The Importance of the Biological Kids to the Foster Family Dynamic

My biological children are a very important part of my foster parenting.  Without them, my wife and I would not have been able to foster the forty plus children that have come through our home.   As you know by now, we have a large number of kids in our house at the same time; 11 on a few occasions. You should see my car when I go to church on Sundays. It is like a clown car, as children keep coming out, and coming out, and coming out of it. Without a doubt, the stares follow us everywhere we go. We are a circus everywhere we go.

For the longest time, we averaged 9 children in the house. As you can imagine, with such a large number of kids, and very active kids at that, the house can become quite dirty quite quickly!  The amount of laundry, dishes, and general cleaning can be overwhelming in a hurry.  Along with that is the homework, soccer games, dance lessons, marching band practices, piano lessons, and other activities that children are involved with after school.   Furthermore, there are doctor’s appointments, therapy sessions, and visitations that come along with children in foster care.  At the end of the day, my wife and I were often exhausted, worn out, beat, and just plain tired. With such a large number of kids in the house, we have far exceeded the Brady Bunch in terms of children. Yet, we have no Alice; we have no maid or help. It is just my wife and I taking care of these children on a daily basis.

So, how do we do it? Quite simply, we rely on our children from time to time. If not for the help of our children, we might have been crushed by the load of work.  Not only did the children help out with the laundry, dishes, and other house hold chores, they also helped with feeding our many younger foster children, reading them stories, and playing with them.  Most importantly, though, my own biological and adoptive children have come to love their siblings from foster care, and treat them as part of our own family.  It is this love that has been an instrumental part in how our foster children not only fit into our home and family, but has also been vital to helping the healing process that many of our foster children have sorely needed.   It is this type of help, and this type of love that has helped us continue to be a foster family, despite the difficult times and challenges we have faced over the years. 

To be sure, I have changed as a person in so many ways as a foster parent, and am a better person for it. At the same time, my own children have changed, as well. Now, as we both know, the life of a foster parent is one of sacrifices, in so many areas and in so many ways. The life of a foster sibling for your own biological children is one of sacrifice, as well. For my own children, this life of sacrifice has transformed my own children into my heroes. My children have been fantastic as foster siblings to the many children that have come to live in our family. Not only have they helped out is so many ways, they have also learned to learned to share their rooms at times, their toys and books, their food, their bikes, their love, and most importantly, their parents. They are more patient with others their own age, whether it is in our home, at school, on the playground, or wherever they might be. They are more understanding of children their age when others might act out in some fashion. My children have learned the act of compassion and the act of personal sacrifice. They have seen the best in others, and the words in others. They have learned the important lesson of what consequences can be had from making poor decisions in life. My children are more loving people, care more about society and the world around them, and are more sensitive to the needs of others.

There have been some who have told me they were concerned that being a foster parent might in some way influence their own children in a negative fashion. They voiced concern that the children from foster care bring a negative influence to their own children. Instead, I think it is the opposite. My own children have been influenced in such positive ways from those they have lived with, have played alongside, have learned from, and have come to love. Our children have been introduced to a diversity of cultural beliefs and ways of thinking, and have come to embrace some of these differences, as well. Additionally, my children have learned the joys that are found in adoption, from the three that we have adopted from foster care, and have learned that family comes in different shapes, colors, and sizes. My own family, as a foster family, has included children from so many different ethnic identities and cultures. As a result, my own children have so much more insight into how others live and think that most their age. In short, when you care for children in foster care in your home and your family, you will be given the opportunity to show your children how to be giving, how to be considerate of others, how to share belongings and time, and how to be sensitive and understanding to the pain that others might be suffering from, and you can do so in a very real, very hands on, very relevant fashion.

One thing I can assure you is this; your own children will be more responsible and more mature than other children their age while you are a foster family. In fact, studies have found this to be the case. A study by Twigg (2007) noted that biological children who were younger indeed matured at an earlier rate in order to interact with their older foster siblings. The same study indicated that older biological children also matured earlier so that they could help take care of their younger foster siblings. I have seen this time and time again in my own home, as I have watched, with pleasure and pride, my children help clothe, feed, and simply care for the younger foster siblings in their home, and how they truly enjoyed doing so, in loving fashion. Another study, this time by Watson (2002), found that biological children were “expected to be more understanding, and not retaliate, to put someone else’s needs before their own” (page 50). Spears noted in his study (2003) that “generally those who were older thought fostering was easier because they led separate lives from the foster children and their presence did not impinge on them.”. The same can be said about my own older children. While they enjoy being an older foster sibling, and certainly do help out, their lives as teenagers have not been changed in a negative fashion, as they have their own lives, so to speak. I believe that my own children even take pride in being identified as a foster family, and have embraced that part of their identity has been defined by their experiences as a foster sibling.

Excerpt from The Foster Care Survival Guide: The Essential Guide for Today’s Foster Parents-Atlantic Publishers, 2018