I often hear, on a weekly basis, that my wife and I are saints for caring for children in need and opening up our homes and hearts to kids in foster care. In no way, and in no fashion, am I a saint, and I believe that foster parents from all over would echo that sentiment. We are not saints. We become tired, worn down, and exhausted. We have our own frustrations and disappointments. There are times when we succeed, and there are times when we experience failures. We are not the perfect parents. We are simply trying our best to provide a home and family for a child who needs one and help a child in need.
Yet, the life of a foster parent is not always an easy one. In fact, it is OK to say that being a foster parent is hard.
It’s OK to say that sometimes you just feel like no understands what you are going through.
Guess what. It’s even OK to say that sometimes, you simply want to stop, that you can’t do it any more, that you are just don’t want to be hurt again.
Yes, foster parenting can be difficult. You see, I have been a foster parent for 15 years, now. Foster parenting, without a doubt, has been the hardest thing I have ever done. I cannot imagine a more difficult and challenging lifestyle. I have lived the life of a foster parent. I have had over 50 children come through my home. These children have been as young as 27 hours old and as old as 18 years of age. Some have stayed a day, while others have stayed up to two years. I have had up to 11 children in my home, and at one time had seven in diapers. To be sure, seven in diapers was one exhausting experience. I jokingly tell people that having seven in diapers at the same time should be illegal in all 50 states and every country.
Like so many foster parents, and very likely just like you, I often go to work so I can rest. Yes, work is more restful than it is in my house, as it is very likely in your own home. For you see, when we come home, we face the many needs of children facing anxieties and traumas, with the responsibilities of taking children to visitations with birth family members, to doctor appointments, to counseling and therapy sessions.
The outside world does not see the many challenges and struggles you may face on a daily, and sometimes hourly, basis. Your friends and family don’t truly understand or appreciate what you are going through. Others see the children coming in and out of your home on a regular basis, and most find it a wonderful thing you are doing, but also may find it a little odd or strange and question why you do it.
You will often find yourself exhausted, both mentally and physically, and feel drained. There is very little money available to help you, and you may not be reimbursed for all the money you spend on your foster child. The job will require you to work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with no time off. You will probably feel overworked and underappreciated. You will work with children who are most likely coming from difficult and harmful environments. Some of these children will have health issues, some will come with behavioral issues, and some will struggle with learning disabilities. Many times, the children you work with will try your patience, and leave you with headaches, frustrations, disappointments, and even heartbreaks. There is a reason why many people are not foster parents, as it is often too difficult. There have been those times where my heart has broken when a child left my home. There have been those moments when I have questioned whether or not I was making a difference. There have been those times when I have grown frustrated with the system, as I have had to stand by and watch some of the children in my home go back to environments and situations which I knew that were not healthy or safe. To be sure, I have also watched my wife’s own doubts and her desire to no longer foster, as her heart had been broken numerous times, as well, from the many children she had grown to love, only to see them return to homes where the children were once again placed in jeopardy.
It is the same for so many foster parents who have shared their stories with me. I have heard from foster parents who lose sleep each night for weeks and months on end, trying to calm and soothe a baby who was born addicted to crack, heroin, or meth. I have heard from foster parents who have been yelled at on a daily basis from foster teenagers who are so emotionally upset by their own experiences that they take it out on their foster parents. I have heard from those who have been told one day they could adopt their foster babies, only to be told another day that the baby would return instead to a biological family member the child had never met. The stories are countless, the stories are heartbreaking, and the stories are never ending. Surely, there is no earthly reason to be a foster parent. So, why do we do it? For many, like my wife Kelly, we are answering a call.
Yes, my friend. I give you permission. It is truly okay to say that it is hard. It is okay to say that you can’t do it anymore. It is okay to step away for a while and take a break: say no to a placement and allow yourself time to recover and fill that cup back up again.
Yet, if you are like me, you continue to care for children because the need is so strong. After all, right now, as you read this, there is a child in need of someone to say, “I care. I will take care of you. I will help you. I will love you.”
When we care for children in foster care and bring them into our homes and families, we help change their lives. Yet, at the same time, our lives are changed, as well, and they are changed for the better. I have become a much better person for each child that has come through my home.
Do I sometimes want to say I can't do this anymore? Yes, sometimes I do. Guess what? That’s normal. It is normal to question at times if you are truly making a difference. It is normal to feel frustrated by the situations you experience. It is normal for you to feel so very tired. It is normal to feel like you want to quit at times.
(Reprinted with permission from The Foster Care Survival Guide, 2018, by Dr. John DeGarmo)