It is once again the time of year to recognize some people near and dear to my heart. May is Foster Care month, and most important are the people who are in the trenches doing the work, foster parents. I know how difficult this job is because I was once a foster care provider myself. I have some insight into what they experience.
Of course, the attention in this program goes to the children and it certainly should but let’s think for a minute what it takes to be a foster parent and some of the challenges they face.
No one understands you. Why on earth would a sane person who loves children allow themselves to be scrutinized by a team of strangers in hopes of being deemed worthy to be a foster parent? It has to be a calling from God. That’s the only explanation I know of.
The work is often lonely. Once you take on children in foster care you become a pariah. At church you are known (sometimes) as the person who “has that kid”, the one who won’t stay seated, the one who talks all the time or won’t talk at all, the kid who is just a little bit odd. Yes, you are that person who drags in late with a diaper bag one Sunday and empty hands the next. Your life is turbulent at times. Friends forget to include you for dinners and other events because, you probably can’t come anyway with that kid.
It’s ridiculously hard and heartbreaking work. You are caring for children who are homeless. They don’t belong to you, they can’t be where they belong. It is hard enough for you to wrap your head around, it’s nearly impossible to explain to a four year old why they can only visit their “real mom” on Tuesdays. You want to take that mom sometimes and shake some sense into her. You want to scream at her, “Why don’t you get your act together and raise your babies so that I don’t have to?!” It’s not that we don’t love these kids, it’s quite the opposite. We do love them but so often we wish we weren’t needed.
Then, you are constantly feeling the heaviness of loss. Children in foster care have suffered incredible loss. No one should be abandoned, abused, neglected or mistreated at the hands of their parents, but it happens. Foster parents have to be equipped to deal with children in these situations. Kids who have been separated from everything they’ve ever known tend to have issues with trust, who wouldn’t? When a foster parent works with a particular child and helps them through these tough times it’s hard to watch them leave. They tell you not to get attached, this is pointless instruction. What kind of home would it be if they didn’t get attached?
So, why would someone want to become a foster parent? It’s not for the pay. That is laughable. Alabama foster parents receive around $15 a day to feed, clothe and otherwise care for a child in foster care. Prison inmates cost the government nearly three times that much.
Still, there are people every month who sign on to be foster parents. There are still children who need to be loved. I suppose as long as they exist God will continue to call people to the job.
During this month befriend a foster parent. Invite them to dinner, let them know you appreciate what they do. Offer to babysit, you might feel the calling yourself.
Angie Brown is a humorist who loves being a wife, mother and grandmother. She lives in Opelika with her husband of 31 years and four of their seven children.