Last week marked a major change in the Frey household. We are foster childless for the first time in a year and a half, and for the first time in our son Winston's short life. When our 9 year old foster daughter (C) went home in May the very next week we had two new little foster children move in. A 14 month old girl (J) and a 3 year old boy (D) who could not yet talk. Their 8 year old sister was in a residential home because of some more serious issues.
It's been a ride, and I'm personally ready for a break. At least that's what I've been telling myself. I thought I would be so relieved, I mean, it's been a very overwhelming year and a half. But it's so quiet now... It's just Winston and I at the house during the day, and to be truthful I miss having other kids for Winston to play with. The squeals of laughter, the tug of war with toys, J and Winston both throwing their food on the floor every meal and then looking for a reaction, the way D would look out for his sister J, D and Darin wrestling. There's a lot I'm missing right now, but there's also a lot I don't miss.
I'm a pretty emotional person. My husband can tell you that. I knew that foster care would be hard. I knew it would break my heart, and it has already. There are families who have been doing this for years who have plenty more stories to tell. We're still at the freshman level! There is one thing I've learned in my short time though: Don't become a foster parent for yourself. DON'T. If you expect even subconsciously that it will make you feel good about yourself or that it will fill some void in your life I can tell you it won't. There are a lot of negatives to becoming a foster parent. Here are just five:
1. Putting Your Family at Risk
This may be the number one reason people don't become foster parents. We have all heard the horror stories. The foster dad falsely accused of sexual abuse by a broken young girl, a child sexually abused by a foster sibling, a foster child physically hurting your child or even you! I don't think the risk is something to be taken lightly, and as bad as it sounds foster parents with children of their own must be much more selective about what children they bring into their home, albeit, there are issues that will arise which the case workers are sometimes unaware of. For example, with many children it is not known that they were sexually abused until AFTER they come into care. This is because they finally feel safe enough to tell someone. Darin and I have weighed the risk. We believe that God has called us to it and are walking in faith that if God called us to it He will also protect our family. That being said, I could not in good conscience take a child into my home who has been known to act out sexually towards other children, and would not leave my son alone with a foster child. Not because foster children are bad or evil, but because you cannot know for sure what a child has been exposed to. Children who have been sexually abused will naturally be much more curious or want to act out what they've experienced. This is a sad and harsh reality. While my home would not be the best place for a child who has a history of acting out sexually, perhaps a retired couple's home would be a great place. Every family has something different they can offer to foster children.
2. Becoming the Target of a Child's Anger
You might feel all warm and fuzzy when you think about becoming a foster parent. The love and affection you expect to feel from a child you've opened up your home and heart to. WRONG. It is not the same as raising your own children. These are children who have seen things you can't imagine. These are children who have had everything that meant something to them taken away. These are children that though they live in an abusive or dangerous situation--that is their normal--and when they are taken out of their normal can you imagine how vulnerable and scared they feel? A loving home can be very threatening to them. Ironically, the safer a child may feel with you the more he or she may direct their anger at you. BECAUSE you are safe. This has been difficult for me. Our 3 year old D had more anger than I knew a 3 year old could have. There were many times he refused to give Darin or I a hug but would plop up on a stranger's lap. There were times I would go pick him up from preschool and he would not look at me or acknowledge me because I was not his mom or dad. I felt defeated and so hurt. There were times I would go in my room and just cry because I was trying to give it my all... but felt like I was failing miserably. I wanted D to love me back, but many times he just couldn't. It's called unconditional love people. Giving even when you don't get anything back.
3. NO PRIVACY
To become a licensed foster parent you must go through STARS training in MO, which is 24 hrs of training, after STARS is follow-up training, and you also undergo an extensive home study. They will ask you very personal questions and even want to go back in your family history. Your house must meet several requirements, and home walk-throughs are done every month to every three months. Sometimes you feel like you are being watched, especially when you first start out as a foster parent. You will have multiple visits from case workers. One thing Darin and I didn't understand when we became foster parents was that we did not actually have custody of the children. The case worker has custody, therefore, decisions you think you will get to make you sometimes don't. There is a feeling of powerlessness at times because you might think one route would be best for the child and the case worker might think another route best. You are not even allowed to make the decision to cut a child's hair. There is also a rigid set of Do's and Don'ts regarding discipline of foster children. You cannot spank. I know that this will be more difficult for us as we plan to spank our own children, but they see that we don't spank their foster siblings.
4. Seeing a Child Placed Back in a Negative Situation
The goal always starts out as reunification for families. Some parents do very well with this. The wake-up call of having their children taken away motivates them to change. Some will make lasting changes, others will make no changes at all, and some will make changes until the state is no longer watching them. Sometimes the parents aren't the destructive ones, but maybe it's the family members. For me, the most difficult part so far has been watching a former foster child be emotionally abused, not by a parent, but by a couple of other family members. Unfortunately, emotional abuse is not something that weighs well in a legal court. The current reality is that this child will grow up being put down and not treated equally because this child was the one who told the truth about what was going on in their family. But you know what, I will continue to tell this child that they are worthy and that no matter what they have a God who loves them so much. If I had never become a foster mom I wouldn't have that opportunity.
5. Getting Attached and then Never Seeing the Child Again
So far this has not been the case with us, but I know if we keep doing foster care that it will probably happen. Once a child is home and parental rights are given back it is all up to their parents whether you can see them or not. In our training we've heard stories of never getting to see a child again who was in one's home for months.
These are just 5 realities one needs to understand before becoming a foster parent. While those aspects have been difficult I would not change the past year and a half of fostering. I would have missed the opportunity to get to know two very special girls and a very special brother and sister. I can honestly say the struggle through fostering has grown me in such great ways; it is not weakening my heart, it's strengthening it. It's forced me to look beyond myself, my feelings, my desires. It's teaching me what unconditional love looks like. It's forced me to ask for help and say to my church family, "I need help. I'm overwhelmed." It's given several in our church the opportunity to play a huge part in our foster children's lives. The other day D and J's mom came over just to talk and have tea. I would not have formed that relationship with her had we not taken D and J. For me the benefits outweigh the negatives as long as we are called to this ministry of fostering. We're taking a break for possibly a few months to reevaluate and breathe for a while, but part of me wonders who the next kids will be to come and change us again.
is a rural Missouri preacher's wife who stays at home with her son Winston and 4 foster sons whom she and her husband are in the process of adopting! (Looking forward to the day I can put their names on here!)