This is definitely not a simple question to answer. Every person who has fostered will have their own opinions on this. This is often not an easy “yes” or “no” answer. I think most people who have fostered would say there are pros and cons to fostering. And while I agree with that, if I had to choose between yes and no, I would say yes, I am glad I became a foster parent.
In our years of fostering, we have opened our home to between 20 and 40 children. Some children were with us just a few days, while others were here for a few years. We were able to legally adopt two of the children we fostered. We have expanded our family, and I cannot imagine my life without the children we have in it. This includes our children, as well as the children we fostered for any amount of time. With each case, you learn something new. No two situations are the same, and each can teach you something if you are willing to learn; just as no two children are the same, and each child you encounter needs different things. I have learned that treating a child “fairly” is not the same as treating children “equally.” Not all children respond in the same ways, nor do they behave in the same ways. While one child may respond to reward systems, another may not. I have learned that the fair thing to do is to treat children in a way that works for them, which may be different than what works for another child. This is true in all families with more than one child, although I really learned this lesson while fostering.
Becoming a foster parent will undoubtedly change your life. You will learn about yourself and your family. You will learn who is a friend when going through tough times, and who is just there when things are going good. Your patience will be tested in ways you could not have conceived of, and you will find the strength you didn’t know you had. There will be times when you feel broken and unsure of your decisions. There will be other times when you couldn’t imagine doing anything but opening your home to these children who need a safe place to land. You may feel both in the same day! Some days are more challenging than others, but as a whole, I think the journey is worth the outcome.
As a foster parent, I didn’t realize how much you would truly fall in love with some of the children. Some kids feel so much like your own that when they leave your home you feel a tremendous loss. There is a very real grieving process, and grieving has no time frame. Even today, I can think about some of our “lost” children and be pulled into feeling the loss so freshly that it can feel hard to breathe.
I am glad I was a foster parent because it helped me grow my family. Not only was I able to adopt, but some of the kids who went back home are still part of our lives. One of my former kids recently had a baby, and I was able to visit her at the hospital. What a privilege to be invited into such a special time of her life. I also feel incredibly blessed that I will be on the list of people she will ask to babysit for her sweet baby. We are still connected to each other; we are still family.
I also felt honored to help a former placement track down her birth family, and reunite with her birth mom. We waited until she was over the age of 18, and then we began the search together. I was able to find her and pass along her contact information. They have since been united and are forming a great bond. It is a wonderful feeling to be a part of such an incredible life journey of a child who seemed to be chosen for us to help randomly.
I was able to literally save a life. We fostered a child who needed hospital care and strict aftercare. Doctors clearly told us that the care we were providing had literally saved the child from dying. This was a major news story, and it received national attention. This was difficult to deal with and made it really hard to hear people talking about the case when we were in public places, having no idea that the child we had with us was the child from the news. Even though I wanted desperately to have the child remain with us, she did not. But, if presented with the opportunity again, I would agree to feel that overwhelming loss of a child I loved deeply to know that we were able to save her life and make her chance at growing up possible.
Foster parenting is trauma for us, and trauma for kids too. But I feel like it is so worth all that you learn, all the growth you experience, and even the heartache you learn to process. In the end, I think fostering has made me a much stronger person, and kinder. I try to resist judging people, since I do not know their whole story. When I see a mom struggling with her 8-year-old child, holding their hand as she walks, clearly angry while the child yells and screams that they are being hurt, I can relate. I no longer judge that mom and wonder if she is really hurting her child as she walks in frustration at the scene they are causing. I have now been that mom, dealing with a child who has some behavioral issues, who screams in public and causes a scene. I know I am not squeezing his hand to hurt him, even though I am angry and my face shows it. Strangers may believe that my facial expressions back up the child’s screaming that I am being unfair. Really, I am just embarrassed and frustrated. I can now sympathize with other parents in those types of situations since I have been there.
