What Foster Parents Wish Other People Knew

This essay is a little different than most of my stuff. It is the result of a collaborative discussion on a foster parenting list I'm a part of by a group of foster parents.  I've paraphrased and borrowed and added some things of my own, but this is truly collaborative piece, and meant to be shared.  I do NOT have to get credit for it.  So if you'd like to circulate it, use it in a training, distribute it at foster-awareness day, hang it on the wall, run it somewhere else, give it out to prospective foster parents, whatever, go right ahead.  This is a freebie to all! I care much more than people know this than that I get credit - and most of the credit goes to a lot of other wonderful people who want to remain anonymous, most of them wiser and more experienced than I.

1. We're not Freakin' Saints.  We are doing this because it needs doing, we love kids, this is our thing.  Some of us hope to expand our families this way, some of us do it for the pleasure of having laughing young voices around, some of us are pushed into it by the children of family or friends needing care, some of us grew up around formal or informal fostering - but all of us are doing it for our own reasons BECAUSE WE LOVE IT and/or LOVE THE KIDS and WE ARE THE LUCKY ONES - we get to have these great kids in our lives.

We hate being told we must be saints or angels, because we're doing something really ordinary and normal - that is, taking care of kids in need.  If some children showed up dirty and hungry and needing a safe place on your doorstep, you'd care for them too - we just signed up to be the doorstep they arrive at.   The idea of sainthood makes it impossible for ordinary people to do this - and the truth is the world needs more ordinary, human foster parents.   This also stinks because if we're saints and angels, we can't ever be jerks or human or need help, and that's bad, because sometimes this is hard.

2. WATCH WHAT YOU SAY AROUND THE KIDS!!!!!! I can't emphasize this enough, and everyone is continually stunned by the things people will ask in the hearing of children, from "Oh, is their Mom an addict?" or "Well, they aren't your REAL kids are they" or "Are you going to adopt them?" or whatever.  Not only is that stuff private, but it is HORRIBLE for the kids to hear people speculating about their families whom they love, or their future.    Didn't anyone ever explain to you that you never say anything bad about anyone's mother (or father) EVER?  Don't assume you know what's going on, and don't ask personal questions - we can't tell you anyway.

3. Don't act surprised that they are nice, smart, loving, well-behaved kids. One of the corollaries of #1 is that there tends to be an implied assumption that foster kids are flawed - we must be saints because NO ONE ELSE would take these damaged, horrible kids.  Well, kids in foster care have endured a lot of trauma, and sometimes that does come with behavioral challenges, but many of the brightest, nicest, best behaved, kindest and most loving children I've ever met are foster kids.  They aren't second best kids, they aren't homicidal maniacs, and because while they are here they are MINE, they are the BEST KIDS IN THE WORLD, and yes, it does tick me off when you act surprised they are smart, sweet and loving.

4. Don't hate on their parents.  Especially don't do it in front of the kids, but you aren't on my side when you are talking trash either.

Nobody chooses to be born mentally ill.  No one gets addicted to drugs on purpose.  Nobody chooses to be born developmentally delayed, to never have lived in a stable family so you don't know how to replicate it. Abusive and neglectful parents often love their kids and do the best they can, and a lot of them CAN do better if they get help and support, which is what part of this is about.  Even if they can't, it doesn't make things better for you to rush to judgement.

It is much easier to think of birth parents as monsters, because then YOU could never be like THEM, but truly, birth parents are just people with big problems.   Birth and Foster parents often work really hard to have positive relationships with each other, so it doesn't help me to have you speculating about them.

5. The kids aren't grateful to us, and it is nuts to expect them to be, or to feel lucky that they are with us.  They were taken from everything they knew and had to give up parents, siblings, pets, extended family, neighborhood, toys, everything that was normal to them.  No one asked them whether they wanted to come into care.

YOU have complex feelings and ambivalence about a lot of things, even if it seems like those things are good for you or for the best.  Don't assume our kids don't have those feelings, or that moving into our home is happily-ever-after for them.  Don't tell them how lucky they are or how they should feel.

By the way, there is no point comparing my home to the one they grew up in.  Both homes most likely have things the children like and dislike about them.    The truth is if every kid only got the best home, Angelina and Brad would have all the children, and the rest of us would have none.

6. No, we're not making any money on it.  We don't get paid - we get a portion of the child's expenses reimbursed, and that money is only for the child and does NOT cover everything.   I get about 56 cents an hour reimbursed, and  I get annoyed when you imply I'm too stupid to realized I'd make tons more money flipping burgers.

Saying this in front of the kids also REALLY hurts them - all of a sudden, kids who are being loved and learning to trust worry that you are only doing this because of their pittance.  So just shut up about the money already, and about the friend of a friend you know who kept the kids in cages and did it just for the money and made millions.

