When we first announced to our friends and family that we were pursuing adoption through foster care, I admit we caught people off guard. Although my husband and I had talked about it for years, no one else knew it was on our radar. Naturally, they had questions, one of the first always being, “What about your kids? How will they handle this?” We have three bio kids, ages 5, 7, and 9, and I think people expressed their natural fears . . . fears that our children’s “perfect” world was about to turn upside down. The irony is that, as we have navigated licensing, respite care, foster care, parental visits, CPS meetings, court hearings, caseworkers, doctor’s appointments, home visits, WIC appointments, mountains of paperwork, and all the other legalities involved with being a foster parent, our children’s enlightened perspective on foster care has been one of the most reassuring and joyful parts of our journey.
My husband and I believe that too often parents try to protect their kids from the ugliness of this fallen world. “Wear a helmet!” “Watch only G-rated movies.” “Use hand sanitizer!” When, in fact, we should be integrating them into the corrupt world in which we live so that when it’s time to send them out of the nest by themselves, they’ll be ready.
A Not-So-Simple Conversation
One day my seven-year-old daughter, Clarey, was watching her favorite Disney Channel show, Good Luck Charlie. On this show the family has five children, ranging in age from one to about twenty. Clarey asked me, “Mom, on Good Luck Charlie, if the mom wanted so many kids, why didn’t she just adopt a kid? Why did she keep having so many?”
“Well, honey, maybe she didn’t feel called to adopt,” I said. “Not everyone feels called to adopt.”
“Why not?” Clarey asked.
“Well, foster care and adoption are difficult at times. There are a lot of things about it that we love and we know we are doing what God wants us to do, but there are some hard things, too,” I said, trying to keep the intricacies of child welfare and social justice on a seven-year-old level, while not casting stones at our family and friends who choose not to foster or adopt. We want our kids to know that foster care is a choice we made, but it’s not a choice everyone has to make.
“Well, if it’s hard, then why are you doing it?” Clarey asked, trying to gain a full picture of our situation.
“Well,” I answered slowly, choosing my words carefully. “We felt like we have a pretty great family, and we wanted to share our family with a child who doesn’t have a family. There are so many children all over the world who don’t have a family, just like our foster baby, and we wanted to give one of them a family.”
Then, with eyes as big as the moon, Clarey asked, “Mommy, do other adults know there are children without a family?”
“Yes, honey,” I had to tell her, ashamed to admit that millions of my peers sit idle while 130,000 foster kids* wait for a forever family.
“Then why won’t they give those kids a family?” she asked, refusing to accept that this was a problem that couldn’t be solved. I had no words.
Changing Our Family Legacy
This is just one of many conversations we’ve had with our bio kids. When we entered into this world of foster care we hoped to impact one life . . . to offer our family to just one child in need. In the process, we quickly realized we were changing three other lives: our bio kids. Unlike adults who over analyze, over-control, and over think, our kids don’t worry about receiving a call for a child with lice or bruises or dirty clothes. They don’t care if a child comes into our home and eats everything in sight because he’s never felt a full belly. For our bio kids, bringing a child into our home who needs a family just makes sense. It’s what we do. We don’t know how long we will have our current foster placement. Her future with us is uncertain; God’s plan for her not yet laid out. Wherever she ends up—with bio parents, with extended family, or with us—she has taught our family how to live in the moment, because with foster children that is all you have. You might not have next year or next month or next week, so you learn to appreciate today. We know her life is valuable and her story is unique, so we treasure her for who she is and we celebrate the mark and legacy she is leaving on our children and on our family today. People no longer ask, “What about your kids? How will they handle this?” They see for themselves how foster care has changed our children . . . for the better. People see how our kids have grown and matured. They see the joy and the love. And isn’t that what foster care is all about? A child receiving joy and love at a time when she desperately needs to feel it . . . and a family extending joy and love at a time when they desperately need to give it away.
Elizabeth Oates (B.A., Baylor University and M.A., Dallas Theological Seminary) is an author, speaker and blogger living in Waco, Texas. In 2007 she and her husband, Brandon, founded Project Restoration, a ministry providing reduced-rate, professional, Christian counseling and lay mentoring to married couples. In 2008 she wrote, Dealing with Divorce: Finding Direction When Your Parents Split Up to help teens whose parents are divorced. Elizabeth and Brandon have three children and are currently foster parents to a fourth child. To follow Elizabeth and read more on marriage, foster care, and integrating life & faith, visit www.elizabethoates.com.