You might be a foster parent if . . .

. . . you can never RSVP for anything with certainty.

The only thing that feels certain in foster care is uncertainty. We never know what our family, our house will look like the next day (much less the next week or month). This makes it really tricky to make longer term plans. It’s okay. Over time, you will rally your village and they will understand that when you RSVP for 4 guests to a party, it could actually mean 3 or 5 (or more if you have lots of bedrooms). Over time, the ones who are true friends will understand if your foster baby just left your home and you can’t bear the thought of making an appearance at someone else’s baby shower. Over time, you will see which folks truly support you as a foster parent and you will hold them close. And everybody else’s opinion will start to matter a little less.

. . . visits are not just for friends.

Outside of foster care, the word “visit” evokes happy feelings of laughing with friends over a cup of tea. When you enter this brave new world, you will quickly learn that life is overrun with visits. Social worker visits. CASA visits. Lawyer visits. Family visits. Many of these visits will be in your own home and may feel like an invasion of your privacy (this is one of the things that surprised me most about foster care—how my whole life felt “exposed” to so many professionals). Some of them will be hastily scheduled. Some of them will be cancelled at the last minute. Some of them will require you to rearrange your schedule (and probably take time off from work). Some of them will require you to transport your child, sit around in a sterile waiting room, and pick up the pieces on the way home. To be honest, few of them are likely to involve laughter, friendship and tea.

. . . your parenting approach tiptoes between holding tightly and holding loosely.

Parenting is hard. Foster parenting is a different kind of hard. Our job is to love and parent the children in our care wholeheartedly, knowing that usually the goal is for them to return to their family. This is a tricky tightrope to walk. It requires a lot of love—love for the child and, I truly believe, love for their family too (this is another one of the things that surprised me most about foster care—how much genuine compassion I feel for my kids’ families). And so we hold our babies tightly . . . knowing that healthy attachment is what they need and deserve. And we hold them loosely . . . knowing that their healthy attachment to us just might be getting them ready to attach to someone else.

. . . you have a big heart and thick skin.

I’ve met a lot of foster parents over the past five years, and these are the two traits that seem nearly universal among us. Young and old, single and married, urban and suburban, religious and agnostic, we love kids. We can’t stand the thought of a vacant bedroom in our house when there are kids who need families. But we are not pushovers. If we’ve done this for any length of time, we’ve had to stand up to social workers, lawyers, and sometimes judges. We’ve had to fight for what our babies need and jump through lots of hoops to make it happen. We’ve endured stares and snide remarks from curious strangers (and sometimes, honestly, from people we thought were friends). We’ve said good-bye to pieces of our hearts and then answered the phone ready to do it all again.

So, there you have four signs that you might be a foster parent. Fellow foster parents, what did I forget? What would you add to this list?