7. When you say "I could never do that" as if we're heartless or insensitive, because we can/have to give the kids back to their parents or to extended family, it stings.

Letting kids go IS really hard, but someone has to do it.  Not all kids in care come from irredeemable families.  Not everyone in a birth family is bad - in fact, many kin and parents are heroic, making unimaginable sacrifices to get their families back together through impossible odds.  Yes, it is hard to let kids we love go, and yes, we love them, and yes, it hurts like hell, but the reality is that because something is hard doesn't make it bad, and you aren't heartless if you can endure pain for the greater good of your children.  You are just a regular old parent when you put your children's interests ahead of your own.

8.  No, they aren't ours yet.  And they won't be on Thursday either, or next Friday, or the week after.  Foster care adoption TAKES A LONG TIME.  For the first year MINIMUM the goal is always for kids to return to their parents.  It can take even longer than that. Even if we hope to adopt, things could change, and it is just like any long journey - it isn't helpful to ask "Are we there yet" every five minutes.

9. Most kids will go home or to family, rather than being adopted.    Most foster cases don't go to adoption.  Not every foster parent wants to adopt.  And not every foster family that wants to adopt will be adopting/wants to adopt every kid.

It is NOT appropriate for you to raise the possibility of adoption just because you know they are a foster family.  It is ESPECIALLY not appropriate for you to raise this issue in front of the kids.  The kids may be going to home or to kin.  It may not be an adoptive match.  The family may not be able to adopt now.  They may be foster-only.  Not all older children want or choose to be adopted, and after a certain age, they are allowed to decide.  Family building is private and none of everyone's business.  They'll let you know when you  need to know something.

10. If we're struggling - and all of us struggle sometimes - it isn't helpful to say we should just "give them back" or remind us we brought it on ourselves.  ALL parents pretty much brought their situation on themselves whether they give birth or foster, but once you are a parent, you deal with what you've got no matter what. "I told you so" is never helpful.  This is especially true when the kids have disabilities or when they go home.  Yes, we knew that could happen.  That doesn't make it any easier.

11.  Foster kids are not "fake kids," and we're not babysitters - they are all my "REAL kids."  Some of them may stay forever.  Some of them may go and come back.  Some of them may leave and we'll never see them again.  But that's life, isn't it?  Sometimes people in YOUR life go away, too, and they don't stop being an important part of your life or being loved and missed.  How they come into my family or for how long is not the point.  While they are here they are my children's REAL brothers and sisters, my REAL sons and daughters.  We love them entirely, treat them the way we do all our kids, and never, ever forget them when they leave.   Don't pretend the kids were never here.  Let foster parents talk about the kids they miss.  Don't assume that kids are interchangeable - one baby is not the same as the next, and just because there will be more kids later doesn't make it any easier now.

12. Fostering is HARD.  Take how hard you think it will be and multiply it by 10, and you are beginning to get the idea. Exhausting, gutwrenching and stressful as heck.  That said, it is also GREAT, and mostly utterly worth it.  It is like Tom Hanks' character in _League of Their Own_ says about baseball: "It is supposed to be hard.  If it wasn't hard everyone would do it.  The hard is what makes it great."

13.  You don't have to be a foster parent to HELP support kids and families in crisis.  If you want to foster, GREAT - the world needs more foster families.  But we also need OTHER kinds of help.


You can:

- . Treat foster parents with a new placement the way you would a family that had a baby - it is JUST as exhausting and stressful.  If you can offer to cook dinner, help out with the other kids, or lend a hand in some way, it would be most welcome.

- . Offer up your children's outgrown stuff to pass on - foster parents who do short-term fostering send a lot of stuff home with the kids, and often could use more.  Alternatively, many communities have a foster care closet or donation center that would be grateful for your pass-downs in good condition.

- . Be an honorary grandparent, aunt or uncle.  Kids need as many people in their lives as possible, and relationships that say "you are special."

- . Become a respite provider, taking foster children for a week or a weekend so their parents can go away or take a break.

- . Offer to babysit.  Foster parents have lives, plus they have to go to meetings and trainings, and could definitely use the help.

- . Be a big brother, sister or mentor to older foster kids.  Preteens and Teens need help imagining a future for themselves - be that help.

- . Be an extra pair of hands when foster families go somewhere challenging - offer to come along to the amusement park, to church, to the playground.  A big family or one with special needs may really appreciate just an extra adult or a mother's helper along.

- . Support local anti-poverty programs with your time and money.  These are the resources that will hopefully keep my kids fed and safe in their communities when they go home.

