The last couple weeks have been hard. Three months into our first foster care assignment, ugly attitudes have crept into my heart uninvited. I’ve worked to fight it—the “my four and no more” mindset (except in my case it’s five.) But as I struggle to parent this little boy who feels every bit mine one minute and like a stranger the next, negative feelings threaten to win. So, I’m doing some assessment. It’s time for an evaluation of the losses and gains of being a foster parent, and I hope you’ll read to the end for the results.
First, let’s look at some of the losses.
Patience: I’ve felt like a failure recently, not being able to keep my cool with a toddler who seems to have learned how to push my buttons. Emotionally, I’m not handling the constant meltdowns and tantrums well. It doesn’t matter that I’ve already parented three two-year-olds or that I have trauma-informed parenting skills now. It’s still hard. And the added stress of a fourth child has made me less patient with my other three, and sometimes with my husband.
Privacy: One of the most difficult things about foster care, for us, is the never-ending schedule of meetings; having people constantly checking on us and asking questions about every aspect of our lives. The licensing process was the hardest. Our home was inspected multiple times. We laid out every detail of our personal finances and provided complete medical histories for every person in our house. We were required to write about how we got along with members of our family growing up, our parents’ relationship with one another, and how we dealt with the most challenging events in our lives. And we had to share it all with strangers. Now that we have a placement, we have a minimum of two meetings per month, one of which has to be in our home. And though it’s probably not true, I always feel like I’m being judged on the amount of clutter in my house or the dog hair we try so hard to get out of the couch.
Peace: We almost had it made. Our kids were old enough that we could turn on a movie for them and take a twenty minute nap on a Sunday afternoon without worrying. Our children no longer cried when they couldn’t have ice cream for dinner or screamed because they wanted to put shoes on by themselves. Before a few months ago, I could sit and listen to an entire church service, undistracted. Now I’m grateful to make it through the singing, forget about the sermon. And sleeping through the night? That’s just a fond memory. Foster parenting has meant loss of the peace we were beginning to enjoy.
Now, let’s look at some of the gains of foster parenting.
Laughs: The little boy in our care is silly and fun, and he makes us laugh constantly. He loves to get a reaction out of us, and knows how to be a comedian to get it. In the stresses of day-to-day life, his laughter and the laughs he brings are blessings of refreshment.
Love: I’ve loved our foster son since very early in the process. Probably by the second day, he had my heart. The way he blows kisses to me and wraps his little arms around my neck just makes my heart swell. He knows how to show love. And we feel it from him every day. The love our three children have for him is phenomenal, and he reciprocates. Love grew in our house when little man entered our lives, and we place great value on that.
Life Lessons: I’m glad to be able to teach my children about sacrificing for others. The life lessons they are gaining from this experience will hopefully shape their behavior and attitudes as adults. Foster parenting teaches them that we love all people, including the ones that look different from us; that we should be compelled to care for those who can’t care for themselves; and, that an act of love is worth hardship, every time. And my husband and I are learning, too. We’re learning more how to rely on God when things are difficult and to praise Him more when things are easy. We’re learning to trust Him with unknowns and uncertainty. Foster parenting is teaching us many life lessons.
Loss of patience, privacy, and peace. Gains of laughs, love, and life lessons. Now that I’ve laid out a few things to consider, can you tell which way the scale is tipped? Is the bad worse than the good is good? We’re fond of saying that love conquers all, but does that automatically mean the gains are weightier because we love this child?
The truth is, the gains don’t outweigh the losses. The losses don’t outweigh the gains. They aren’t balanced and can’t be measured, because there is no scale. Our heavenly calling crushes the scale and renders the entire argument moot. My family has been called to foster care, and by my interpretation, all believers are called in some capacity. Isaiah 1:17 (ESV) says, “Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow's cause.” Hebrews 13:16 (ESV) says, “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” It doesn’t matter if it’s easy or difficult, or if we feel like we're winning or losing. Our mandate to love others as Jesus loves (John 15:12) overrules any idea of gain or loss. It doesn’t matter if it makes us happy or if it makes us sad. What matters is that it’s right. Taking care of and loving an innocent child that has no one else, is the right thing. No more weighing it out.
Update: This post was started a few weeks ago. Since then, we’ve had great improvements in behaviors and how we deal with them. What’s most important is that all along, our little man has been happy and healthy. We thank God for him.
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