10 Things to Know Before You Start Fostering

  1. This is not about you.  Foster care is about bringing your family to a child and their family, for a season that is not determined by your own desires or ability to provide for this child.  Your wishes will not always be granted.  Your advice will not always be followed.  Your opinion will not always be asked.  Your feelings, your family, your schedule and your time will not always be considered.  Entering this world means you are agreeing to put this child’s needs above your own and that you are committing to working alongside a government agency that will ultimately have control over this child’s life and sometimes it will feel like yours as well. 
  2. Foster care is not a pathway to adoption.  While sometimes children will need a new permanent family to care for them, that is a result of much more than just a child being in foster care.  If you are committing to foster care, it’s important to realize that this will most likely end in you saying goodbye to a child you deeply love and care for.  The goal is for biological parents to receive the support they need to raise their own children.  As foster parents you need to be ready to focus your energy and support in that direction, not in building your own family.  I still have to preach this to myself every single time a child enters my home and leaves my home. It is so hard to see past the complicated aspects of each situation to the broader picture. As a society we need to be focused on equipping parents to parent, not on removing children from their families and placing them in new ones. Adoption is a band-aid solution to the larger issue. There will never be enough homes for all the children living in vulnerable situations, but if we can equip parents to parent intuitively and responsibly we are starting to heal the huge tear in the walls of the family structure.     
  3. It will hurt.  Saying goodbye will always hurt.  Playing the part of the parent who stands in the gap will feel uncomfortable.  Watching a child go through painful transitions will leave you helpless.  Hearing your child’s story will tear you apart and make you feel anger and pain and fear like you’ve never felt before.  Loving another parent’s child will hurt.  What you will quickly discover, however, is that your hurt quickly pales in comparison to the hurt experienced by your foster child and their biological family.  Their hurt will become your motivation to love, protect, honor and keep doing the next thing.
  4. Trauma matters.  Children who enter your home through foster care have always experienced trauma of some kind and will need to be parented differently as a result of this.  You need to understand how trauma, even prenatal trauma,  impacts a child’s neurological, physical, emotional and spiritual health.  This is crucial.  It cannot be a side thing.  This knowledge of trauma must be the foundation of your parenting philosophy with these children.  So do the research, find the facts and adjust your expectations accordingly.
  5. It will take time to feel like you love them.  Sure, you may get that adrenaline rush of love and protection and passion when they first enter your arms, your home, your heart.  But it will quickly be followed by a feeling of fear and dismay and ‘what have I done?’  This child will be a stranger to you for the first while, and that is okay.  You will feel like a babysitter before you feel like a parent.  Then one day you will wake up and realize you would die for this child and that you cannot remember what it was like without them in your life.  Don’t beat yourself up when you struggle to attach. They are dealing with the same challenge. Remember that and let it lead you toward compassionate responses.
  6. Know why you’re here.  Some people will love you and others will hate you for being involved in this system.  The opinions will come, sometimes when you least expect and often from those you did not ask.  They will have stories, warnings, accolades and flattery to offer you.  Learn to let them all slide off your back, both the love and the hate.  You know you’re not a hero and you know you’re not a villain.  The admiration of those looking in or the hate of those scarred by it are all irrelevant when it comes to you and your story.  You have made this decision based on many factors and their opinions are not one of them.  Know why you are in this and remind yourself of it often.
  7. You will never really be ready.  You won’t ever really be prepared to bring a stranger into your home or have a social worker tell you how to parent.  You will never really be ready to meet your child’s biological parent and calmly face their anger and hurt.  You will never really be ready to have your home, your family, your life and your past dissected by someone you hardly know to try to gain ‘approval’ from a system you barely understand and definitely don’t trust.  You will never really be ready to be spit on, kicked, screamed at and falsely accused.  You will never really be ready to hear the hard parts of their stories or find the words to explain heartbreak, abandonment, shame and abuse.  You will never really be ready to say goodbye to a child you have loved and fought for and protected.  Please don’t wait to be ready, and don’t be surprised when every last thing about foster care leaves you feeling like the breath just got snatched from your lungs.  Believe it or not, this is normal. 
  8. You don’t have to ride the roller coaster.  There will be highs and lows and promises and demands and fears and failures.  These emotions and words and desires can send you spiraling through loops, soaring on hope and crashing in despair.  Know that you do not have to take that ride!  You can be wise, and discerning and prayerful.  You can hold your heart close and your words in check.  You can take one day at a time and refuse to make promises you can’t keep.  This is not being jaded, this is guarding your heart in the best of ways.  Loving a child in foster care well requires a deep commitment to truth and a resolve to take only the step right in front of you.  It is so tempting to run ahead, join the blame and shame game or throw your hands up in frustration.  Stay the course and keep your heart safely moored to the One who can steady you.
  9. You will need support.  This might be your church family, your parents, your neighbours or your life group.  It might be therapists, teachers or doctors.  It doesn’t really matter who it is, it just matters that you have them.  People who see you and love both you and the children you bring into your home, unconditionally.  People who will babysit, listen to your frustrations and fears, encourage you to keep going and point out the flaws in your perspective.  People who will tell you when to take a break and support you when you say yes anyway.  You are going to need people you can share the hard stuff with and know that it’s not going any further than their ears.  When the stories are hard, the day was long and the court dates are looming…you need someone to call.  Find your people.  Not only will you need them, but the children you bring into your home will be richly blessed by having a community around them.        
  10. There will be easy days. I know, after all that I just said this feels a little odd and unexpected. But it’s true. There will be days you forget that child is not your biological child or that they will one day leave your home. There will be days when the routines feel seamless and the love comes easy and it feels like a match made in heaven. There will be days they are regulated and calm and you can parent them the way you would parent a biological child. There will be days you look down and feel a love so deep it overwhelms you. There will be days that feel normal and predictable. These might be common or they might be that one in a million feeling, depending on the child and the circumstances. But they will come, I promise.          

Are you ready to say yes to this adventure of love and loss and grace? I would love to walk alongside you. Send me a message or email. It is hard but so worth it!

~AF