When I first started my journey as a foster parent, I had no other children. I had heard others express concern about the impact of fostering on their biological children, but without a personal frame of reference, there wasn’t too much I could add to the conversation. That all changed with my most recent placement because this was the first time I had said yes since my now-adopted son had come home.

I worried constantly about him during that entire seven-month placement. Was I giving him enough individual time? Was I introducing him to things he didn’t need to know about yet, things like abuse and addiction? Was he learning negative behaviors and unhealthy coping skills? Would he be heartbroken when they left and could I explain it in a way that he would understand that he wasn’t leaving, that I would be his mommy forever?

Our natural tendency as parents is to protect our kids, and certainly this is part of our job. We want them to be safe, to be happy, to have all of the best things this life has to offer. But I wonder if sometimes in the process we are too protective, that in our desire to shield them, that we fail to expose them to the kinds of things they will have to face as adults. Maybe far better than shielding them, we should teach them that life is hard, that not everyone grows up with safe and loving parents, and that sometimes we choose to do hard things because they are the right things to do. These are tough lessons, but perhaps it is better that they learn them young, and that they do it while they are still at home with us.

Certainly, foster parenting is not without its risk. Exposing our children to hard things is not the same thing as placing them in a situation where they are not safe, where they are bullied or abused. And sometimes, abused or traumatized children lash out. In those cases, we should not be ashamed of making a change that will protect our children. We also need to be extra careful to teach them about personal boundaries, about appropriate touch, and about what to do if those boundaries are violated. This is an essential skill for all children, but perhaps even more so for our kids.

It would be irresponsible to not consider the safety issues when you sign up to be a foster parent. But maybe the better question is less about the negative impact that it might have on your kids, and more about the positive impact. And if you’re diligent to teach your child throughout the process, those can be numerous. We learn compassion not by watching it, but by practicing it. We learn that we can do hard things because we do them. We learn not to be afraid of people who are different from us, people from different races or cultures or backgrounds, when we get to know them up close and when their stories become entangled with ours. Your kids will understand that sometimes people behave badly because they are hurt or scared and just don’t know any better, and that we can help to teach them and offer them grace at the same time. And if the kids who are already in your home have come from hard places themselves, helping other kids from hard places just might help them process their own stories, too.

Fellow foster parents, how has being a foster parent affected your kids?

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