- . If you've got extra, someone else can probably use it.   Lots of foster families don't have a lot of spare money for activities - offering your old hockey equipment or the use of your swim membership  is a wonderful gift.

- . Make programs for kids friendly to kids with disabilities and challenges.  You may not have thought about how hard it is to bring a disabled or behaviorally challenged kid to Sunday school, the pool, the local kids movie night - but think about it now, and encourage inclusion.

- . Teach your children from the beginning to be welcoming, inclusive, kind and non-judgemental,  Teach them the value of having friends from different neighborhoods, communities, cultures, races and levels of ability.  Make it clear that bullying, unkindness and exclusion are NEVER EVER ok.

- . Welcome foster parents and their family into your community warmly, and ASK them what they need, and what you can do.

13. Reach out to families in your community that are struggling - maybe you can help so that the children don't ever have to come into foster care, or to make it easier if they do.  Some families really need a ride, a sitter, some emotional support, some connection to local resources.  Lack of community ties is a HUGE risk factor for children coming into care, so make the attempt.

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It is amazing that individuals/couples/groups who do what humans should be doing anyway are called 'saints'. Does labeling someone 'saint'/'angel' mean that those who do not respond to what society/justice/vocation calls them to do are 'evil'? Let us all think heavily on what we are called upon to do and make certain that we answer our 'calls' with passion and purpose. Thank you for the guidelines.

Thank you for this post, Sharon. This needs to be read far and wide. I love that there's now one post that contains most of what I would want my friends and family to know in order to be more sensitive and supportive to my foster children, myself and my partner (as well as my foster kids' birth families, for that matter!) Thanks for putting this up.

By Tee @ Fosterin… (not verified) on 12 Mar 2013 #permalink

I couldn't have said it better!

Thank you. Some of your items apply to adoptive parents as well, and some (especially ways the rest of us can be supportive) apply to all parents, however their children came into their lives. I didn't even think about this sort of thing until I became an adoptive parent.

I do think I disagree, ever so slightly, with your denial of sainthood. What you do in fostering -- welcoming a child into your family, knowing up front that they may not be there "forever -- is hard, much harder than what I did in adopting my daughter. It is not ordinary. Not everyone has the resources (inner, not economic) to do that. No, you're not a "saint," but it's perfectly fine to own your specialness, your talent and ability to do what some other people can't do.

Thank you.

By Michael Kelsey (not verified) on 12 Mar 2013 #permalink

fyi. From my perspective when someone says "oh my I couldn't do that" has nothing to do with you. It is a statement of how overwhelmed they are feeling JUST THINKING of the idea of attaching to a child and having to give them up. They're just saying that they've never thought it all through, never lived it, etc. And being confronted with what you're doing I'd say it's a statement of "oh my, you're stronger than I am" with a bit of shock thrown in for good measure. Take it as a statement of admiration and their own shortcomings. I know that it reflects my own shortcomings.

C. I know that often "I couldn't do that" is just a statement of "wow, that sounds overwhelming" and I think most foster parents recognize that. But we also do get "no, I couldn't do that, I couldn't give them back" which can be said in a "ok, that just wouldn't work for me" which is fine or can be said in a kind of superior tone. So I think that people are talking about a SPECIFIC kind of comment, not the general "ok, that sounds way hard" which of course is fine.

Michael, it is challenging, but like running a marathon or farming or climbing a mountain or running for office or whatever, it is the kind of hard that stems from what we want, not from nobility. I will happily take the compliment that what I'm doing is worth doing, and that it is challenging to do it. But saint is going a little far, particularly if you actually know me ;-).

And yes, I know this applies to lots of kinds of parents too!

This is very well written. I have been a child welfare worker and my husband and I were also foster parents. I especially picked up on the theme of bad mouthing the parents in front of the children. People should not even do it in front of the foster parents who may already struggle to remain positive and cooperative with the parents. We never intended to adopt nor did we. One of the most rewarding things for me was the successful reunification cases. Our last foster children left 5 years ago and we still have a relationship with the mother and children who now live in another state. I also have contact with our first foster child who was 10 years old at the time and now is 17. Pretty cool when a teenager will still talk to his former foster parent when they are a teen and have been adopted by relatives. To all of you who foster you may not be "saints" but you are the hands and feet of Jesus so that's close enough. Keep on doing what you are doing.

Toni, I appreciate the compliments. I will say as a Conservative Jew I don't experience myself as "the hands and feet of Jesus" and the group that compiled this discussion includes Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Atheists and people of other faiths as well. The neat thing is that we all experience our calling to be foster parents through the lens of our culture's calls to service and justice. For me, tikkun olam, or the repair of the world, and "Treat the stranger as one of you, for you too were strangers in the land of Egypt."

