As foster parents, we have had children of all sorts of religions, cultures, family values and heritage. Our heritage is mostly European from all sides. Our culture is a mixture of Canadian and Dutch. Our religion is Bible believing, Christian. Our family values are respect, family, helping others, quality time and friendships.
Today I was listening to a story from a family member who’s granddaughter had been placed in a Christian home. She spoke honestly about how difficult it was for the family not understanding what beliefs were being “pushed” onto her granddaughter. The family had asked if the girl’s Sunday afternoon visits could be switched to Sunday mornings so the girl could spend time with family instead of being forced to practice a religion that is foreign to her and her family. Unfortunately, the foster family was rigid and insisted that the girl must go to church. Not only did this experience put the biological family “off” the foster family it also put them “off” of Christianity. I don’t believe that is what Jesus would want.
Hearing that upset me as a Christian foster mom. The foundation of Christianity is Jesus. We believe He died for our mistakes and came to earth to teach us how to live. When you read the Bible, you see countless examples of ways Jesus shows by example that we must love others. Not just our family but ALL people. He was very clear on that. Love God, Love others. The sum of all the ten commandments.
When Jesus commanded us to love others that means everyone! All colours, all shapes, all diseases, all people suffering from poor mental health, all religions, all cultures, all opinions, all LGBTQ, all women, all men, all children, all elderly, all those in jail, all those who are homeless, all the disabilities, all the politicians, all those who drive us crazy, all those who are easy to love and all those who are very difficult to love. We don’t get to pick and choose. Mother Theresa is a role model to me and to the world and she was a great example of loving everyone. She even helped people who could possibly endanger her health (sick people with leprosy, HIV, etc.).
So if we are to love everyone, then every child who enters our foster home for a short time should be able to see what a living example of Jesus love is without feeling that there is something wrong with their culture, heritage, religion, etc. All children’s families, need to feel that most of all we want to show them love, not judgement. We can show them love by respecting who they are. We usually don’t know anything about them when their child enters our home, so the first few weeks and months are all about investigating and finding out. The workers try to find out and give as many details as they can but sometimes there isn’t a lot of time or availability of answers.
Workers try to make a cultural and religious match as closely as possible but it is not always possible. We have had to navigate many kids who’s families did not practice any religion at all and also many others of different faiths.
We have had Catholic children. We read their Catholic prayer book with them, find Catholic books, send them to Catholic school. We have taken kids to mass who wanted to go.
We have had children who’s parents were First Nation and practiced longhouse. We dropped the little guy off with an elder each Sunday so he could teach him the ways of his family’s faith while our family got to enjoy some time exploring ours. During the week we made sure there was time for him to read his books and do his workbooks that taught him about his heritage and faith.
We have had kids who claim not to believe in anything and insist they do not want to go to church so we have made sleepovers with their Aunt on Saturdays instead of Fridays so that they didn’t feel uncomfortable. We do not hide our faith and we continue to talk about how our faith is relevant to us but we don’t force the child to start reading the Bible or come to church with us.
The majority of the kids we have had in our home, the families of origin are happy to have the children go to church and Sunday School along with our kids. Most kids love crafts and stories and games and that is mostly what Sunday School consists of. Often the family of origin doesn’t care one way or the other and we have had families join a church after their kids returned home because the kids wanted to continue going.
We also embrace teaching our kids about many different faiths and cultures so they have a greater understanding of other beliefs.
Over time we try to think of as many ways to incorporate a child’s culture as we can. Here are a few things we have used to explore a child’s culture, religion and heritage:
- Visiting the child’s home church/place of worship.
- Taking the child to social events at their church, community group.
- Visiting the museums and learning about the history of their people/family.
- Visiting art shows/galleries and learning about their culture, heritage, religion.
- Sending them to a school that teaches their religion.
- Collecting and reading books that reflect their race, religion, culture, values. Our library is full of books from other cultures. All of our kids can learn about other cultures through pictures and stories.
- Buying toys, dolls, games that teach & reflect their skin colour, religion, heritage
- Visiting cultural events such as polish hall celebration, pow wows, Caribbean dance, Korean festival, Chinese New Year celebration, etc. Check Facebook events near you to find events happening.
- Contact elders in the community to ask for information.
- Hair, jewelry, clothing, makeup can all be incorporated easily into a child’s life. Special leather bracelets are placed on indigenous infants in some tribes and bands and are expected to be left on until it falls off naturally. They believe that the leather band promotes good spiritual health and keeps evil away from the baby. Respecting the bracelet equals respecting the child, parents, family and Band.
- Learning how to properly care for a child of colour’s hair and skin is very important to the child’s self esteem.
- Try to find a mentor for a child who is of similar background.
- Help a child create a family tree. If possible ask the biological family for help. I have received some amazing information dating back hundreds of years for certain children from families. Those kids will not wonder what their heritage is!
- Older children may want to try Ancestry.com or another DNA data company to try and find out more information about their heritage or medical history especially when a birth parent is absent or deceased.
- Look up their culture online and try to learn as much as you can so you can share with them and help them to better understand.
- Talk about the differences in faiths. Teach kids how to have a conversation with someone who doesn’t share the same faith.
- Try and make sure your family is supportive of the religious holidays, celebrations that are celebrated by the natural family. If a sibling is having first communion, be sure that your foster child’s attendance is a priority to your family.
- Ask what kinds of traditions the family has surrounding important events such as Christmas, Easter, school graduations, hitting puberty, etc. Try to help the child continue with traditions and remember them in their lifebook.
- Food is a huge part of heritage and culture. Try a food from each culture/heritage represented in your home each week. Polish sausages and sauerkraut were not eaten until we had a child with Polish heritage. Our family had never heard of dragon fruit until we visited the Chinese Village and tasted it. Do your best to add in the flavours of home for a child and their comfort levels in your home will increase. Not a chef? Talk to others of the same heritage and ask them to teach you or make a dish for the child. We met a family from Trinidad at the Farmer’s Market and when we told her two of our kids have a grandfather from there, she was thrilled to help us learn about the foods and culture. She is often makings spicy delicacies for our kiddos to try.
We have heard many rumblings of religions being banned from fostering. That is just silly. It could be legislated but would be very difficult to put into place because most people are spiritual. We have a soul, we have beliefs, we have faith. To try and take that away would be the end of the foster care system since most families have some sort of culture, religion or heritage right? I think if all foster families would do a bit better at respecting others ways instead of trying to change them, we would all be much happier and we would find ourselves in a more inclusive world with less boxes.
I would love to hear from you any other ideas you may have on incorporating culture, heritage, values, and other religions into your fostering/parenting journey. Comment below if you have a great idea to add.