytem and there is one family who took my brother and I. Oh what a change she made in me. She was my last foster parent before I became emancipated at the age of 17.

I stopped by to tell you that I resonded to your comment on my post growing pains

Have a blessed evening.

Liz said...

seriously WONDERFUL post - i 100% agree. i get THE SAME COMMENTS- actually got one today. he said "it takes a special kind of person to do foster care" i said back, no it takes normal flawed people with the help of an amazing GOD !
thank you so much for this post today!! i wish you lived in Texas ;)

Mrs. C said...

What an awesome post.

Incidentally, I hear excuses sometimes about "why I can't homeschool like you" and I wonder if it's conviction in THEM that they must explain to me... or if they just don't really like homeschooling and are trying to make conversation. Or if they're really "not that patient" with their kids LOL! (because we all know hs-ing moms are perfect)

secondofwett said...

In the 19 years that we fostered I indeed heard all the excuses that you cited in your post. I always felt uncomfortable how people thot we were the next best thing since sliced bread also....and the very first excuse...never giving up a child I loved..used to annoy me ...what did they think I was..made of stone and it didn't affect me! anyways...we still get people that think we're great cause we adopted so many....believe me there are many days that I feel far from being the saint that they make me out to be.

Suzanne said...

Oh my. You have opened my ears and shut my mouth. Thank you.

Stephanie said...

Thank you so much for this wonderful, eye-opening post.

KH said...

Personally, I think there is a lot of fear about foster care because it just takes a few "horror" stories to really scare families...and convincing them that it is the scary stuff is "norm." I've been following your foster adoption story with great interest...the ups and the're giving us a real look into a somewhat unknown world. Thank you your transparency!

Laura said...

The unexpected comments are such wonderful, God-given opportunities to share open and honestly the challenges and yet the beauty of fostering/adoption. Often, as I hear these very same questions/comments, I view it as a rare chance to speak from my heart about God's provision and God's healing in our family. Honestly, I cannot think of an easier way to share our testimony.

Our children look at fostering as their personal ministry from God. I am grateful for adults in our lives who reinforce this very special role that our older children play in loving little ones and letting go.

Thanks for a great, public post on this topic. Our now-private fostering blog was public at one point and I wrote extensively about my own struggles with these very questions, drug-exposed babies and other large, large issues. I miss the interaction with other foster parents and follow your blog for just that reason.

Thanks for consistently sharpening my faith.

Melissa said...

Seriously awesome post. It's alot of the same things I've been thinking and want to say but can't articulate. Do you mind if I link to you?

I've had people call me supermom and some of the other things. It makes me uncomfortable, I'm just a mom who's been willing to take in a couple more.

Claire said...

How's this for an excuse: My husband is NOT on board. That's mine. It breaks my heart. I would have a house full of foster kids, but even one would be great. The husband says, no, no, no. :-(

I'm so thankful for Christian families to take in foster kids. I know a few, and the blessings far outweigh the draw-backs, from what I've seen.

Stephanie said...

I think this is a very interesting and well written post. Especially the part about not knowing how long your own children are really going to be with you.

That said, I think people are amazed because being a foster parent is not for everyone. I understand being flustered at people's objections, but a point that you subtley hinted at was that God wanted this for you. He wanted you to be a foster parent. I don't think it is the life's mission for everyone.

And whether or not you think you're amazing for doing it you are. Because you're brave enough to go against the norm and follow the Lord's will for you.

Big Red Driver said...

Amen sister.
We've actually had some kids that I loved and was happy to have go....but tonight I'm crying a little bit.

Heather A. said...

Mary Grace, Thanks for a wonderful post. Even though I've been a foster parent in the past, I saw myself in those excuses for not fostering. You've certainly given me something to chew on. Thanks, Heather A

blessedmomto7 said...

SISTER!! You said exactly what I think and feel in my own heart! BUT YOU SAID IT MUCH SMARTER AND BETTER than I EVER could have! All it takes is following JESUS plan!

mary grace said...


I ABSOLUTELY do not think that fostering is for everyone. I'll get to that as I continue my thought process here in bloggerland. :-)

And thanks for the supportive comments!

Missus Wookie said...

MG - thank you for your wonderful post. I liked that I was pointed to it by another blogger when I already subscribe :)

Luke said...

My wife and I started down the road of adoption, but I did not feel ready for foster care and the ups and downs it brings. Perhaps, now that I've gone through/am still going through the ups and downs of adoption, once this is complete I will be ready for this next step.

Thanks for sharing, you can certainly challenged me this morning!


Amblin said...

Loved loved loved this post!

Anonymous said...

I don't think I could love you more! Yours is one of the two blogs I check atleast once a day!

I've talked to dh a few times about fostering. My siblings and I were fostered and adopted and he is very open to it. Right now dh is concerned about providing for the family he currently has. We'll continue praying.