Yes, yes, & yes.
# 7 in particular!

Out of curiosity, what foster parent groups/lists do you frequent? After Fostering & adopting over the last 4 years, I'm trying to find one I like & haven't had luck.

Confidentiality is a big thing for me. Society expects to be told what is none of their business. Ie: why kids are placed, where from, who they are. None of this matters and it is none of their concern. Kids deserve respect just as much as everyone. :-)

I loved reading this. I especially liked #2,3&4.
#4 made me cry because I was that parent so knowing that a lot of foster parents don't judge makes me feel good. I am very greatful for all the foster parents that took care of my children while I was able to learn how to be the mom I am today.
Thank you.

#1 - Spot on. I am so tired of being told how wonderful we are. What I tell people now is that we're no different than anyone else. We just happened to be willing and able to be there for the kids.
#2 - This is a big one. Kids pick up on things FAR more than most people think. Even when you say something you think is too hard for them to understand, they'll catch the meaning, so watch it!
#6 - So true! We have 8 kids in our house (5 are fosters) and the little we get from the state doesn't quite cover the costs. Especially in this economy...
#12 - This doesn't begin to explain how hard it can really be, but at the same time, it's very rewarding as well. We've had extremely hard times with some of our kids, and we've had some really good times. What I learned was that the only times worth holding onto are the good ones. Let the hard times go, because it won't help anyone to hold onto that.
#13 - HELP!!!! yes, we totally need help. Especially respite care. Babysitting (provided someone can be cleared as a substitute caregiver) is great, but sometimes you need more than a couple days away to revitalize. Like I said, fostering is REALLY HARD, so having others who can provide respite is essential. The spot on donations is really needed. All of the kids we got came only with the clothes on their backs, and nothing else. We ended up having to get beds, dressers, clothes, shoes, boots, coats, carseats, etc. Personally, we even ended up getting a larger vehicle when we took in the last placement because our 7 passenger minivan was just too small to fit 10 people. Every donation helps!

Being a foster parent has been a very good experience, and my wife and I have learned a lot. Something for everyone to keep in mind is that we really don't know everything when it comes to these kids and their situations. Almost every week, we learn something new, or run into a new situation that we've never come across before. Many times, we don't know what to do, and the agency doesn't know how to handle it either. We're just as human as everyone else.

I appreciate your comments. I have had so many comments regarding "I couldn't do that." One lady told me she had too much love in her heart to do fostering...??? One lady asked me if I was fostering so I didn't have to have a "real" job. Over the 15 years our family has been doing fostering (and we have adopted three) I have learned to smile and keep going. The average person doesn't know what they are talking about. They just don't understand. I appreciate the comments regarding never speak against the parent. ALWAYS make the child feel their parent loved them... I appreciate your suggestions on how to help foster families. Many times we are excluded as are our children... That's hard for me to understand and it's REALLY hard for the kids to understand.

By fostermom05 (not verified) on 14 Mar 2013 #permalink

I think it would be fair to say that most of the rude/hurtful comments that people make in regard to foster care are due to ignorance of the system and the process, less from a negative heart. If I did not have a family willing to answer the stupid questions that I asked (and the questions of others around me) I may not have been in the position to become a foster parent that I am today. I think an article helping people understand what questions are acceptable and which are harmful is extremely necessary. Unfortunately I think this article, through word choice and format (i.e. copious amounts of capital letters) carries a tone of hurt, anger and bitterness. By approaching the subject in this manner I think it makes non-foster parent readers feel like dullards for even caring about the foster families, I know it made me feel that way and I have been through foster training! Maybe I am being over sensitive and I understand (as best as I am able) where this article is coming from but I think it would have been more effective if the tone had been different. That being said, people can be really insensitive about so many subjects, common sense people! Just a perspective from someone who is in the process but has not yet been placed with a child.

It's not true that most foster children go home to bio family or to relatives, at least not in my area. In my community, I have seen most foster kids needing to be adopted. Myself, as well as many friends that foster are also adopting. Every child I have taken into my home has needed to be permanently adopted. I adopted the first foster baby I recieved, and am now finalizing on 3 more that got placed with me. All but one were infants when they came. I have six kids now, and my home is full. You are right, there is no making money in this. I would make more in one hour at my old career than I make doing foster care. We do it because we love the kids, we love God, and we know these children need somewhere to live safely and securely within a family they can call their own. There are numerous babies and small children needing homes every single day, and not enough foster parents to take them. Most families do not work their plans, choose their drugs/lifestyle over cleaning up for their kids, and the kids need an adoptive family. Even with all that the state offers to pay for to help the bio families get better they chose not to. I wish I had more room to take more newborns/infants/toddlers and kids of all ages here that need it. Instead, I am spreading the word, and slowly I am seeing more and more people opening up their homes, but there is always a need for more people to do it...

