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What Being a Foster Parent Did For My Family

Like most Wisconsin foster parents, I could write a book about my family's experiences fostering. I would dedicate an entire chapter to how fostering affected my biological kids. Our kids were 7 and 9 when we got our foster care license. From our first placement to our last, each foster child was unique, and my kids reacted differently to each one. We shared some wonderful and trying times with the kids that came and went. Foster Children

How will being a foster parent affect your family?

We were a busy family. We ran around town to activities and sports and spent time with extended family on weekends. My husband worked long hours, and I had a part-time job in a shop in town. Our world was happy and full. So why did we feel the urge to foster? It wasn't that something was missing; it was more of a feeling that we needed to share what we had been given. But how would fostering affect our kids' lives? Were we being selfish?

After caring for a few single kids, we fell into a pattern of sibling groups—usually 2 or 3, most under age eight. We enjoyed being a big family. It worked for us. Because many of the kids we cared for had been so neglected, they struggled with a variety of trauma. It took some time for our kids to understand that, but as we watched the foster kids grow, we saw our children changing and growing as well.

The decision to become foster parents was ours, not theirs.

Our son and daughter developed compassion and empathy beyond most kids their age. They started to recognize similarities with most of the kids. Food insecurities, lack of social cues and boundaries, triggers, and heightened emotions for what seemed like small or unimportant things. Their ability to redirect the little ones was impressive. The patience they both had was an example to me and my husband. We saw sides of our kids that may have never developed had we not fostered.

School staff and our close friends took note of our kid's participation in the little kids' lives. Compliments about our two kids became commonplace. We were so proud of them both. All the while, we made sure not to place too much responsibility on our kids. We constantly reminded ourselves they did not choose to foster; we did. In addition, we always let our kids have a vote of sorts in accepting a new placement. It was important they felt heard. Their opinion mattered.

They played with the kids, shared a snack, and read them a story occasionally, but we did not expect it from them. We appreciated them and all they were able to give throughout the years. We made a point to keep our relationships with them as "normal" as possible despite the chaos, appointments, and time constraints. It was challenging, but we found time for them. That was important for all of us.

Trust your children to let you know how they feel about fostering.

As our son and daughter got older, sports became competitive and all-consuming. The oldest was getting his license, and friends became more important. Like most teens, they were demonstrating annoyance with things they used to like and tolerate. Homework was more time-consuming, and both kids desired some privacy.

Along the way, if someone needed a break, we acknowledged it. If one of the kids was struggling after a difficult goodbye, we allowed time for healing. We rarely asked our kids to babysit; in hindsight, we should have taken advantage of respite care more often. A regular break would have been good for all of us. We loved fostering with all our hearts, but things were changing for our kids.

Siblings

They certainly had favorite kids over the years and favorite sayings that they still reference today. There are also memories of their least favorite, the one they both struggled to like. That's okay, too.  Overall, their memories are happy, and both kids are glad for the unique experience.

We made a promise to ourselves before we got our foster care license.

The key to our fostering success was an agreement between me and my husband before we got our foster license. We promised to be honest with each other if and when we saw things changing for our biological kids. We agreed we would stop fostering when we believed it was at the expense of one or both of our children.

After eight years and 19 foster kids, it was time.

After honest discussions, we agreed to let our license expire. We had two little girls then, and they were to move to a pre-adopt home, so the timing was right. We were at peace with our decision. We were grateful for the opportunities to love kids, help them learn, and feel safe. We cherish the time spent with our children, making other kids' worlds a little bit better. We were happy that we presented foster care to our community in a light they had not known before.

Was fostering all butterflies and rainbows? Of course not. Was it worth it, and would I recommend it to others? Absolutely! My children learned valuable life lessons that most kids would never have the opportunity to learn. They love in new ways, are more compassionate, think of others first, and have great empathy for those hurting.

Remember this about fostering.

Being a foster parent can be for as long or as short as you want it to be. It is your journey, and a good foster agency will support you and your family. I am glad we took the leap when we did, and I'm also grateful we recognized when it was time to stop. We still keep in touch with a few kids, all in their teens and 20s. I encourage anyone thinking of fostering to do it. There will never be a perfect time, but the time spent fostering will be like nothing you've ever done.

Submitted by a retired foster parent and friend of CCR.

 

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