Thank you so much for the timely blog.


Benny said...

Watching you through this fostering and adopting journey has helped me to grow in so many ways! I admit I was once a skeptic who thought just the way the people who made those comments to you do. But now I feel so open to the idea of adopting or fostering. I do not know if it is God's call for us or not, but I don't know how seriously I ever would have even considered listening for that call had I not been able to learn so much through watching your family go through it's journey.

Thank you for sharing so much.


D said...

Mary Grace,
I'm not sure how you came to my blog. I'm pretty sure it was a God thing. I try to always visit those who visit me. (you find the most amazing blogs this way)
When you wrote:
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.

I'm sure you had no way of knowing someone out "there" was struggling with just this very thing.
Our 19 yr old daughter (adopted @ 4 months) did this very thing. I've been in the depths of self pity.Thinking all that we did, sacraficing for private school for 14 yrs, amoung many,many things, was a waste for us & her.
I forgot I once fought for that baby girl like a mother bear and would move heaven & hades to keep her safe.
Thank you for the reminder & the visit.

Birthblessed said...

What about, I can't be a foster parent because I have a 3 bedroom house and can't afford a bigger one. Or I can't be a foster parent because I have 7 kids and the state has RATIO rules. It still cracks me up that they say you can't have more than 4 kids under 6 or whatever....

When we got married, my vision was to have 3 kids and then foster and adopt. My dh said he was fine with that plan. Then after #1 was born we were convinced by the Quiverfull argument, and within 5 years we had 4 children. We looked into fostering at that point, and were scared off because of the Ratio issue-- we were told we couldn't get placements older than our oldest child and that we couldn't have any more because we already had too many too young. Well, we kept having more kids, until I decided that while QF sounds good, it's legalistic and there are good reasons for a women to stop giving birth. I would like to have more children sometime, but I think it will have to wait until some of these kids have reached adulthood and moved out.

FatcatPaulanne said...

I'm going to print this out and re-read it and re-read it.

svr said...

wow. amazing.
i was a foster care and adoptions case manager for DFCS for 4 years and then the director of a state contracted private foster care & adoption agency for another 4. i am now home with my 2 kids but find foster care and adoption constantly in the back of my mind.
i found this blog post via another blog i read. it is convicting and clearly states the thoughts i have been trying to communicate to christian families for 8 years now! thanks for your honest and encouraging insight.
sarah rapier

Tanya said...

In our state, you can't do foster care if you have an attached garage. Groan.

paula said...

I liked your post. I grew up as the daughter of foster parents. It was great for me and my siblings to share our parents, toys, etc. with needy kids. We reaped the blessing. Sure it was hard to let them return home, but it was worth it! For a few months we had the privilege of loving them. My mom and dad had a desire to help children and they did it in spite of the fact that my father was legally blind. I am thankful for my parents' love for others. They demonstrated what it was like to really care. None of my siblings do foster care, but that isn't the point we all care about the world and help others more, because it was the pattern of our childhood.

Anonymous said...

Wow! What a wonderful post. I am a 29 yr old mother of 2 (with one on the way). I have felt for many years the desire to adopt or foster a child, but ... There are so many things that I worry about. Would my children be safe (they are 2 and 1), can I afford it, how could I allow a child I loved to be moved or returned to an undesirable situation. I'm sure that everyone considering foster/adoption considers such things. I really appreciate the perspective you are sharing with us.

da halls said...


I journeyed here from Making Home from Amy's Humble Musings.

I enjoyed this post and look forward to more.

My husband and I were licensed foster parents with our county for 6 years. We adopted 3 kids in the process.

Our "niche" was emergency care for infants (although we did make the exception for our eldest, at age 6, since he was our daughter's birth sibling). I remember talking with a woman whose niche was adolescent boys. We both said we were freaked out about the ages each other took care of. 80) The gaps do get filled in, don't they?

I was adopted as an infant and my parents were foster parents for the first 10 years of my life . . . hence my desire to foster and adopt. I am so thankful my parents did what they did. I pray that my children will make the third generation of fostering and adopting. 80)

We told people, when they made comments similar to the "how can you give up a child and not have it hurt?" that the way we looked at it was that these precious children NEEDED us to be so in love with them that it hurt us badly when they left. That may be the only time in their lives they get that kind of love. And, I agree, that we need to hold onto our children loosely anyway since they are on loan to us.

Thank you for this post.

Mary Beth

Miriam said...

Holly Schlaack offers us a guide to the excruciated world of numerouslittle children. She tells their stories of life both before and after they enter foster care. Her firsthand, on the ground experience is capsulized in her list of "A Dozen Ways to Make a Difference," so that the reader will be not only affected by these stories but shown a map to help make life better for them. I urge Invisible Kids for any professional or private citizen who concerns about children. (