Michelle, you are right, it does vary from state to state and region to region. Nationally, however, the majority of kids who come into care do either go to kinship or reunification. So glad to hear you've been able to adopt. We hope eventually maybe we'll get to adopt our current baby, but he was placement number #13, and all the rest went home or to kin, as have the ones we've had since we got him.

I've been a mom to 29 kids, I'm a foster/adopt mom and want to thank you for compiling this. Everyone should read it!

By Melissa Line (not verified) on 14 Mar 2013 #permalink

This is all just so spot on. It bothers me so much when people say they couldn't foster kids because they couldn't give them back as though somehow it is easy for me. No. I am willing to put my heart on the line and grieve over the loss of the children if and when they do leave. That is the difference. Regarding treating a family just like you would if they had a new baby, I have to admit it hurt me when my soon to be adopted daughter came at 17 months as an emergency placement with not even a spare diaper and the same friends who I have cooked for and given baby gifts, checked in on did none of those things because mine wasn't my new baby is their eyes. In my eyes it was harder. No preparation time, a traumatized child and one who came with nothing but lots of needs and appointments. I get that people just don't know what to do but it hurt non-the-less.

By Tikun Olam (not verified) on 14 Mar 2013 #permalink

Sharon, You should write a visitor blog post for the Motherloade in the New York Times. The readers there have repeatedly been asking people with foster care experience to share their experiences. Thank you for this insight.

As a person with ongoing, often but not always managed mental health issues, I chose along with Husband not to have children at all. I wish I could be like you foster parents; I wish there were young people in my life. But I couldn't be there for them, sometimes for days, sometimes longer. So without calling you a saint, I celebrate your work and your infinitely stretchable, contractible, supportive, overarching web that you define as family.

Thank you for the thoughts on what not to say and what to do to be supportive.

Do you/your group have any thoughts on "things you can say to express support," whether to f-parents or f-kids?

Hey just a thought, might be a useful comparison: asking "are you going to adopt them?" in front of your kids is like asking a couple on a date "so when are you two getting married?"

Actually, the former's probably worse since there are kids involved. But I'm even having difficulty processing how awkward/potentially hurtful that is, and the thought of the latter situation clarified it a bit for me.

Thank you for your essay, I've encountered so many of these situations in the 3 years I've been at this now, and most people really just aren't thinking, they speak before the consider the impact of their words. The tough part is they are interested, just not aware.

By Dr Wilson (not verified) on 18 Mar 2013 #permalink

Thank you for this. As a 20+ year foster parent, and the mother of 10 amazing "kids" (6 of whom were adopted), I really connected with your points. I must admit that #3 brought tears to my eyes .... they are ours for some part of their lives and they are all amazing individuals in spite of their circumstances. We love them unconditionally .... not because we are saints, but because they are worthy and deserving, and they are children.

I work at Utah Foster Care, a nonprofit that recruits, trains and supports foster families in Utah. One of our foster parents posted this on our Facebook page and I love it.
Sharon, I'd like to give you credit - are you a foster/adoptive mom and where do you live? Thanks, Deborah

By Deborah Lindner (not verified) on 19 Mar 2013 #permalink

I disagree with #1. Yes, you are saints. And people who take care of children they gave birth to are saints. And teenage babysitters who take care of neighbor kids are saints. And saints are humans, with human strengths and weaknesses, wins and losses. Keeping children safe and happy is hard work, no matter where the children started life. Saints do that kind of work, in spite of being imperfect.

Any support out there for FP who have false allegations brought against them?

By Annette McKee (not verified) on 19 Mar 2013 #permalink

Excellent piece! I'm an adoptive mom and find there to be some overlap with your guidelines here.

Great essay, glad I read it. I found myself guilty of some of the things mentioned, including praising fp as saints. While I had really good intentions, I didn't realize my comments might be insensitive. This really put things into perspective for me. My friend is a fp and totally in love with her little guy. While not overly religious, I like to think God puts people in your life for a reason, whether it's for a day, a month, a year or a lifetime.

So many valid and spot on points! Fostering is hard, for everyone involved. Foster parents and their families give up their privacy, time, energy & love all to support and care for children that are in need. I've had a mixed bag of responses - the best by far was a nurse who thanked me for what I was doing. She was a foster child growing up and after going through many homes, she settled into one where she had a fabulous support system from her foster family. Without them, she said, she wouldn't be where she is today. That answer is why it is worth it.

