Should you become a foster or adoptive parent?
While I can’t tell you what’s right for your family, our story may help you.
Sometimes we need to jump in over our heads simply because God asks us to. That’s what happened to us a few years ago when we unexpectedly became foster parents.
Becoming Foster Parents
This is the very short version of our adoption history. We had seven children by birth, adopted three from Ethiopia, adopted one more from Ethiopia. Adoption rocked our world and took us on a journey like nothing we could have imagined.
Even after parenting for twenty years, taking classes, reading books and preparing in all the ways we knew, nothing could have prepared us for the impact our children’s early trauma had on our family.
We struggled – a lot.
And we loved – a lot.
Then we faced a devastating tragedy. Russ and I were in a car accident with our daughter, Kalkidan, and she didn’t survive. We were plunged into grief and pain.
I spent many months recovering from physical injuries. The recovery of our hearts continues.
Two years after our accident I started a ministry at my church for foster families. I thought we might foster some day; maybe when we’d recovered more from our loss and our family felt whole again. For now, I wanted my church to become engaged with caring for vulnerable children.
Then I got a call from a caseworker asking if we could take a teen girl for one respite night. We figured we could handle that.
One night became two, and two nights became two weeks. There were no foster families in our community open to a teen at the time and we learned she would be placed nearly two hours away. This meant a greater distance from her family and a third new high school.
Our hearts were stirred. We weren’t ready – in fact, we were scared.
In our adoptions, we’d walked through some deep, dark places. Our family was doing better and we didn’t want to put our children through any more suffering, especially as a result of our choices.
And besides, we were grieving; grief was sometimes exhausting and even cruel.
Then there was Zoe with her own very hard story, her own losses and grief. Yet, she seemed to fit in and we felt comfortable with her. She was a real person, not a theoretical foster youth. She sat at our table, laughed with the other kids, and let me teach her how to cook dinner.
Amazingly, it turned out that after years of doing intense therapeutic parenting with some of our children, Zoe didn’t require parenting at that level. I remembered what it felt like to be a regular mom doing a decent job.
I’m not saying it was a complete breeze. The foster care learning curve was steep.
Who were all of these workers and what were their jobs? How and where did visits happen? Who made decisions for Zoe? Me? Her mom? Her social worker?
When we had our home study, I didn’t even realize that’s what was happening. I had no idea what I was doing.
The foster parent training classes took time we didn’t have. But if we wanted to keep Zoe in our family – and we did, we were required to participate in 27 hours of training. Thankfully, the classes were good and we enjoyed the other foster parents.
Surprises in Foster Care
The biggest surprise was the relationship we formed with Zoe’s family. Somehow I thought foster parents were anonymous to kids’ families. While that’s essential when the family is dangerous to the child, it wasn’t necessary in our case. We got to know them over many months. Her family has been in our home and we’ve been in theirs. We’ve met grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Her brothers borrow tools for their cars on occasion and one of them cooked dinner for us a few weeks ago.
Unexpectedly, we navigated questions of adoption and guardianship. We learned it’s not straightforward with a teen, especially one with a big family who loves her.
Based on the number of months Zoe had already been in foster care, we thought that two-week stay might extend to six months.
It’s been 2 1/2 years. If there’s anything I’ve learned, foster care is full of uncertainty.
This month Zoe turns 18. We thought she would stay until she graduated in June, but she’s made a plan to share an apartment with her brothers. She’s ready to be with her family. While I have lots of conflicting emotions, she’ll always be part of our family too.
Besides, she’s only moving two miles away.
I’m not sure how to commemorate this transition or what our role will be in her future. But she’s let us know we’d better finish building the new patio in time for her graduation party.
The Big Question
This leads me back to the beginning of this story and the big question.
Do I think we should always jump in and say “yes” when a need comes our way?
No, I don’t. We need to be wise.
Consider the needs of the children already in your home. Their safety and well-being always come first. We had two weeks with Zoe to get to know her and feel as sure as we could that this would work.
Your marriage matters too. Those of us loving and caring for vulnerable children often have tender hearts. If our marriages fail under the weight of saying “yes” too many times, everyone suffers.
Be wise. Listen well. Pray, a lot.
Then when God tells you to leap – jump high and far with all your strength. He knows where you’ll land.
Since writing this, Zoe turned 18 and did move into an apartment with her brothers. She is graduating from high school this Friday and we’re hosting her graduation party.
It’s been a beautiful journey.
Courage and hope, my friends.