Being a foster parent comes with a lot of questions. So many that I have seriously entertained the idea of designing a t-shirt with responses to the top few and wearing it in public at all times. Some of these questions can come off as offensive and it’s true that people can be pretty nosey and invasive. But I have learned that while some folks could use a bit of work on being a tad less tacky in their delivery, the truth is that most people are just genuinely curious and don’t really mean to be insulting. They’ve probably thought about becoming a foster parent themselves and they are expressing some of their own personal reservations. So, I think this is the perfect time to flip the script and instead of acting annoyed or giving a short answer, we can view these moments as an opportunity to educate our family, friends, or the stranger behind us in the grocery store line.
The most common comment we hear about foster care is not a question at all. Our family has been fostering for 9 years now and hands down, the most common comment we hear about foster care is not a question at all and it goes something like this, “I could never foster. There’s no way I could give them back.” Ouch! This was tough to hear the first several times. I felt like people must think foster parents are cold-hearted humans and our homes have revolving doors through which children come and go and no one is any worse for the wear. The reality is that it is painful. It’s a loss. There are lots of tears and prayers. There is fear and grief – all the stages. The heartache is deep and long-lasting. But I am here to testify that my family has a 100% survival rate! The truth is we can give them back. We will never be the same, but we will be okay. We will be okay because we serve a God who not only walks beside us in our suffering, He is a Father that understands our loss completely. We will be okay because we have been blessed to be a part of God’s plan for a child’s life. We will be better than okay because what we are doing is changing the course of a child’s life and making an eternal difference. Will it be hard? Yes. A child is always worth doing the hard things. So, when I am faced with a comment like, “It would be too hard to give them back”, I respond by saying, “Then you are exactly what these kids need.” They need parents who will love them so completely that they grieve deeply when they leave our homes. Instead of asking what it will mean for us if we do foster, we should be asking what it will mean for the 450,000 kids in the US foster care system if we don’t.
The line of questioning may continue. When venturing out with your crew, you might hear something like, “Are they all yours?” or even, “Which ones are your real kids?”. Questions like these are more common than you think and a confident answer will help your kids feel secure about their place in your family. When it comes to strangers, I like to keep it short and sweet. A simple smile and a “They’re all mine” is recommended. Otherwise, the line of questioning may continue, causing things to become really awkward for everyone, especially your kids. If someone seems genuinely interested, you could hand them a Nightlight business card and say something like “Here’s some contact information if you want to learn more about growing your family through foster care and adoption. It is so important to be prepared with a quick response for questions like these so you’re not stumbling over your words.
Those closest to us often ask the most difficult questions. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve heard, “Is their mom on drugs?” While this is absolutely none of their business, it is an excellent opportunity to educate. In this case, you can still respond without divulging and personal or confidential information. Let them know that the reasons why kids come into care vary, but the bottom line is that it’s currently not safe for the child to live with their biological parents.
“Are you going to adopt him/her?” Unless you have indeed moved into the adoption phase of the process, then you probably don’t know the answer to this. You could simply say, “We will see what God has planned for our family.” the line of questioning may continue you could elaborate a little more and explain how the process works and even go into detail about where your family is in the process.
“Why don’t you just stop fostering?” Yikes! This is a tough one that we have heard from a couple of well-meaning loved ones. This question might come if you’ve been venting about your struggles or maybe those close to you have witnessed you grappling with difficult circumstances first-hand. If you’re anything like me, you might be tempted to respond in a defensive way. But, understanding that questions like this usually come from a place of love and concern will help you to respond with grace. Parenting is tough, foster or not. It's not an option to just quit being a parent. Parenting kids from hard places adds another challenging layer and things can get really messy sometimes. When this happens, we can use the opportunity to remind ourselves and our loved ones why we do what we do - These kids are always worth it! I suggest thinking through all the ways you’ve been blessed by foster care and maybe even writing them down. If you are concerned loved ones aren’t believers, this is an amazing opportunity to share your faith and the example of love that God has set for us. If they are believers, then they know that following Christ is not about things being easy. Your reliance on Him could serve to strengthen the faith of others.
These are just a few of the most common questions that foster parents hear. But there will be plenty more. Although these inquisitive people can sometimes test our patience, remember that God has placed them in our paths for a reason. So, before you speak, ask God to direct your words and allow Him to use you. Let your light shine for His glory!
by Leesa Del Rio