I have been called a "saint" and an "angel" because I am taking care of children that are not mine I don't like being called this. I've been in the system with my own children. I still have a relationship with the foster parents. I was given my kids back by a court. The foster parents are wonderful people. They were put into our lives for a reason. If it wasn't for them my children would of been back in foster care and I would of lost them. They have raised my children and I wouldn't have it any other way. God chose me to have my children and God chose them to raise my children. That is how I look at it. I was young and couldn't be a mother mentally, physically or fiancially. Don't get me wrong I love my children and I have a relationship with my children. I see them almost everyday. I live across the street from them. I have grown up and with the support of my children and the foster parents I chose to step up and take the responsiblities of raising someone elses children. They ARE my children too. My children call them their siblings. My family doe not treat them any different than the rest of the children. The foster parents were there when I needed someone when I coudn't do what I needed. Now I'm here to do what these children's parents can't do. If it wasn't for foster parents a lot of kids would be lost. A lot people doesn't realize that foster parent aren't just there for the kids, they are there for the birth families too! People need to stop and think before they say something about foster parents and why they do what they do. I know that my children were raised right and I have learned a lot from the foster parents. I have questions all I have to do is pick up a phone and they will walk me through it. Thanks to all the Foster Parents out there that gives love and support to the children and their families during their hard times! Thank you for caring for the many children you take care of or have taken care of for the many families that were struggling!

I think many foster parents should also want other potential foster parents to know that the risk of getting a child with cognitive and behavioral problems is much greater than for a natural child. I am sure there are statistical data showing that somewhere. "No, sorry -they should tell them- you are not going to get a blank slate at all, you are going to get a black box full of surprises".
Indeed, I think it is their moral duty to do that quite explicitly.

By Isa Kochet (not verified) on 20 Mar 2013 #permalink

Thank you so much for this! I am going to specifically forward this to a few friends and family members where some of these issue have come up in the past 10 or so years

By Michelle Edwards (not verified) on 20 Mar 2013 #permalink

My eldest daughter is a single mum and she is a foster mum she has been called crazy and all sorts of things for doing this but it still has not stopped her from trying with her little ones. She has three 4 year olds and a 6 and a 7 year old plus her own two who are 9 and 12 she is flat out every day with them and still finds time to go to the gym or hair dressers when need be I think she is so great for being able to cope from day to day as the children all have different personalitys and very different back grounds . So I think all the good foster parents should be congratulated for the jobs they do.

Excellent article! As a foster parent for many years, it always killed me when people who already have two + kids of their own would express amazement at the idea of fostering! I'd think "You are already parents! How hard could it be to take in one more kid?" True, it's not easy to be a foster parent. But I think too many people let their egos get in the way when raising their own children. That ideal of the "perfect family" is very much alive, I guess.

Welcome to all of you who came via Talk of the Nation - they invited me to be interviewed, but I missed the call...because I was working with a new placement. Too busy foster parenting!

Deborah, I'm a writer and foster mother in upstate NY.

Thanks for posting! I am a foster parent and I adopted my kids! It took me 3 LONG years! But I wouldn't change anything. Love my kids!

By Jackie Martin (not verified) on 21 Mar 2013 #permalink

Excellent article, well done! We ran an orphanage in Cambodia in the early 90's, decided it was NOT in the best interest of kids. Went back to the states and checked out foster care. We've been working to set up a foster care system in Cambodia for about 7 years now. Our foster parents are ordinary Cambodian families and they do amazing jobs!!! My heroes!

By Cathleen Jones (not verified) on 21 Mar 2013 #permalink

My wonderful oldest daughter shared this article on Facebook and it is awesome!! Thank you for writing this!! We (my husband and I ) are providing kinship care for 2 grands and, although our situation is distinctly different that most foster parents (which we are now, yeaaa) there are so many things that rang true as substitute caregivers. Terrific reminders! Thanks again for sharing!! :)

By Elizabeth Colman-Pat (not verified) on 21 Mar 2013 #permalink

As a former foster kid (many years ago), all I can say is: thank you, thank you, thank you. I will share this widely.

By Terri Windling (not verified) on 22 Mar 2013 #permalink

I do think foster parents are saints....I was an Advocate with CASA for 8 1/2 years....I saw the most amazing foster parents love the most wounded children......FP's give and give....not all could be foster parents just as not all could do the job I did working for those children in foster care......I call FP's saints because my children--my clients---needed love, security, stability, structure and these foster parents volunteer to accept all the pain, scars, fears and anger these children bring with them.....I know FP's are not perfect --- they are human first.....and I have spent hours listening to foster parents as they cry with frustration at the situation these children came out of; I have listened to their concerns of making mistakes with the precious children.....so I do not call foster parents saints flippantly......I do so with great admiration, respect and gratitude.

