If you listen to popular culture and the media, there seem to be two stereotypes that persist about foster parents. One is that we are in it for the money. The other is that we are heroes, selflessly rescuing kids from bad situations. Spoiler alert: most of us do not fit into either category.
I’ve been a foster parent for about four years now. During this time, I’ve met countless other families on their own fostering journeys. We are young and old, single and married, gay and straight. We come from all different backgrounds. Our motivations for fostering vary. But here’s what I think we share: Not a love of money (really, folks?!). Not a hero complex. Just big hearts and thick skin.
Most of our days are not really that different from any other parent’s. We make breakfast and wipe snotty noses. We shuttle babies to daycare and stress about whether we’ll have enough energy to get to the grocery store after work. We read books and sing songs and tuck little people into bed. We rise again to find missing pacifiers and scare away monsters.
Our lives are full of the day-to-day joys and struggles of every parent. So, in a way, we are not that different from you.
Except that sometimes we are.
We have social workers and therapists and school guidance counselors on speed dial. We let ourselves bond completely with little people who we know will not be our forever children. Because, for us, it is the right thing to do. And we cannot help it. We pray and cheer for birth parents. We listen to their stories. We hug them. We rejoice when things go well and cry when they do not. We get “too attached” and saying goodbye feels like having our hearts ripped out.
We have all of the responsibilities of parenting and then some—court hearings, family visits, training requirements. But we do not have custody, so we have very few rights—to send our foster kids on a field trip, get a haircut or verify receipt of medical equipment, we need social worker approval. Sometimes obtaining the services they need feels one thousand times harder than it should. Sometimes we disagree with decisions that are made about the future of little ones who have spent much of their lives with us.
Being a foster parent is hard. It is, in fact, the hardest thing that I have ever done.
And yet I persist. I carry on because the benefits outweigh the cost. One hundred thousand times (for me at, least). I carry on because children in foster care matter. They deserve safety and love and someone who is willing to get “too attached” without a guaranteed outcome. I carry on because foster care brought me my daughter. And two little ones who moved on from me to their forever family. And another reunified with her mom. And one more asleep in the other room. We don’t know how that story will end.
I do not do it for the money. I am not a hero. I am more like you than I am different.
I am exhausted. I am fulfilled. I am a foster parent.