If there’s one thing I’ve learned about Foster Care, it’s that people have a great deal of preconceived notions. I was no different, really. I came into foster care believing I knew what I was getting into. The truth is God has used my foster kids, and the whole experience in general, to teach me new things and to show me just how little I knew. I saw many weaknesses in myself, but God used those shortcomings to do the work through my wife and me. It’s God that deserves the glory for whatever good we did. Always.
Nonetheless, as I’ve written about before, my family is a minority in the church. Most Christians are not involved in caring for orphans. However, that doesn’t mean that most Christians don’t affect orphans and the people who care for them. When a foster family is part of a church, their ministry to the children in their care is influenced by that church. If the church emphasizes evangelism, chances are the foster kids will hear a “gospel presentation” more than most kids. They may even eventually pass out tracts and knock on doors. If the church emphasizes fellowship, the foster parents will likely surround the kids with a lot of friends and families they know. The point is, even if a church does not realize it, they’re ministering to the foster kids in their congregation.
It therefore behooves us as Christians to familiarize ourselves with foster care and adoption. It’s certainly true that most Christians are very supportive of foster families and foster kids; but it is equally true that most Christians don’t have any idea what they’re talking about when they proceed to give advice and try to help. That doesn’t mean that there’s no value in some of the things they try to do, it just means that not everything is helpful. In that spirit, let’s examine some myths and truths about foster care and adoption.
Truth — I’m Busy!
So far I’ve written 4 posts. The dates on those posts are 9/17/18, 9/20/18, 10/19/18, and 10/23/18. It’s early 2019 and I’m finally getting to number 5. I’ve been writing it, off and on, for a few days. In fact, as I type this sentence I have a two year old on my lap who really seems to like the sp a ce bar. My long absence from from this series has nothing to do with wanting to build anticipation, and it wasn’t writer’s block. It was the difficulty of balancing work, ministry, loving my wife, and… oh yeah…. loving three very needy, somewhat untrained, academically and developmentally behind, and spiritually unschooled foster kids.
I’m not complaining, we love these kids more and more everyday, but the fact is they do demand a lot of our time. Sometimes, it can be awfully exhausting. No child, no matter how calm, is easy to raise. Yet raising a foster child is like doing parenting on hard mode. Not only do you have the normal discipline and correction, care and love, sniffles and boo-boos every kid will give you but you also get a kid who often doesn’t trust you because most adults in their life have tried to hurt them.
Sometimes you’ll get a kid who should have been potty trained two years ago but you’re still changing diapers. Usually they have a lot of appointments too. Meetings with therapists to deal with the awful things done to them. Appointments with specialists because many of them have health or developmental problems. And every one of them seems to have a mouthful of cavities.
Plus, I haven’t even mentioned the rolodex of lawyers, caseworkers, social workers, and other professionals in their life on a near constant basis. Then there’s the court dates, which take up an ENTIRE DAY in and of themselves, which usually means the children will spend their time in a waiting room with a few toys and trying not to climb the walls to spend their endless energy.
Worst of all are visit days where the children travel to visit their biological parents. Often these are supervised by a caseworker and rarely does anyone in the system care about what time or place may fit into the foster family’s schedule — we’re just government contractors after all. Visit days are NEVER good days. Some of the kids are (naturally) still emotionally connected to the biological parents, and those visits often turn into a way to emotionally manipulate the kids. Usually they come home “in a mood” or with various confusing emotions to deal with. A visit day usually takes up the rest of the day.
Then there’s every new experience the kids didn’t have in their life before they came to your house. The first time they meet each foster Aunt and Uncle, Grandma and Grandpa. Going to church, going to a new school, playing on a new baseball team. These things take time to deal with. They’re still learning to trust, still believe they’ll be hurt or left behind, still have all sorts of “scary” people they can’t do anything about.
In short, everything gets turned up to a higher degree of difficulty, and it takes more time than you would expect to get through it all. I’m NOT complaining. In fact one of the most enriching experiences of my life has been working with these kids. It’s pure joy to hear a kid who came into my home without any knowledge of Jesus pray to Him on their own; or to see a child frightened of everything and skeptical of everyone try new things with a new friend. That stuff matters, and it’s great to be used of God to do it.
