When we took foster parent training classes 20 years ago, we heard a very impactful story. I am sure I won’t do it justice but the basic message will come through. I am going to attempt to write in the words of the woman who spoke to us and inspired us. Her words come back to us still and they help us keep going in this hard work.
“One weekend in foster care. That’s all it took to change the course of my life forever. My siblings and I lived with our father. Our mother died when my youngest sibling was just a baby. My father tried to wash his grief away with alcohol which made life more and more miserable for us kids. Then one Friday night my Dad got sent to hospital and we got taken to different foster homes. I was definitely scared and worried for my siblings but mostly I was in awe. I saw a totally different way to live. For the first time, I had a clean, made bed with sheets and blankets. I had my own room. I had clean clothes that fit. The best part was sitting down to eat. I didn’t know that families did that. I didn’t know that parents loved each other like that. I didn’t know that it wasn’t normal for families to live in fear. On Monday, the judge ordered us back home to our father. I was sad to leave but happy to be back with my family. That experience was a game changer for me. I started cleaning our house and tried very hard to change things for my siblings. Living with that family for one weekend changed the way I saw my future. I knew I wanted what they had. I wanted a nice house with a family that ate together every day and had fun. I wanted good food and fresh milk. I wanted to foster too. When I met my husband it was important to me that he was open to fostering too which he was. We bought the biggest house we could afford with intention of helping kids. We have been fostering now for 7 years. I want to share my story with all foster parents and let them know how important their job is. I want them to know how they can influence a child even if for one night. A few years ago, I contacted those foster parents to let them know how huge their one weekend with me impacted my life.”
This story has had a huge influence on my journey as a foster parent. I don’t think those original foster parents knew that not only were they impacting the future of a child, but also of a future foster parent. I think they would be blown away to know they actually have impacted hundreds of other foster parents from the retelling of their story.
Last night I had a former foster love message me. Here is what she said:
“The time I spent with you was the best time I’ve ever had. The whole experience really changed my life. I don’t think I could do half the things I’m doing today if it wasn’t for you guys. I go to youth group now and I’m a youth leader for kids. I really miss you guys.”
Oh my heart!
This sweet girl made me cry. My heart is too full. I can’t fit another foster love in my heart. I wonder if they realize that we still love each of them years after they leave us?
This week I have met with four former foster loves. Each of them have a special place in my heart and when they hug me my heart feels as though it will explode. The size of our heart doesn’t change so how can we possibly feel so much love for so many kids? This is a wonder that I will ask God when I get to heaven. I am sure He will say that He gave us more measures of love every time we welcomed a child.
I remember thinking after I had my first son there is no way I could love another child as much as I loved him. Then my daughter came along and I knew I was wrong. I loved her just as much. And then our next son, and our next two daughters and our next 50 foster loves. How much love can one heart take? How is it possible to love so many?
The flip side of that love is the grief. How much grief can one heart handle? With every love there will eventually be a loss. They move out, they get married, they move back to family, they go to school, they pass away. Every mother will eventually grieve their child leaving their home in some way. Loving kids = certain grief. I always laugh when people say “I couldn’t be a foster parent, I would cry.” Ha ha ha, have you ever met a foster parent? We cry all the time especially when someone else cries! I have cried right alongside my own kids and fosters as they go through all kinds of grief.
Good foster parents cry when a child leaves. (Okay maybe not all as I know my husband doesn’t ever cry.) But most of us do. I also cry when they come! I cry when I am told their story of why they are entering my home. I cry when they leave my home. Welcome to raising children….your blood or not. You will certainly cry but the impact of good parenting on a child will last for generations. You never know (just like those original foster parents) just how far your influence will reach.