These days in Rhode Island, and pretty much everywhere else in the country, there are more kids who need foster homes than there are foster homes available. Teenagers who need parents and should be living with families are aging out of group homes with no one to turn to. Small children, terrified after being removed from struggling parents, are going to shelters instead of foster families while newborn babies who were drug exposed are “boarding” at the hospital for weeks because there aren’t enough homes to take them.
As a licensed foster family with empty bedrooms, I feel a sense of responsibility toward these children. I think about them almost daily. At the moment, however, our family is ‘on hold’. This means that our license remains active, but we have requested a break; we are taking a little breather, a time out from fostering, something we have discovered works well for our family between children. Sometimes these breaks last for weeks, sometimes they last months. Our last foster baby was reunified the week before Christmas and, for a whole bunch of reasons, we took a break. Next week marks 3 months with an active license and an empty crib, or bed, but I have kept our status on hold. The clutter is cleared, the loose ends are tied up, and I am not drowning in an endless and unmanageable to-do list as I sometimes am when there are extra little people under the roof.
I should feel ready but I don’t. I hear all the time that there are kids in urgent need of homes and my heart breaks, my guilt kicks in, but my powerful desire to feel ready kicks in so I carry on with my quieter and simpler days without a foster child.
I ask myself quietly if fostering could be over…is it as simple as that? Have we done our share? I tell myself NO- this is how we are best defined. We are a foster family. We take care of children in their time of need….but then I feel like a crappy one; a wimpy and weak foster family who can’t live up to the challenge of opening ourselves to child after child after child…
Have I succumbed to the notion of being too busy? Is my time and effort more valuable spent elsewhere? Is there any more valuable use of one’s time than helping a child in need? Is there is a finite amount of help one family should give and we have reached our quota?
The endless questioning in my head continues…If I spend more time focused on our forever kids, will they be happier and grow up to be better people? Are my forever children more entitled to my undivided and undistracted attention than a child who has no one right now? If we fall in love with another child who has nowhere to go would we adopt again? Are we too old?
Today I have no answers, only questions, questions, questions, and those questions lie between a homeless child and the cheerful empty bedrooms in our (usually) welcoming yellow house. Despite all of these questions, I take consolation in the fact that I have been here before. I thought regularly about fostering since the 5th grade yet didn’t take the leap for over 30 years. Our family has fostered 12
children and every time a child leaves the questions return. I welcome these questions now as they are our guideposts .
Maybe you are a foster parent already and can relate to this. Maybe you are one of the foster parents I envy and you take in child after child with no break ever. You are my heroes. When I am taking a break and feeling guilty I am extra appreciative of you and sending you strength and positive energy as you continue to rise to the occasion.
If you aren’t a foster parent and are still reading this, maybe you have been thinking about it. Pondering this wild idea for months…or years…or, like me, a good portion of your lifetime. But it’s never really a great time, is it? What questions are holding you back? Do you think you are too young and want to settle down and have your own children first? Maybe you are a busy single parent and that doesn’t feel like the right time. Maybe your kids are grown and you feel you waited too long. Do you think you have too many children already? Do you have a child with special needs who takes even more time and energy? Do you think you or your partner work too many hours? Maybe your house doesn’t feel big enough? Maybe you worry your heart isn’t big enough, and your wallet isn’t either….
The list is endless and I can’t even answer my own questions about when the right time will be, so I’m not going to pretend to answer yours. I can only tell you this one thing I know in my heart for sure; if you are waiting for the right time to open your heart to foster care, here is what you need to know:
It is NEVER the right time.
It is ALWAYS the right time.
You CAN do it. Children are waiting and you don’t have to do it alone. The Village is here to help. Writing this helped me to realize that at this moment The Village is my foster child. My best contribution these days is to devote every extra drop of energy into creating the support that foster families need to get started and to take care of themselves so they can keep saying yes. After writing this I am certain that my family will say yes again. We are not done. Not yet, but today my work is to help YOU feel comfortable saying YES. To help you understand that your questions, fears and reservations are normal, healthy and part of the process. I believe that right now could be YOUR time. Those homeless children on the other side of your questions are waiting. So for today at least, The Village is my foster child. Who is your foster child? If you’ve been thinking about foster care, I’m thinking this could very well be the perfect time.