However, if you’re going to be a foster parent or support a foster parent, prepare yourself for the busy-ness. It’s unavoidable most days and part and parcel of the ministry itself.
Myth — They Just Need a Spanking/Hug
I’m surely not against hugging my foster kids. They need plenty of hugs, and I will say that my wife and I make it a point to be as affectionate with them as they are comfortable. I’m also not anti-spanking although I’ve never spanked my foster kids and never would — it’s against the rules, and for good reason. It’s not the fundamental need for affection or discipline that’s at issue. What is at issue is the strangely popular notion that all foster kids need is just one thing.
Among people with no previous experience with foster kids or families I’ve noticed people tend to fall into two camps.
The first is the people whose hearts are broken for the kids, and they just want to cover over everything with love. Most of these folks overlook real problems and bad behaviors with a myriad of excuses. “After all they’ve been through…” and “We shouldn’t expect perfection…” are often said in those moments, but the phrase I hear most often is “They just need a hug” or “They just need love.” Sometimes, it’s true. Sometimes the kid just doesn’t know how to act and sometimes they act out because they’re afraid or something that’s happening dredges up memories or feelings they had during a dark time. That kid, the one going through that sort of thing, needs a hug.
Yet, sometimes that very same kid knows exactly what they’re doing and is trying to get under the skin of the others in the room or act out some sinful tendency. That kid, the one who’s sinful nature is on full display, doesn’t need a hug. The same kid, some days is just acting out and being a brat, and other days is scared half to death and not sure who to trust or how to act. It’s a complicated existence being uprooted from a biological parent who (in most cases) hasn’t trained you and hasn’t given you the right start in life. It’s even more complicated being thrust into what is usually a completely different subculture (like a church) and not having a single clue what to do, and not even sure you WANT to do what everyone else is doing to begin with.
The other camp of people is those who see a kid and are usually themselves unsure of what they’re getting. They impose expectations on the foster child that are normal and ordinary for a child that’s had a normal and ordinary life. Things like obeying right away, coming when called, sitting still in church, or not having a complete and utter meltdown in the middle of an otherwise pleasant holiday celebration. “You need to get control of him/her before…”, “Don’t you think you’re taking on too much with this…” and “Maybe that kid just needs professional help you can’t provide….” are phrases like that usually come from this camp. Before long, the phrase I hear from Christians who are in this camp is tossed out half as a suggestion and half (it sometimes seems) as a statement of annoyance: “That kid needs a spanking.”
Now, I’ll be the first to tell you my foster kids, and every foster kid, has a sin nature. Foolishness is indeed bound up in their hearts, and the rod of correction would do a lot of good in driving it from them. These kids come to your home untrained and, sometimes, getting a lot of whatever they want from others in the system. A surprising secret of foster kids is not all of them have been locked in dungeons and horribly abused. Some have, surely, but some have just been given candy for three meals a day and allowed to do whatever they want. Anyone who tells you those kids don’t need some corrective discipline is a fool.
However, even the neglected brats left to their own devices need a lot more than a swat on the bottom. They need to be taught what is right and wrong, how to act and how not to act. They need to be trained, which means giving them a chance to put what they’ve learned into action. They need understanding and patience when they fail, and correction when they refuse to try.
In short, they don’t just need a spanking nor do they just need a hug; they need a Mom and a Dad. The absolute best thing my wife and I can do for these kids is what God prescribes every child: a godly mother and a godly father. A mom and dad who love Christ more than anything or anyone. Parents whose hearts are broken for these needy kids. A mom and a dad with the gospel on their lips, in their hearts, and throughout their home. To be a good foster family, be a mom and a dad first. Don’t narrow those roles down to just one area or one thing — just hugs or just spankings or just room and board. Give those kids all you got, and give them both barrels. It’s what God prescribes, and that is always what’s best. Always.
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