A Letter to My Son about Being a Foster Brother

Dear H,

I joke sometimes: I don’t know if he’s our first child or our sixth. You see, before you existed your mom and I decided that we wanted to be foster parents. We want to provide a safe and loving home for children in need for a season until it’s safe for them to return to their own home. Before you were born, we were foster parents to five other children; and we plan to be again.

This means that as you grow up, there will be other kids who come and go. Some may be with us for a short time, some for a long time, and some, if the need arises, might become permanent members of our family–adopted brothers or sisters.

The thing about being a foster parent is that you get attached, even though the children aren’t technically yours. But they live with you and you provide for them. You read them stories at night, give them hugs when they need it, and help them with homework. As a foster parent, you walk that fine line of loving a child unconditionally who needs your love while knowing that, if things work as they should, they will one day leave your home to return to theirs.

So, in a way, though they are not biologically related to you and there’s no guarantee you’ll meet them in person, you have had five brothers and sisters in your life before you, even though at the moment you are an only child.

That might confuse you, but that’s okay. Being a foster family brings whole new layers to this thing called family.

But as you grow and as other children come and go there are some things that I hope you learn and discover by being a foster brother.

I hope you learn to value people as people. The children who are in foster care are there through no fault of their own. Their parents, or others who have raised them, often love their children deeply but have, at times, let other things get in the way of expressing that love in safe and appropriate ways. Each person involved is an individual living in a world that is not the way it should be. Our place is to play our part in helping to correct that brokenness.

It doesn’t matter the situation or who the people are, they need someone to show them love, to value them as a fellow human being, and to seek their best. Yes, that means on our end feeling the sting of loss when reunification happens, but we do it because people matter and families matter.

I hope you grow to have deep love and compassion for others. I won’t pretend there aren’t personal benefits and happy emotions that come from getting to be a “dad-for-a-season” to others. I gain from our work in foster care. However, at the core, fostering is not about what we gain but what we give.

To do things right, you have to grow in love and compassion. When children come into your home, there’s hurt and confusion. Depending on their life situation, they may need years of professional help to untangle the web of hurts and emotions. They sometimes don’t know how to love or be loved in healthy ways. Yet, such love is the very thing their young hearts need.

It’s easy to be cynical in this world but the world needs more love. Opening our hearts and homes to children in need expands that love in us and I hope it does in you as well.

I hope you learn to live in faith and not fear. Not every situation is good. Hurt people hurt others, the saying goes; and sometimes people who have been severely hurt and traumatized can hurt themselves and others in ways beyond words and emotions. In this, there is a sense of danger to foster care. We’ve heard stories and we have some ourselves.

It would be easy to let fear win and say, “We have a child of our own, now, we don’t want to take the risk.” But there would still be children in need of a safe and loving home.

We didn’t become foster parents off a whim or because we thought it sounded fun. We did it, because we saw a need, and we felt God lead us to meet that need. Sometimes people say that being in the center of God’s will is the safest place you can be. I guess there’s times that’s true, but sometimes being in the center of God’s will is the most dangerous place you can be.

There are peaceful pastures and there are valleys of the shadow of death. That’s life. But believing that God has led us to be foster parents, we trust that he will be with us through the ups and downs, the joys and the hurts. Faith over fear, that is how we want to live, and that’s how I hope you learn to live as well.

So, H, whether your our first child or our sixth, you won’t be our last even if you end up being our only. Like I said, it’s confusing at times, but it has been worth it being foster parents and I hope you will say the same being a foster brother.

Love,

Dad

backlit blur boys brother
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A Story about Eggs (and how fostering pushes you out of your comfort zone)

I hate eggs.

To say otherwise would be an understatement. No matter how they’re cooked, outside of cake or cookie batter, they don’t taste good to me at all. Most people think this is weird–How can you not like eggs? They’re delicious and full of protein and all of that… But it doesn’t change the fact that I hate eggs.

On the second morning of our first foster placement, our foster son came downstairs after my wife had left for work. We had made pancakes for his first morning and his first day at his new school. The second morning, I asked him if there was anything he wanted for breakfast.

