Ordinary people can make
“How do you manage?”
“I could never cope.”
Those who noticed how my family’s numbers fluctuated by one or two, and sometimes four, were startled by our willingness to add extras.
My husband and I fostered for nearly 45 years. Our oldest two daughters were adopted from foster care, then six other children were born to us, one more was adopted, and 40 others rotated through the family.
Our fostering experiences ranged from babies handed to us on street corners, through runaways showing up on our doorstep, to the special needs home we ran until we became too old and tired.
Through the years, we’ve watched hungry, neglected kids heal and change in dramatic ways. We changed, too, and so did our “permanent” children. We learned gratitude for material, spiritual and emotional blessings—things we often took for granted. More than any other factor, I believe our family’s foster parenting experiences helped shape our children into strong, caring members of society.
Fostering is a relatively easy way for ordinary people to do something about our disintegrating world. The rewards we found far outweighed the drawbacks. Yet, today what we did is still often viewed as insanity or saintliness.
The comments I received whenever I brought up the subject of fostering often centered on a desire not to be inconvenienced. This desire not to be inconvenienced actually means that the person doesn’t want to take the emotional risk that comes with bringing a vulnerable child into his or her home.
How Can You Give Them Up?
The worry I heard over and over was “I’d get too attached. It would hurt too much when they had to go home.”
My reaction to such reasoning was “What an odd attitude!” Love always means becoming vulnerable to hurt. Human beings, at their best, love without condition. And sometimes that love can hurt.
I remember one little boy, Greg, just seven. He and his baby brother, Brad, two, spent nearly a year with us. They were both so neglected I had to burn their clothes and bathe them three times before the stench faded. I lost my heart to Greg, with his sweet, elfin face and bright brown eyes. He hovered over his brother and was never happier than when Brad achieved some new milestone: potty training, a new word, etc.
At first the boys’ mother enjoyed the absence of responsibility and bother. But, once she realized the welfare checks which funded her drinking were based on Greg and Brad being under her care, she fought to get them back. The social workers resisted, because her neglect had been so pervasive and long term. But she finally prevailed and the boys went home to her.
My first reaction to their imminent departure was depression. Both kids had bloomed while with our family. Greg barely knew his alphabet when he came to us but was promoted to a second-grade reader within three weeks. Brad could barely walk and never uttered a sound; by the time two months had passed, he ran everywhere and had a vocabulary of more than 100 words. So, I put my depression aside and redoubled my efforts to give them skills to contradict negative situations they’d likely encounter.
When I think about those two, my heart still aches. But I’m not sorry they came into our lives; I just hope their time in our family insulated them somewhat and helped them grow up happy. I don’t know where they are or if their being with us made a difference to them, but I know it made a difference to me and to my family. I’m at peace because we did something. Sometimes, it seems as if there’s so much wrong in the world that what one person or family can do seems like bailing a sinking ship with a tea spoon.
However, I believe the foster care system is a most profound way ordinary people can make a positive contribution to society
Besides grey hair and jangled nerves, I developed my capacity to love and strengthened my patience. While I didn’t love my foster children the same way I loved my birth and adopted children, I had the satisfaction of knowing I’d made a difference.
Isn’t making a difference the best reason for living, anyway? Search your soul; consider your situation. Decide whether or not you’ve arrived at a point where you can save one child from neglect or abuse. Then call the social services agency in your community or the Foster Care Foundation at 877-505-KIDS. You’ll reap rewards of eternal significance, and you’ll become a better person.