Twenty-six year old Lauren is currently a mom of six, seven any day now. Four of her and her husband’s children were adopted out of the foster care system, three of them are biologically theirs.
We often watch foster families and think, “Wow. They are something else! I could never do that because of _____________.”
The reasons vary, but one I have encountered on multiple occasions is that parents are concerned about how fostering would affect their permanent children, whether biological or adopted.
I am in a number of foster and adoptive groups online and saw Lauren comment about how she grew up in a family that fostered vulnerable children. Immediately, I asked her if she wouldn’t mind being interviewed to give us some insight into that experience.
I asked Lauren how old she was when her parents began fostering. She shared, “My family started fostering when I was about 13 years old. It began with a fictive kinship placement, which is a placement we previously had known but were not related to by blood or marriage. My parents have had probably about 8 placements over the years, most being longer-term placements.”
Multiple Permanent Children/Siblings
I wasn’t sure if Lauren was the only permanent child in the family, so I asked her if she had siblings who were adopted or biological at the time her parents began fostering.
“Yes!” She shared, “I am the oldest of five biological children that were all there from the time they began fostering on. My two siblings adopted from foster care were not in our home for all the placements but have been.”
The Decision to Foster
I asked Lauren if her parents brought her and her siblings into the conversation and decision to foster, or if they sort of just told them it was happening.
Her response was, “To be frank, they didn’t have much time to let us know. My parents were thrown into it when a child needed a home and they could provide it. They were first given a placement then made all the classes, etc, to become certified. Because of that, I don’t remember many conversations about ‘should we do this.’ I was the oldest, by about 6 years, so when we originally began most my biological siblings weren’t at an age they really could have had much say in the matter.”
Relationships Between Siblings
You never know how life-changing events and transitions will affect you. I wondered if fostering brought her and her siblings closer together, didn’t have an impact, or pushed them apart.
She responded with, “I’m not sure if I would say we stayed the same or grew closer. My siblings and I have a pretty good relationship, albeit the fact I’m 26 and on my own and the youngest is only 12, which changes some of the dynamics. But we’ve always been fairly close, minus the normal squabbles. As we have had to say hello and goodbye, we’ve learned to lean into each other and I know I consider them a safe place to feel all the complex feelings foster care causes.”
I asked Lauren if there was ever any placements that brought secondary trauma into their family, either her or another sibling? What did that look like?
“I think just the introduction and loss of a sibling feels like secondary trauma. We were raised to believe these children were one of us and thus far, only two have become permanently a part of our family.”
She continued, “There’s been a lot of heartache around saying goodbye, around not having that much faith in where kids were going after they left our home. For myself personally, it caused a lot of questioning about how to love people and watch them leave, and in some cases lose most contact with them.”
“And then there’s always the fact that children in foster care have been traumatized. My parents were very aware and worked to always keep the safety of the kids in the home first, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t hear things. I remember being 18 and crying because I truly didn’t understand how people could hurt sweet kids the way I had overheard. I don’t know if I would consider it secondary trauma as much as I’ve faced as an adoptive/foster mother, because my parents truly protected us from a LOT, but we definitely all had those moments of ‘this is so much harder than it may have been without foster care.’”
From a Child’s Perspective
When I think back to when I was a kid, I didn’t have enough understanding of children in the foster care system. So I wondered from her inside experience how she viewed children who were foster care placements? Did she consider them brothers/sisters/part of the family, as a random person staying for awhile, as someone to be threatened by, as someone to be saved, or what?
Lauren shares, “While I lived in our home, we were all brothers and sisters. As I’ve moved out, it’s been a different relationship I’ve formed with the placements living with my parents. They had one long term and I very much considered him my brother while he was living with us. Since then, however, they have had shorter-term placements and I don’t know that I would say ‘Yea that’s my sister’ in a passing conversation. I feel badly about that, in part because I still consider some of the younger siblings who lived with us my ‘once upon a time’ siblings, but I think a huge part of it is my exposure to these placements now versus the exposure and time spent with ones before.”
She shared that she never felt threatened in her place in their home, but she makes note that she was much older during placements. “I can’t speak for kids who experienced being permanent in not always permanent families that are younger,” she shares.
I asked her if she felt anxious about having foster children in her home.
“Yes and no,” she shares, “I struggle with anxiety in the normal day-to-day, so there is always a bit of anxiety in me. We have had situations where it wasn’t perfect with birth families and that made me worry. But until I began studying social work, I didn’t realize there was a serious connotation about the ‘dangers of foster children.’”
Chosen to Foster
Since she is now older and has a family of her own, I wondered if she felt her parents fostering impacted her for “better” or for “worse.”
Boldly, Lauren responded, “I’m a firm believer that my parents fostering made me who I am today—and I don’t mind this person! There are definitely some things it left me more vulnerable to—we saw some ugly parts of the world my parents probably could have sheltered us from if not for foster care. And we had some really hard, heart-wrenching goodbyes.”
“But foster care also showed me some of the most beautiful things. It opened my eyes to the gospel, of caring so deeply without clutching your hands around what you loved. It gave me a chance to accept and love people I never would have known otherwise. It taught me about redemption and how strong the human spirit can be. And most importantly, it gave me two forever siblings and four kids I wouldn’t trade for the world.”
So, you are a foster mom and adoptive mom. Was this because of the way you were raised in a foster family?
“My husband and I actually became licensed foster parents before we were even legally married. At this point, we are no longer an open home as we are at capacity and our children vocalized needing to have our permanent family strengthened, but I hope someday we will be able to foster again.”
And, as any wise person, Lauren wants to make it clear that this is her experience. Many people walk a similar journey but with entirely different experiences: “I want to add this—while these are my feelings, even in our home my siblings grew up with different outlooks. I have one sister who has declared she can not and will not ever foster because it’s too much and I respect her opinion on that. We are all different people and I have never believed that saying ‘Anyone can foster.’ We aren’t saints for fostering, but it does take skill and emotional abilities not everyone has . . . and that’s okay! It’s important to remember children are little people but some kids will not be able to do short-term placements with a positive outlook afterwards. Not everyone can foster, but everyone can help a child in foster care.”