By Amanda Idleman, Crosswalk.com
As with most big faith steps God calls you to, there is a buildup. A season of preparation before you are ready to dive in. This was the case in our journey to become foster parents.
First, there was young us seeing the need that lives all around us for the first time. My husband and I both spent our early married years working in an inner-city school system. As kids who grew up in very middle-class loving families, our eyes were opened to a whole new world of need that lived right around the corner from us.
One of the first moments I knew I one day wanted to open my home as a foster parent was when a student saw a picture of our modest backyard and called it a “park.”
While at the time I felt like my husband and I could just barely provide for our growing family, we still had so much more than what most of my students' families lived on. I realized we had the love and security that many kids longed for.
Fast forward to last year after years of having babies and getting through the days together. We went through a Bible study that really pushed us to ask God to use us in bigger ways.
I started to pray for God to show us what that big “faith step” should be not really having any clue as to what could be coming next.
Warning: if you pray this prayer, God will answer so be ready!
Then last summer my husband suggested we attend a “Foster-to-Adopt Information Meeting” with our local DSS. We had no intention of jumping into this role now we have three still young kids and really intended to get information for the future.
Yet, somehow we walked out of that meeting both agreeing God wanted us to get trained to become parents now.
I had one reservation; I felt like we needed more physical space in our home. And in God’s larger than life way, that night I found the home with all my “wishlist” items for sale right down the road for us.
Of course, I thought there is no way we could buy it! Houses have been selling here within days and I thought it was going to be more than we could afford.
Yet, somehow we live in that home now. All that to say what you think are impossible obstacles are nothing when God is involved.
The process of becoming foster parents came with a lot of fear and still I’m afraid of what saying “yes” to God’s plan for us to expand our family in a less traditional way could mean through the years.
After the first night of training, I was straight-up terrified and started reaching out to anyone I could find that has done this ahead of me. Here is some of the advice I got that helped us hang in there past our fear.
Advice for those considering becoming Foster Parents:
1. Sometimes it’s okay to say “no” to possible placements.
For many being a foster parent is a role that you grow into, just like when you start parenting in any other fashion. Starting with placements that feel doable, maybe respite care or with an age you feel comfortable with before accepting that sibling set of three is okay.
If there are things you just aren’t ready for it’s okay to say we aren’t open to that at this time. You are part of a whole community and if you aren’t available at this time there are others on the list the workers can call.
Everyone we talked to about foster care that had done it for long periods of time said that in order to stick with it, they had to learn to say no sometimes when DSS called.
For our family, we needed to feel like we had the power to both be a loving home to kids in need as well as set boundaries that would protect our young family.
When you enter this world your eyes are opened to more need than you know how to handle, not to mention the brokenness of the system itself.
It can be hard to not want to try to say “yes” to everything with good the good intention of being helpful. Even so, you will be no help to anyone if you take on more than you can handle.
Be honest and open with your workers about how you are feeling and about what you feel like your family can handle at any given time.
2. Define what you are comfortable with from the onset.
We are so lucky that the woman who trained us and does the placements is an amazing woman with a heart for foster parents and foster children. She totally respected the boundaries we set as far as what we feel comfortable within this season of life.
Even so, I had to get over the fact that I felt like our “yes” was small compared to other people’s.
The reality is that even making a difference for ONE kid and their family is worth it. Babies need homes, toddlers need homes, kids need homes, and teenagers need homes.
If we all said “yes” to what we felt capable of doing to serve this population, I’m convinced we could change who waits to have a family.
3. You need a tribe to lean on.
Saying “yes” to being a foster parent means you are saying yes to uncertainty, appointments, schedule changes, new financial stresses, and emotional ups and downs!
All of that is doable if you have others to rely on to help step in when you can do it all on your own. If you have other kids, you are going to need last-minute babysitters for meetings, breaks from parenting so you can stay sane, and you will need encouragement that this thing you are doing is a good thing and worth the extra work.
Thankfully, foster care has changed so anyone you trust to babysit your kids can babysit your foster child and traveling as a family including your foster child is also a lot easier.
This all makes maintaining normalcy in your family life and utilizing your existing babysitters, etc. much easier than in years past. Prepare your close friends and family by letting them know you will be calling on them for prayer, encouragement, a listening ear, and practical help.
Photo Credit: ©Pexels/Emma Bauso
How you can help foster parents:
1. Always use encouraging words when talking about foster care and the work they are doing.
I already have a few pet peeves about talking about foster care with other people who don’t know our story. First, I do not like when people tell you about a “foster care” horror story when they find out you are a foster parent.
