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

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Why we choose to work in an imperfect system

People talk about the foster care system being “broken.” Some use this as a reason to not get involved or to walk away after having been involved.

There are times that it can be frustrating. We foster through the state, and, in general, we have had a good experience, especially within our circuit where we work with people we have built relationships with. Once, though, we took a placement from a different county/circuit and we beat our heads against the wall trying to get one of the kids the help they needed.

Frustrating as it was, I don’t like to use the word “broken” when it comes to the foster system. Instead, let’s call it imperfect. There are things that need improved, but there are also many good things. That’s life when you have people, who genuinely care about children, their families, and our families, having to work under the guidance of politicians in state capitols.

Even though the system is imperfect and frustrating at times, we choose to work within it for one main reason: There will always be children in need of a safe and loving home.

The system is imperfect and the world is imperfect. If the latter were not the case, there would be no need for the “system” to exist. Yet, people make bad choices. Life throws curve balls and we don’t always know how to react. People get caught in cycles of neglect and abuse and struggle to break free. And many times children are involved, hurting and confused.

If we stepped away because the system is imperfect, certain things are frustrating, or some decisions leave us scratching our heads, then that would mean one less home for children to find safety and love until they can return to parents (etc.) who have learned to provide safety and love afresh and in healthier ways.

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It Takes a Village

We couldn’t do it by ourselves.

Foster care is hard enough on it’s own. You welcome strangers into your home that you open your heart to before you even meet them. You have meetings with case workers and licensing workers and Family Support Teams (or whatever they’re called where you’re from). In addition to the appointments every child has, you have to take kids to family visits, get them ready for weekend stays, and deal with the emotional rollercoaster when they return. Often, because of the trauma the children have faced, you have to take them to therapy appointments as well.

All parenting takes work. Let’s not minimize that of any family, whether they have one child or a dozen. Foster parenting, however, has its unique challenges.

And I am thankful for the support that we have through our family, friends, and church.

When children come into our home, they’re not simply gaining us as foster parents. Our families love them the best they can for the season they are with us. They gain foster grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins. Family and friends often ask us what we need. Our church family, too, who welcomes them with open arms.

If you’re counted among family, friends, and church, know that we could not do it without you.

But, we have heard stories from others. We know that not every foster parent receives the same level of support from those close to them. So, I want to issue this challenge:

Maybe you feel like you’re not meant to foster. There’s nothing wrong with that, God gifts and calls us each to different good works and acts of service in life. But if you know someone who does foster–a friend, a family member, a neighbor, a coworker, a fellow church member, etc., then be a support for them.

Pray for them. Encourage them. Offer to help–there’s always laundry, cleaning, and homework that need done and meals that need prepared. Maybe even consider becoming a respite provider. A respite provider is someone who is approved by a foster agency or state to watch foster kids for a few days. It can give foster parents a needed break since, often, they can’t leave their foster children with friends or family to take a trip, like we often do with biological children.

If you know a foster family, know that they need your love and support in the unique challenges they face. They can’t do it on their own.

We all need a village.

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