The Rewards of Foster Parenting
May 26, 2014 by Guest contributor
Post submitted by Derek in Missouri. Derek and his husband Justin share their story of becoming foster parents through an agency called Midwest Foster Care and Adoption Association, an HRC-recognized Leader in Supporting and Serving LGBT Families based in Independence, MO.
My husband, Justin, and I always knew we wanted to grow our family.
We always heard such horror stories about adopting privately: the extreme length of time, the high cost, the possibility of not actually getting to adopt even after the investment. Fostering scared us too, but not because we thought we wouldn’t be able to handle the kids' behaviors or working within a ‘broken system’; because we were afraid we’d become attached to the kids and then we would have to let them go back home to a situation only slightly better than the abusive or neglectful one that they were removed from in the first place.
Then we met others who had fostered. We talked to foster parents who had watched kids go back home to their parents. As it turns out, that’s actually a pretty happy occasion; like, “dancing in the streets” happy. That’s when it hit us; “If we can provide a loving, stable home while their parents fix whatever is broken and these kids do go back home, who cares if we’re attached. It’s not about us anyway.”
At an earlier time in my life, I was married to a woman and we were trying to conceive another child. My reservation at that time was that we already had one child that I loved unconditionally. What kind of havoc could this second child wreak on my life? What if I didn’t love the new one as much as I love my son? What if I loved the new one more? I could never forgive myself. A co-worker quelled my fears with these simple words, “Your heart isn’t a pie-chart. Your heart is an organ that grows with each child.” Those words apply here too. Our hearts are not pie charts with a limited amount of love to give. Our hearts would grow for each new child who came in to our home. Whether they stayed or went home to their parents, our hearts would not stop growing because we were attached to one child. We decided at that point, fostering was our only starting point and if one of our children needed a new “forever family” we’d happily oblige.
We were fortunate enough to receive training from Midwest Foster Care and Adoption Association, which helped us prepare for and understand the trauma these children have endured and the stages of grief they go through. We had an “Orphan Annie” perspective in our heads: these kids would be happy, singing, tap-dancing bundles of joy. Eric (our trainer and now friend who is appropriately saved in our phonebook as “Foster God”) helped us better understand and prepare for the reality of what lay ahead. These kids are dealing with serious trauma and need more than just hugs and toys to make them healthy and able to contribute to society. They need actual parents who can stick with them through whatever they dish out.
Although, there is no amount of training that can adequately prepare you for everything on the journey. We learned very quickly the, “you must advocate for your child” message that was repeatedly drilled in to our skulls in training, and (optionally) tattooed on our lower backs above the butterfly, was a message not to be taken lightly. There are a lot of great people involved in the system and we’ve been fortunate to have “A-Teams” for most of our cases. We’ve also seen the rare, yet over publicized underbelly of the system in which kids interests take a back seat to other priorities. But even those rare occurrences have turned out to be great experiences which have helped us learn how to deal with underperforming members of the team and how to compensate and advocate for these children.
Becoming foster parents has been, without a doubt one of the best choices we’ve ever made. Our lives are so fulfilling. And knowing there are still children living in homeless shelters in our own city, we couldn’t imagine ever turning back.
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