By Joy Wright (not verified) on 22 Mar 2013 #permalink

Thank you for posting. Very educational. Hope to put it into good practice as I deal with these special families!

By Lynné Lemon (not verified) on 22 Mar 2013 #permalink

Very well written and thought out! I have been fostering for almost 8 years and am always uncomfortable when someone says I am an angel (they are in heaven,,not wiping noses, and bums 24/7!) I love my kids,,hurt when they leave and not only care for them but most times for their bio parents as well. I can not imagine doing anything else with me life,, it fulfills me.

By grace scarbrough (not verified) on 22 Mar 2013 #permalink

We dog fosters also hear, "I love dogs too much to let them go. How can you let them go?" I ask, "Did you ever date some wonderful person who you couldn't imagine spending your whole life with?" I know I'm just a step on the journey. One of the big things I do is figuring out what kind of home would let a dog be happy and make his people happy.

By Mary in Maryland (not verified) on 22 Mar 2013 #permalink

I never thought someone could put all of this into words. So well done. Thank you!

Thank you so much for putting it all in words . I get so shocked but some of the stupid comments I would like to give them a shake! Especially when they say it in front of our children!

Great article. Some of it made me a bit emotional. We've been fostering for 5 years. We've shared our home and hearts with 14 children to date. The shortest placement was a weekend, the longest was 3 years, other than the two that we are sharing our lives with forever. Every child that comes here takes a piece of our souls with them. I liken them to horcruxes from Harry Potter stories.They each take a little piece of us when they leave. People frequently tell us that they couldn't do it. Truth is, a lot of people actually could, they just choose not to. Short relationships are just as valuable as long. We just hope to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

First, A wonderful article. I was a foster Mom for 15 yrs, Every child has something to give to us. If we listen. We are not saints but we do love each and every child. (I had 62) Shortest time was three days and longest 11 yrs. Money, certainly not enough to get rich but the experience and the lessons learned are what make us rich beyond compare. Thanks so much for this article.
Second, if #29 Annette will get in touch I can give her hope and love. barbaramanson@sbcglobal.net

By Barbara Manson (not verified) on 25 Mar 2013 #permalink

My husband and I went about this fostering thing backwards. First we became adoptive parents and knew how important it was that both of our sones (adopted in seperate occasions and seperate times) were so lucky to have had such wonderful FP and neither of them were moved from place to place. We decided in 1990 that we wanted to give back to the system who blessed us with our sons. My husband teases that we're still trying this out! As prepared as we thought that we were, we were not. All but about 8 of our 49 children that we fostered have had disabilities. Some more complex than others. One thing I'd like to add, I am a specialised foster home for children with intellectual disabilites. I find that many folks don't understand that a child with developmental disabilities can also have mental health challenges as well. It makes perfect sence, till you try to find services and support for these children. There is a severe workforce shortage for persons with disabilities. Let them have a multitude of challenges and it takes months to find someone to provide services.
Any of you who may be reading this who are in either a mental health or volunteer type of service, or considering this, please don't be afraid to work with these children. They will help you become better skilled at your craft, and your rewards will be many!
Thank you Sharon and others who have taken the time to provide input and feedback.

By Fostrmom2mny (not verified) on 25 Mar 2013 #permalink

Powerful and wonderfully written -- thank you!

By Aegina Barnes (not verified) on 26 Mar 2013 #permalink

What Foster Parents Wish Other People Knew – Casaubon's Book

Ah, Sharon. : -)

I might agree that you aren't a Saint. Though it's worth noting- all the real saints proclaim vigorously that they are not.

What you ARE - is possibly even more rare. You are a Grown Up.

You take responsibility for what is in front of you. Now, and without whining. I think it is that simple. And horrifyingly uncommon.

Can you offer a course in Adulthood? : -)

I was a foster child from the day I was born until I was two months old. At 46 years old I learned who my foster parents were. I was so sad to learn they had both passed away but their son and his wife were so incredibly kind to me and took me to the house where they had lived. Their sister had their momma's scrapbooks and there was a photo of me! That is the only photo I have from that time. Foster parents make a huge difference....these people loved on me when I had lost my mother...two months is a long time although it seems short. Thank you to the Bumbalough family for taking such good care of me!

