My Biggest Fear About Being A Foster Parent Isn't The Kids, It's Me

by Mary Sauer

Last week, I sat down and scheduled our first home visit with the social worker who is helping us start the process of becoming foster parents. The week before that, my husband and I were both fingerprinted for background checks. Everything was routine and by the book. The only surprise was that when I went to press "send," I hesitated.

It was only for a second, but it bothered me. In bed that night, after my husband had long since fallen asleep, I found myself searching my brain for a reason. Why was I nervous? We’d been talking about this off and on for long enough before finally taking the plunge. We'd weighed the pros and cons and discussed so many worst-case scenarios. We were ready.

I knew what didn’t scare me.

I’d done enough research to know better than to be afraid of the children we will, eventually, bring into our home. Sure, they may have difficult behaviors or troubling emotions, and it will take time to adjust as a family. But really, these are mostly scared children whose lives have been torn apart. These are children who need a safe place to call home for however long they are with us.

I am not afraid of saying goodbye multiple times to children we've grown to love. The foundational purpose of foster care is to give children a safe place until they can be reunited with their families. It will be hard, letting go, but it’s what is best for them, to be in a healthy family unit with their biological relatives. While it’s true children in the foster care system may eventually be adopted if they cannot be reconciled with their families, adoption is not the goal of foster care. In fact, I’ve been told adoption is considered by some to be a failure of the system — because the system is in place to reunite families.  

Courtesy of Mary Sauer

People parent large families well everyday. Still, I’d be lying if I said the practical logistics of having more children in our home aren’t a little daunting. But that isn’t really it, either. We’ll learn how to manage feeding, bathing, and dressing more bodies. 

So, what was it about foster parenting that was all of a sudden giving me pause? What am I afraid of?

I realize, now, I’m afraid I don’t have what it takes.

That Tuesday I had a particularly hard day at home with my two girls. I ended the day feeling as if I was the world's most inadequate mother. I was frustrated and disappointed by my lack of patience. I was sure I had been on my phone too much, raised my voice too often, and let work interfere with my parenting.

And on that day, after coming to grips with my numerous failings as a mother to my own children, I was forced to reevaluate our decision to become foster parents. I had to take an honest look at what will be required of me, emotionally, by another child (or two). Because this isn’t just any child; this will be someone with exceptional need. And along with that need will come regular visits with their biological family or adoptive parents.

I want to believe I can be patient when that child acts out or refuse to take it personally if he or she doesn’t reciprocate my affections. I want to believe I will respond with optimism and kindness if things are volatile, scary, and during visits with their family. But, really, I have no way of knowing for sure.

The truth is, there are a lot of unknown ahead of us as we embark on this new season in our journey as parents. Do I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that foster parenting is going to go well for us? Can I promise myself I will be patient? Do I know I won’t get burnt out nurturing the precious lives that move in and out of our home? I can’t, which is why I find myself afraid every time we complete another step in this process and move closer and closer to opening our home -- and our hearts.

We’re not the most equipped parents in the system. There is no way for me to know I will be patient enough or understanding enough. In fact, I am 100 percent positive I will mess up over and over during each child’s time in our home.

Still, we keep moving forward.

We’ve scheduled our initial home visit. After that, we’ll take nine weeks of classes before applying for licensure, and we’ve already begun to talk with our families about our choice. My husband and I are discussing how we'll prepare our children who are too young to understand foster care but who will certainly be affected by our choice.

Our personal belief system actually compels us to care for the orphans and the oppressed in our world, and this is how we have decided to move forward with that calling. However, I want to be clear: We aren’t taking these steps forward out of obligation. Our hearts are drawn to these children. When we hear stories from our friends who foster or read stories about foster parenting, we feel an inexplicable nudge. We simply know this is what we want to do.  So we keep replying to emails, signing up for classes, and asking questions because we can’t stop wanting to be a part of their lives.

That’s why we will face our fears. We will offer our home and our love and all of our imperfections, and we will hope, just maybe, it will be enough to make a difference in their lives.  

And I will hope I am enough to fill in as "Mom,” even if only for a short time.