A wise person in my life once told me to pay close attention to the things and people who bother me most because it says more about me more than it does them.
Documenting our foster care journey has made others want to do it too, I know because they tell me. They email, comment, and send me Instagram messages sharing the wonderful news with me. It always makes me light up. There are so many children in need of a temporary safe place to land, but for a brief moment I question their motives.
Were they called to this or lured into it by adorable photos with sappy captions from me, a stranger on the internet?
For a moment, I get pissed off. Have I glamorized foster care?
At the core, there is nothing glamorous about it. There is nothing glamorous about a child being in an abusive or neglectful environment. Nothing glamorous about a child being removed from his or her parents. Nothing glamorous about the late night urgent call or the awkward tour of our apartment for a child who just wants to know when everything will go back to normal. Nothing glamorous about the daily grind of parenthood for any mom or dad. There is nothing to glamorize and yet, I ask myself, have I somehow given the wrong view into our lives?
Foster care exists because there are people who have children and are unable to care for them properly, at least for a time. These parents are often times experiencing mental illness, untreated trauma and unhealed baggage from their own upbringing. Many are battling addictions.
They are not bad people even if they are unfit to parent for a time. Their struggle and brokenness is no worse than my own. Even if my shit doesn’t put a child’s life in danger, I still have plenty of shit that reeks. I am no better, no wiser, no higher or mightier.
Just like I didn’t wake up one day and decide I was going to lie to a friend, or steal from the store, or make any of the bad decisions I so often make… these people didn’t wake up one day and decide to be a shitty parent.
That’s not how it goes.
We are such complex, broken, sinful humans in need of a Savior, aren’t we? Each and every single one of us.
Parents who have children in the system are separated from them in order to work on whatever needs to change so they might get another chance at raising them. What a beautiful opportunity that is, but oh, how ugly it can become when we get righteous or selfish or misunderstand our role to play.
Consider this my public apology. I’ve talked about my learnings before, but it is something that comes up for me time and time again as I scroll through social media, cringing as I notice others making some of the same mistakes I made.
“Be the kind of woman who fixes another woman’s crown without ever telling the world it was crooked.”Anonymous
I have tried to share the vulnerable, messy, hard realities that foster care entails, but has it been an accurate depiction or a false glamorization?
When I take a good look at what I’ve shared throughout our journey of having 11 different kiddos in care over the year and a half from an outsider’s perspective, here’s what I see… how cute these kids are, even though you can’t see their whole face. How fun it must be to have children of different ages and stages of life. How cool it looked to be a part of something so selfless.
Are those things bad? Not necessarily.
Because of how openly I live my life (pictures and captions I’ve shared publicly), I have received attention and praise even if it has never been my intention.
Unfortunately, there will continue to be a need for more foster parents until Jesus brings heaven down. The number of kids in need of a temporary home is overwhelming. However, I am unclear if documenting and sharing our foster care journey is bringing awareness to the needs of the system or glamorizing the whole thing?
Chicago (and it’s probably safe to assume all cities within the U.S.) needs more foster parents, but we don’t need them because they want to replicate what I, and many others, have done through social media.
We need more foster parents who are willing to do this work as if social media didn’t exist. Who would do the daily grind of parenthood, dealing with trauma, court dates, visitation, and more if no one could ever see or hear about it. We need more foster parents who are willing to do this work even if they know the child will leave their care in approximately 14 months.
We need more foster parents, but is it crucial they are in it for the right reasons?
I ponder over that question because nothing about a child being apart from the family they were born into is “cool” so we have to stop making it appear that way.
The goal of foster care is reunification.
I thought about it long and hard. Here’s a short list of people who should absolutely consider becoming a foster parent:
· Those who are NOT desperately trying to grow their family after a loss or infertility struggles. Who aren’t in it to grow their family, secretly hoping the child’s parents fail the entire time.
· Healthy individuals who are not trying to fill a void. Who aren’t in it to feel better about themselves.
· People who would do it even if they could never share about it on social media. Who aren’t seeking attention or praise.
· Anyone who is able to understand the goal being reunification and are open to saying goodbye to a child after months of attachment, sacrifices, and memories made. Who would still say yes to a child and the tireless months of hard work even though an extremely difficult goodbye may come.
I do not recommend foster care to my friends who are experiencing fertility problems. If you are trying to conceive and are longing for a baby, foster care will bring you a child – but it likely won’t be forever and, even if it happens to fall in your favor that way, you will spend the duration of that child being in your care rooting for the parent(s) to fail. Maybe you don’t see that as problematic, but I do because I lived in the tension of wanting to root on a mom, while simultaneously wanting to never give her children back. It’s already a really tough place to be even when the desire to grow my family isn’t on the forefront of my mind. I can only imagine what it would be like for someone who is determined to keep a child for themselves.
I do not recommend foster care to my friends who are constantly chasing a new thing to fill a void within. If you decide to become a foster parent in another attempt to be happy, I’m afraid it will be a good distraction for a while, but it won’t bring you happiness. If this is one of many attempts to chase happiness (new job, new city, new significant other, new friend group, new hobby), you are not in it for the right reasons. Although it will bring a lot of joy to your life, it will also bring pain. This is not about your joy anyway. This is about children who need a temporary safe, stable, healthy and loving home. Perhaps it is a less obvious problem, but whenever this becomes more about you than the needs of the child, it’s selfish. There’s no room for selfishness when these kids are going through enough trauma already.
I do not recommend foster care to my friends who would only do it if they are allowed to share about it. This is where I’ve had to dig deep and reflect on my own motives. If sharing was forbidden, would I still be doing it? My answer: yes, absolutely. However, I think this is a nice litmus test for someone in the initial questioning phase considering whether or not to start applying for licensure. If you would only do something – anything – to post about it on social media, that is wrong. Not necessarily what you are choosing to do, but why you are choosing to do it at least. I digress.
I do not recommend foster care to my friends who can’t fathom saying goodbye to a child after months of attachment, sacrifices, and memories made. It has to be fathomed because it’s the reality of caring for children in this system. Let’s not forget, reunification is the goal until a judge determines otherwise. Maybe like me, you share a desire to adopt someday and prefer to adopt through foster care, which not a bad thing at all. People like us have to be so conscious that our desire to serve families in need outweighs our desire to have a child remain with us forever. Otherwise, we should pursue adoption through another avenue.
Serving families in need might lead to a child becoming our own. That has happened to many people I am connected with. However, there is such a massive difference – though it appears to be miniscule and no one can see it – when we approach foster care with our heart and motives in check.
I don’t write this to be harsh or shame anyone. (There is no room for shame in a space of learning and reflecting.) This is the post I wish I had read two years ago when we first began our journey into foster care. This is a letter where I am preaching to myself.
If you are offended reading it, I urge you to go back to the opening sentence and ask not, “Is this true?” but “howis this true of me?”
I am always in pursuit of growth, greater self-awareness, and alignment with the Holy Spirit. Because of those things, I am evolving; my husband as well.
This post is our longwinded “why.”
Why we will continue to foster, why we will continue assessing our heart and motives, and why we will more cautiously document our journey.
Love & light,
Manda & Eric