"I’m not sure.” “Maybe?” “I hope so!” “Probably.” “As soon as possible.” These are just a few of the endless answers that push our foster (and adoptive) families to learn “the art of flexibility.” But is there such a thing?
When preparing foster families for the foster journey, we talk a lot about being “flexible.” Typically, we are referring to the ability to go with the flow or survive mental gymnastics. Sometimes “flexible” means “expect a rollercoaster and try your best to be a good sport.” Some people find this simpler than others because they are naturally easygoing, and others are adventurous and brave. The people who find flexibility less natural are the ones who plan and organize and have their minds firmly set on achieving a specific outcome.
Many times, those less flexible people are the ones who become foster parents. They are so deeply committed to caring for vulnerable children that they complete the strenuous paperwork, the training, and the home study process. And the more naturally flexible people become foster parents too! But even they become less easy-going once their hearts are deeply invested in the well-being of the foster children in their home.
So, it’s safe to say being flexible in foster parenting is hard. The good news is it doesn’t have to come naturally; it can be taught and learned!
First, you have to assess motivation and expectations.
As I mentioned, a lot of foster parents are motivated by fierce compassion and a desire to help vulnerable children and families. So simply said, maybe [helping] is the motivation.
Unfortunately, that motivation can be easily suffocated by the whiplash of the foster care rollercoaster. When you’re constantly facing unanswered questions, vague timelines, and injustices that leave you feeling helpless, your spirit grows weary. Any reserve of “flexibility” you had has been wrung dry.
However, when your motivation transforms into [contributing to God’s Kingdom] by way of fostering, you’ll find that your source of strength to persevere is a well that never dries up. You’ll learn that flexibility is a skill He’s teaching you not just for the good of the children in your home, but for the good of your relationship with Christ and His glory. This, my friends, is the true goal of a rich, lovely, and well-spent life.
So if you’re expecting (even subconsciously) a guaranteed specific outcome, like reunification or adoption, or a determined amount of time before you have to say goodbye, the answer is almost always “TBD.” Or it’s vague or hidden from your view…which is why flexibility is one of the most crucial aspects of a foster parent’s character.
But if you’re willing to set your hopes on a general outcome (as a flexible person would), I believe you might just avoid the crash-and-burn exhaustion and be able to stick with fostering for the long haul.
So, how do you learn flexibility?
As with physical flexibility, foster parent flexibility comes with practice, patience, and experience, which is usually uncomfortable and sometimes painful. Recently, a wise friend reminded me that being flexible in foster care is something you may just have to learn the hard way.
But for those of us who like to prepare and not just jump in the deep end, you can start by developing emotional, mental, and spiritual skills to become more malleable and content.
Some tangible preparation might be going to individual or marriage counseling to consider the anxiety and fear controlling you. Or it might be taking up kickboxing, so you can release all of your frustrations. It might be a guided meditation. Or any number of small self-care skills as long as they lead to you thinking more clearly.
More than anything, I recommend preparing spiritually by continuously setting your mind on things above (Col. 3:2-4; 2 Cor. 4:16-18) by surrendering your life to Jesus, and trusting Him to run the universe, direct your community, and love your foster child way better than you can. As believers, we can look to countless stories from the global body of Christ to remind ourselves that walking with God requires open hands and a pliable spirit. This mindset will help us trust our Savior and Provider with the lack of consistency (aka the “hot mess”) we experience during the foster care journey and lean into God’s steadfast, unbending character instead. Also, don’t overlook the routine familiar habits: reading the Bible, memorizing scripture, prayer, journaling, and getting coffee with a good friend!
We know that we won’t master flexibility in foster care or in life. But, we can take these baby steps each day to teach our soul dependence on God and the joy of being clay in our Father’s hands. “And yet, O Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay, and you are the potter. We are all formed by your hand” (Isaiah 64:8, NLT).
Long story short, if you firmly set your mind on trusting something that is guaranteed and anchored absolutely, which is God’s design and plan, then you can learn over time how to quiet your frenzied mind (Phil. 4:6-7). Then those frustrations (like the permanency plan changing, again, the caseworker not calling you back, or your foster child displaying behaviors you weren’t prepared for) won’t seem so loud compared to the sweet sound of God leading the way.
Maybe then you can bask in the freedom of being flexible. But don't get too comfortable. He likes to keep us on our toes …we can’t lose sight of the Prize!
Inspired by Jamie Finn’s book Foster the Family; check it out for more encouragement and wisdom!