May is National Foster Care Awareness Month. What does that mean? It means consider getting informed about the 400,000 children in foster care in the U.S. today. Kids who have experienced difficulties in their birth families need someone like you. You might enjoy it so much you decide to adopt. While the goal of all foster care is to reunite children with their biological families, a sad statistic is that 65% of foster children age out of foster care at eighteen to no one, no family, no anchor to call home.
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What is it like to be a foster parent?
Okay, here is the truth. You have to be a little crazy (which by definition is a merger between brave and awesome, in my opinion) to be a foster parent. Here is the job description. First, you must open your beautiful home–that happens to have an empty guest bedroom–to a child who has been abused or abandoned somehow by a biological parent.
This child will be between brand spanking newborn and 18-years-old. Foster parents do not get much of a courtship. Personally, I got a full 20-minute visit 24-hours before accepting the challenge to foster and adopt both of my children. It is closer to a meet and greet; then BOOM you are a foster parent. Since the twenty-minute meet and greet, I have lived with my children for 18 years.
Ahead of time, foster parents attend classes to learn how to parent children from difficult beginnings. Unfortunately, it is probably not just like how you raised your own. Your home will be safety proofed, inspected, and you will be fingerprinted. In the course of certification, you may endure feelings of being a criminal yourself because of all the scrutiny. I sure did, but no one intends for that to happen.
Finally, the day comes when a child crosses your threshold with a grocery bag stuffed with clothes and a few toys (maybe). You may endure fear, anxiety, and anticipation about building a relationship, but that is the easy part. You will likely find you are made for the job.
Okay, I can’t resist telling a Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride story. The first year my foster-to-adopt daughter came home to me, I got an exasperated call from her 2nd grade teacher requesting, Parent conference please!
This was the situation. My 7-year-old had convinced her 45-year-old sweet teacher that she needed 30 hugs and a piece of gum every day before she could sit down and concentrate. To my dismay her teacher had accepted this deal with my little angel, and for two whole months dutifully complied until Mrs. Z started to feel just a little manipulated. Ha, try a little extorted!
My daughter is a survivor of extreme abuses and abandonment in her first three years of life. Her instinct to control her world would take many years to resolve; however, the stories I can tell now around the Thanksgiving dinner table (as the kids do really grow up) are priceless. Mom, tell [my friend] Zach about the time when I… It is truly funny now.
Along the foster care path, you will have more meetings with school personnel, social workers, and counselors than you every imagined possible. You will also spend some incredible moments connecting, caring, and helping to heal the broken heart of a child. Then, one day, that very same child may go back home. You will grieve the loss.
Truth is, you need to have a big enough heart and nerves of steel to do this foster parent/foster child/foster-to-adopt dance over and over again. Funny thing, the job will get under your skin in the end. You will begin to find the beauty in giving your love away to children who desperately need it. That is the gift back to you for all of your efforts. Not a bad paycheck, when you think about it. Happy National Foster Care Awareness Month.
Ce Eshelman, LMFT is the author of Drowning With My Hair On Fire: Insanity Relief For Adoptive Parents, an adoptive parent of two, and an attachment specialist in Sacramento, CA. Get more information at: www.wisdomforadoptiveparents.com.