No one realizes the love, time, hurt, frustration, happiness, patience, fear, and every emotion you could feel, that foster parents and foster children must endure. Loving them is easy, losing them is heart-wrenching. We do what the parents couldn't or wouldn't do, what the system can't do, what the group home or residential placement could not do. We open up our heart and our home, our very life, and give it all, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Mostly, we are not appreciated, not by the child, or anyone else, but we don't become foster parents to be appreciated. We become foster parents because we want to help a child in need, we want to give a part of us, we want to love. God wants us to give of ourselves, and we do it, not for the money, but for love, and the desire to make someone just a little bit happier. I have heard people say that all foster parents are bad, and we are foster parents for the money. If my stipend was 100,000.00 a year, it would not matter. It isn't about the money. We give every day, every minute, all of our privacy, open our homes up to many people that we do not know, display every detail about our lives, so we can help a child in need. If you love children, open up your heart, and your home to a child in need. Children are gifts from God, and many need to know what a wonderful present they are.

By Patsy Clark (not verified) on 05 Apr 2013 #permalink

Thank you so much for this!! You certainly have a flair with words! I envy you! I've been a foster mom for 13 years & have fostered 94 children with 2 adoptions! I agree with Carrie-#51 THANK YOU FOR PUTTING IT INTO WORDS!! I will print it out & use it at The South Dade Foster & Adoptive Parent Association THANKS AGAIN

By Lisa Alvarez (not verified) on 05 Apr 2013 #permalink

I have been a foster parent. We have adopted too. We love our kids, period. I understand and agree with these points. People say the cruelest things right in front of kids and don't think they understand. My heart breaks for them. Thank you for writing this.

Great article - thanks for posting. :)

By Hope Gilmour (not verified) on 07 Apr 2013 #permalink

Hi Sharon,

Wow. I'm a therapist and former fost/adopt social worker. I also run a blog called "Adoption at the Movies" which is geared towards helping adoptive and foster families be able to talk sensitively, openly, honestly, and directly about adoption-related issues. My site is at www.adoptionlcsw.com - 1) I'd love to invite you to check it out and 2) I found myself being surprised at how exactly right this post is. I'm going to take your permission to circulate this post & repost it for my readers with a link back to you.

By Addison Cooper (not verified) on 09 Apr 2013 #permalink

One thought that comes to mind as an extra thing someone can do to help - CASA's (Court Appointed Special Advocates) are volunteers who dedicate approximately 12 hours a month. A CASA's role is to stick with a child throughout the child's involvement in the foster care system, to know the child exceptionally well, and to be a consistent advocate for the child in court - lawyers change, foster parents change, but CASA's don't. Think of a hybrid of a Big Brother/Big Sister and a lawyer. Some of the kids I worked with really benefitted from their CASAs.

By Addison Cooper (not verified) on 09 Apr 2013 #permalink

Great article! We are foster parents and can relate to each of these points. Since you say it's okay to share, I plan to post this on my blog too. Thanks for putting this together!

My husband and I had 11 kids in 3 years, most not more than a few days and the last two for 18 months. Would still be fostering if it were not for the system, got tired of dealing with the folks who didn't really want to do what was really right for the children.

This is great. I'm so glad you posted it. I always thought about trying to write something similar about adoption. Especially the part about people referring to biological children as "real" children. Real as opposed to what, fake? I hate it when people pat me on the back and say "don't worry, I'm sure someday you will get pregnant with your own children." Um excuse me but does that mean that my adopted baby is not my "own child?" People always tell me stories of how every adoptive parent they have ever heard of got pregnant after they adopted, as if to reassure me. It never occurs to them that I am HAPPY I never got pregnant because I would not have my sweet baby Zion! If I do end up pregnant someday, ok, but I actually think it would devastate me a little bit because I am so excited about my next adoptive journey. It is such a PRIVILEGE and an HONOR to be an adoptive parent, a joy that not many people get to experience.

Thank you, thank you, thank you for writing this and laying out what so many of us foster parents think! All I can say is Amen sister!!

By Coni Bergmann (not verified) on 23 Apr 2013 #permalink

As a former foster child who was adopted and currently an adoptive/ foster parent...thank you for this excellent article!

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Thank you for this. I grew up in foster care.

By Ann Warner (not verified) on 07 May 2013 #permalink

I'm not a foster parent, but I can relate. I've gotten the "saint/angel" thing regarding rescuing an older dog. It does strike me as strange, in both cases. I'm not quite sure what it means. I relate to what you write here: I do it because there's a need. I do it because I love dogs, especially older ones.

By Barbara Saunders (not verified) on 07 May 2013 #permalink

Being a foster parent is hard work because the kids love their biological families and want to be with their parents. They often don't understand why they are in foster care and are sad, scared, and in need of a lot of guidance with good decision making. Often times behavior issues arise just because they don't know how to process everything that is happening/changing so quickly. Change is hard for most people. Being a foster parent is no different than being a parent to biological children. All children need love, security, understanding and someone to be there for them. A foster parent is a parent, nothing more, nothing less.

By Chris Leary (not verified) on 07 May 2013 #permalink