His reply: “A fried egg.”

Okay, sure, no problem. I have no experience frying eggs, but I’ll give it my best shot.

“I know how to fry them. And I can fry you one, too.”

What do you do when you hate eggs but your new, nine-year-old foster son says that he wants to fry you an egg? You get out two eggs, let him fry away, and do your best to enjoy it (with a lot of hot sauce to help cover up the taste).

Fostering upsets your expectations. It pushes you out of your comfort zone in more ways than one. Welcoming a stranger into your life to live with you for a period of time brings plenty of new experiences. Sometimes it even forces you to do things that you wouldn’t normally do (in a good way).

Embrace it. Learn from it. Grow from it. And eat a fried egg, even if deep down you really don’t want to. You may just find yourself coming out better because of it.

food breakfast egg milk
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Some Days You Get Punched in the Face

Rage.

We all deal with it to some extent. Different things enrage us, making us mad. We all handle it in various ways, too.

Just like our foster kids.

With some the rage is verbal. A child gets in trouble for the way he provoked another, and he ends up hiding under his bed yelling at you with tears, “You’re terrible people and I hate living here!” But then, some days you get punched in the face.

Some days you’re driving down the road and a child lets his anger fly along with his shoes as his feet pound the backs of the front seats. Then you pull the car into a parking lot, get in back with the child to keep him from running away while trying to calm him down. And when you reach over to keep him from escaping, he tries to bite you; when you pull back to keep from being bit, he throws punches; when you use your palm to absorb his punches, he tries to escape.

The rage continues. The cycle goes on. And he finally lands a fist to your lips. Fortunately the fists of a young kid don’t hurt that bad.

When the rage happens, in whatever form, you have to do your best to remain calm while also trying to protect yourself, the child, and property. It’s not easy, but your calm will help them weather the storm back to their calm.

Many foster kids have learned to be guarded as a defense mechanism. One of our foster sons, in a rare moment of vulnerability, told us that he almost always feels angry on the inside.

That’s what abuse and abandonment does. These kids deal with many bad things in life and they often grow up robbed of healthy coping mechanisms. So, when they’re in your care they can have the same sweet moments as many children, but they also have moments where the rage manifests in unhealthy ways.

Be their calm. Help them through. Remember that they need lots of love. Even on those days where they punch you in the face.

rear view of a boy sitting on grassland
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Boys will be boys (and will pass a lot of gas)

The day our first foster son arrived, it came with anticipation. We thought we were ready and prepared, but as the clock ticked down, my wife and I were hit with a wave of “we’re not ready!” One advantage we had was that this was a boy who had already been in two other foster homes, so he had had the experience of moving in with strangers.

I went and picked him up, and he talked to me some in the half-hour car ride home, but mostly he played on his computer and stared out the window. When we made it home, my wife had dinner prepared–spaghetti and garlic bread.

“Do you like spaghetti?”

He nodded his head.

Still, he merely picked at his food, tearing up at one point but fighting them back. “I’m not really hungry.” “That’s okay. We can save it for later.”

For a while he was stoic, not saying much, and showing little emotion outside those hidden tears. Then we carried his items upstairs to his new bedroom and asked if he wanted help unpacking. He nodded. Fifteen minutes passed, and we had most of his clothes put away. His toys would be next.

But he laid down on the floor like he wanted to take a break. Then it happened. A loud fart ripped through the air. We stared at him and he stared at us. A large smile crossed his nine-year-old face and he burst out laughing.

A few days later, and many more farts shared, my wife asked me in private, “Is this normal?” Yes, honey, it is. He’s a boy. I even told her that I thought that farting was his love language.

Kids don’t get placed into foster care “just because.” These kids have seen loss, abuse, drug use, and neglect. Each of our foster children have experienced far more in their young lives than anyone should. They will have wounds and scars that they carry in their hearts, minds, and souls for years if not life.

Yet, they are still children. Boys will be boys. Girls will be girls. And in the case of one of our sons, a lot of gas will be passed. That “still very much a kid” part is the part that we do our best to nurture, to help them begin to find what normalcy we can in the storm-tossed lives they have been forced into.