There is a lot of focus on helping couples prepare to become foster parents. They receive multiple visits by social workers, attend training, and complete a mountain of paperwork. However, the parents of prospective foster couples tend to receive no to very little information that helps them to prepare for their important role as a “grandparent” to foster children.
Rhonda Wagner knows what it is like to go through the process of watching her adult daughter and son-in-law become foster parents. In 2015, her daughter, Lisa and her son-in-law, JJ, became licensed as foster parents. When she first learned of their decision to walk down this path, you might have expected her feelings to be of apprehension and fear. However, for Rhonda, it was more of an “aha” moment.
Over the previous three and a half years, their family went from joy with the birth of their granddaughter, Avery, to despair. Shortly after Avery’s birth, Lisa became gravely ill with a rare bacterial infection. She was quarantined, septic, and had pneumonia. At 26 years old, Lisa underwent a hysterectomy to save her life. It saved her but left her unable to carry children.
With a healthy and vibrant granddaughter, Rhonda supported her daughter and son-in-law in their desire to become parents to more children through surrogacy. Unfortunately, the transfer of embryos did not result in pregnancy. Although devastated, the family decided to pursue foster parenting and adoption.
When Lisa and JJ announced their decision to go through foster parenting classes, it was an “AHA” moment for Rhonda as she felt God was leading them towards this. It took pain and suffering to get there, but through it all, the family’s resolve was strong.
Lisa and JJ have been licensed since 2015. Rhonda has been “grandma” to five children so far. Rhonda admits feelings of selfishness when a few of the little ones have left. This was not an easy calling for any of them. “Gosh – I was learning this stuff is hard on one’s heart!” Rhonda admits while considering the emotions she went through as a few of the children were reunified or placed with relatives.
In 2018, Rhonda became “Ninny” to a little boy that Lisa and JJ fostered. This child stole her heart from the very beginning. It was a tremendous blessing for him to be legally and officially declared her grandson. Shortly after they celebrated his adoption, the family welcomed two more little ones. For two months, Rhonda cherished the baby boy and girl. However, seemingly as quick as the baby girl came, she was moved to live with a relative. The baby boy stayed, and the goal for him has been changed to adoption. Soon, Rhonda and her husband will be able to legally say that he is their grandson.
Rhonda’s advice to parents whose adult children are becoming foster parents is to thoroughly embrace their role as grandparents. “Give your very best love just as you would a new birth in the family.” Welcome the foster child with excitement and gifts. Celebrate big moments like homecoming. Take lots of pictures. Offer to get approved for things like babysitting and transporting children. Help cook meals!
Rhonda wants people to know that it does hurt when a child leaves, but it is so important to remind yourself that it isn’t about you or your needs. It is about the foster child and what is needed for him or her. “This child needs capital letter LOVE with an exclamation point! And, your adult children and their children already in the home need your love and approval, too. So, give it abundantly! And, listen a lot. Your adult children will need to vent. The system is not perfect. But, remember, they have been trained for foster care and the brokenness of it all. You have not. So, keep open ears and open hearts as you embrace your loving role of support! And, don’t forget to help tackle that never-ending pile of laundry!”
In 2019, Rhonda wrote and published her first book, It’s Okay to Wonder. While writing it, her biological granddaughter, Avery, was on her mind. She knew her daughter and son-in-law were trained and prepared to be foster parents, but her granddaughter was not. She searched for children’s books about foster parenting but could not find anything that she felt relatable for Avery. So, she wrote one.
In the book, Avery wonders what it will be like to be a foster family. She talks about her concerns with her grandparent and parents. Some of the concerns she has are silly, while others are not and need to be addressed. “My goal is that families going into foster care and those presently involved, who already have children in the home, would see the book’s value as a help source to spur open conversations about their childrens’ feelings.” The book also includes a section in the back that includes conversation starters and a glossary of terms easily described for a child’s understanding. You can find It’s Okay to Wonder on her website or on Amazon or Barnes & Noble online sites.
When looking back on her experience as a grandparent to foster children, she wishes someone would’ve told her that it is more than okay to step outside of your comfortable life and right into the uncomfortable unknowns of foster care. “We fear what we don’t know, don’t we? It’s so much easier to stay put in our routine-filled cages of comfort. But, if you or your adult children are considering foster care, it is time to break free!” She now sees just how many blessings have come from this experience—one that has been lived outside of comfort. While their family has helped these children, she knows that they have helped her to become a better version of herself, one that has been discovered while loving on children who desperately needed it.
When considering how to prepare to become a grandparent via foster care, Rhonda acknowledges that the scary and unknown parts of dealing with their daughter’s sudden illness and disappointments helped them to prepare for the scary and unknown parts of foster care. She knows that prayer and trust was, and still is, a crucial part of their journey. “Foster care is hard, but we can do hard things.”
If your adult child is considering becoming a foster parent, embrace it. It’s okay to have some fear, but recognize that there is a whole community of people (in the foster care world) who are willing to join and support you. Your role as a “grandparent” to foster children is vital. It is important. Learn what you can. Support each other. Love the children.
Rhonda feels it a privilege to fulfill her role as a (foster) grandparent. “Foster care is also love. And, love covers all things. If you can love sacrificially, you’ve got this!”