Second, I don't like the statement “I couldn’t do that, I’d get too attached” or “I couldn’t handle when they have to go back home.”
Third, foster care is entirely confidential, so there is little information that should be shared about a child’s story so asking a lot of questions can feel intrusive. Finally, I don’t like the assumption that we decided to take in a child because we had “baby fever.”
In our case, we closed the book on babies because we really were DONE. We are doing this because God put it on our heart not because our home felt incomplete.
Now that I got that off my chest, let me explain why these statements bother me and some great alternatives for them if you aren’t sure just what to say.
As a foster parent, you have already gone through a training that’s brutally honest to filter out those that couldn’t handle it.
We already know how hard it will be to say goodbye; training informs us of the many difficult situations these kids could bring into our lives, and we’ve followed the calling of the Lord to do this thing anyways.
Nonetheless, all those fears are still sitting at the back of our minds and we have to push past them daily to do this thing (especially if you have other kids in your home). We aren’t superhumans; we are just people that felt a nudge from the Holy Spirit to do a hard thing.
Realistically we need all the encouragement we can get because all the reasons you point out about why foster care is scary are real and true things we are facing head-on. Plus, telling us horror stories just gives us new things to worry about and no one needs that.
Some alternatives to these statements include just saying thank you for opening your home. If you are brave you may ask if we need anything of if there's a way to support our family practically or with prayer.
Lastly, if you have nothing nice and encouraging to say then just say nothing and move on.
2. Cover these families with prayer.
Foster parents are stepping into some of the most broken situations in our communities. The families that enter this system are battling poverty, drug addiction, mental health issues, crime/jail time, and so much more.
The system itself has many flaws as well. Foster parents are stepping into trauma, complicated family histories, and are given little information. They have to live with uncertainty and are expected to fully put their heart on the line if they are doing this thing well.
That’s a LOT and there is a lot of room for the enemy of our souls to create more chaos and pain while we do this work. Cover the foster parents you know with prayer and the families that they are helping with prayer.
God wants to see families restored, not pulled apart. He wants these kids to have found healing, love, and security. Change happens when we pray so don’t underestimate prayer as a great way to support others in this work.
3. Offer practical support.
There is a crazy idea that foster parents do this for money. I’m sure in some awful cases that could be true but in most cases that seems very unlikely to me.
When I read the job description for being a foster parent at training I commented this is the LONGEST job description I’ve ever read for almost no pay.
Stipends vary but so do the needs of kids! If a foster parent is making a living on this work, it’s probably because the child in their care is a full-time job. In our case, the stipend is small and comes weeks after taking a placement. We pay for everything our kiddo needs upfront until a stipend comes through.
Kids need a lot of stuff. This stuff has to be collected quickly too! Babies need bottles, clothing, diapers, wipes, gear, formula, and more! If you are accepting an older child they will need clothing, personal items for their room, and it will be in the benefit of everyone to have fun activities for these hurting kids to do to help them get comfortable more quickly in their new home.
You are adding a lot of new appointments to the mix so things like dinner out or coffee from a drive-thru become necessities in this season.
Ask the foster parents you know what they need. Offer to bring them a meal, buy them a gift card so they can go out, or be willing to babysit for one of the many appointments they have to attend.
It can feel awkward to ask for support in this way as a foster parent because the idea that people do this for money is so ingrained in the story of foster care. Reach out to them and see what you can do to help meet their practical needs every time they open their home.
Here is the reality--God’s heart is for these people. James 1:27 says. “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”
For many of us, we live in comfortable homes with stresses that come with living a happy and successful middle-class life. God calls us to be more than comfortable.
The religion that God wants for us stretches us, requires faith that we didn’t know we had, and brings us to otherwise scary places. Not everyone is called to be a foster parent, but we are all called to love those in distress.
My prayer for you is that you do the foolish thing we did one year ago and start asking God in what new way would He have you love beyond reason. I promise if you truly seek Him in this way, He will give you a heart to meet a need you didn’t even know existed and it’ll change your life in the best kind of way.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/fizkes
Amanda Idleman is a writer whose passion is to encourage others to live joyfully. She writes devotions for the Daily Bible Devotions App, she has work published with Her View from Home, also for the MOPS Blog, and is a regular contributor for Crosswalk.com. You can find out more about Amanda on her blog or follow her on Instagram.