I can also sympathize with the mom who is running late because there are so many appointments to keep straight. I can sympathize with the mom who is standing in line using coupons or government aide to buy food and formula. I feel empathy rather than irritation. I recognize that I do not know the full story, and it is not my place to question what is happening in their lives or to jump to conclusions. I would like to think I would have come to this conclusion on my own as I aged and matured, but I do believe fostering helped me grow more rapidly than if I hadn’t fostered. Fostering definitely opens your eyes to the world around you and helps you to feel more empathy for others.
We have had several children reach out to us years after we were a part of their lives. That is such a heartwarming moment, to receive a message or call, and know they think of us as fondly as we think of them. It is nice to know that they realize they can count on us for help and support if needed years later. There is a bond of trust.
I have encountered some negative scars from fostering. Mild anxiety has become more of a problem in my life. I have started needing medication to help deal with my anxious feelings. I have found myself feeling angry toward “the system” for allowing parents to reunite and parent children “good enough” rather than doing an honestly good job. Standards do not often meet the requirements we would like to see. Often, homes just need to meet basic standards and be considered “safe.” Safe isn’t the same as a loving and stable home.
Another difficult part of fostering is the feeling of living in a “glass house.” There are social workers in and out of your home regularly, and so much of your lives becomes documented that it feels a bit like living for all the world to see and judge. When you need to ask permission to take kids in for haircuts, or to routine doctor or dentist appointments, you sometimes feel like you are just an employee doing a job. Parents of the children often think you make decisions about visitation schedules and times, and they direct anger at you for things beyond your control. You seem to be the enemy. In reality, you really are an ally to the family, trying your best to help them through tough times.
I didn’t realize how much I would really want to help some of the parents. I thought I would be faced with abused and neglected children, and that I would wish I could adopt them all and see all their families in jail. That isn’t the truth though. Fostering is always about reunification as the primary goal, with adoption being a secondary option if needed. And I was surprised to find that I wanted to see most of the children in my care reunited with their parents. I wanted to see these families succeed. Helping the parents succeed was the best way to help the children too. In fostering kids, I also took on the role of a mentor to many parents. I would give advice, and try to help them do the things needed to regain placement of their children.
In taking on this extra role, and helping guide parents to make better choices, it sometimes formed bonds with those parents. I have made lifelong friendships with entire families that started with the placement of a child in my home. These are friendships I likely would not have made had I not fostered but that I am so glad to have and maintain now.
One thing I did wish I had as a foster parent was more support. I wish there had been more places to vent frustrations and learn coping methods. Support groups were not available in my area and would have required me to drive an hour from home. With the hectic schedule of the kids and household, I often didn’t have three hours to devote to myself to go to a group. I also learned that support for parents who are struggling can be limited. I learned that some parents ask for help, but they cannot afford help until their children end up in foster care and then they can be provided the services they were seeking. It seems a bit wrong for that to be the case, and it was a real eye-opener for me. Resources need to be more readily available to everyone.
The biggest reason I am glad I was a foster parent is that I learned a lesson that is pretty much my motto now:
“Being a family does not always mean being related, and being related does not always mean you are family.”
I am not related to my younger kids, but they are my family, and I am their mother. I am also family to many kids that I temporarily parented through fostering. And, while I may be related to some people, our morals and values make them relatives but not family. It is okay to separate the two and treat them accordingly. I do hope that someday the laws catch up to this way of thinking, and stop giving priority to relatives when looking for homes for children placed in foster care. If a child is with a family for an extended period of time, they should not be removed from the placement to go live with a relative that they do not know simply because they are related. Bonds ought to be considered as the primary factor in placing a child long term or in adoptive settings. I have seen kids removed from homes they are thriving in and bonded with for long periods of time, and then placed with relatives they have never even met.
I also hope that all the children we have met on our fostering journey know that they are always a part of our family, even though we may not be related. We are always here to help and guide you.
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Jennifer is a mother to 3 children (one biological, two adopted). She is also a mom to numerous pets. She enjoys volunteering in her children’s classroom, reading, and crafting in her spare time. She has been married for almost 15 years.