Foster Parenting: It May Not Be What You Think
By Amy Bates, foster parent and foster adoptive consultant
When I am asked what it’s like to be a foster parent, I always struggle. Should I talk about the overwhelming joy I feel when a child is able to go home to parents who are able to provide him or her with a safe and loving home? Do I mention the sleepless nights spent consoling a little one who has seen more ugliness in the world than anyone ever should? Do I focus on the blessing of adoption—not for the child, as is mistakenly assumed, but for me personally? Do I discuss the endless meetings and a system that is somewhat difficult to navigate? After being a foster parent for 19 years, I have come to the conclusion that the most important focus should always be the children.
Being a foster parent can, in all honesty, be challenging. Hearing the nightmares that brought an innocent child into your home is gut-wrenching. Expectations can be difficult for a child to meet and confusing for a foster parent to appropriately set. What is more, it can be disconcerting when parents, caseworkers, and judges, although on the same team with the same ultimate desire, have priorities that are different from yours.
Yet, if your focus is on the plight of more than 120 children in Washington County who are in foster care, your experience will be altogether different. You may still experience some of the lows, but the highs will leave you with a feeling of satisfaction, pride, and awe. Watching an “F” student change, virtually overnight, into a confident pupil with a desire and ability to be successful in school because of the nourishment you provide is astonishing. Equally amazing is seeing a baby—or a “seasoned” teenager—finally learn it is okay to cry and that his or her needs can be met by a caring adult. Simple things like having dinner together every night, wearing clean clothes, and being surprised by the tooth fairy will quickly become not so simple. The things you tend to take for granted will soon become things you never again take for granted. This knowledge will set you apart from others for the rest of your life.
When the focus is squarely on the children and making a difference in their lives, foster care, while still hard at times, becomes the easiest and best thing you will ever experience. The hug from a teenager who barely spoke to you the first week in your home is priceless. The smiles from a little one—or even a big one— who runs to show you their first Easter basket will make the restless nights seem bearable. Witnessing a child’s achievements and being able to provide a child with the normalcy of a loving, safe home for a short time will be enough motivation to answer the call again and again.
The children I have met through foster care are some of the strongest, most inspiring people I have ever known. Focusing on them makes meeting the tremendous need we have for more foster parents in our area not only a worthwhile endeavor but a task well worth your time and energy. If you are interested in learning more, please contact Utah Foster Care at 1-877-865-8065 or visit utahfostercare.org.