11 Lessons We Learned from Being Foster Parents
We went from 2 kids to 7 overnight. Here are the lessons we learned from being foster parents and taking in children.
2019 update: after this initial experience, we took in another family of three children. Then we decided to become licensed foster parents. This post is now a combination of ALL of those learning experiences combined.
Hey y’all, Tiffany here.
What’s the craziest idea you’ve ever had?
Phillip will tell you that I am the queen of crazy ideas. I also have the tendency to jump in to help others with both feet, not noticing how deep the water was.
About a year ago, I jumped into what I thought was the shallow end. It turned out to be the deep side of the pool, and I plunged straight to the bottom.
Before I continue, I want to everyone to know that this father is one of the most amazing people that I have ever met in my life. I won’t go into specific details to respect his privacy, but he consistently impressed me. Every single day I was struck anew by his love for his children, his desire to follow God, and his hard work to provide for his family. He is one of the best examples of hard work, integrity, forgiveness, and love that I have ever seen in one person.
I’m the oldest of 10 kids (6 biological, 4 adopted through foster care) and am a former middle school math teacher – taking care of lots of children at once isn’t a completely foreign experience.
After that first week, things settled down a lot. Their father went back to normal work hours, and we got into a routine. It turned out to be so much fun! It gave us the confidence we needed to take in three more children a year later, and it put us on the path towards becoming a licensed foster home.
As you can imagine, having all of these different children and families in our home over the last several years has been a bit of learning curve…..for all of us! I want to share with you some of the incredible things that our family learned from these incredible experiences with all these different families.
Lessons We Learned from Being Foster Parents
Communication is everything.
I know that sometimes communication is hard to do, especially when you’re just getting to know someone. However, when you’re living in a home together, you have to talk to each other!
There were things that it never occurred to me that would be a problem, but they were! I never thought I would have to tell a child to not slide down the railing on the staircase while standing up!
But we talk and listen about things, sometimes on a daily basis.
Home should be a safe space.
When we first were married, my father told me that it was never my job to teach my husband anything – it was God’s job. My job was to make our home a safe place where my husband could practice what he was learning from God without fear of reprisal if he didn’t get it right immediately.
This also extends to my children, to myself, and to these new children that spend more of their awake time in my home than in their home. Our home is a safe place to practice living the way God wants us to, with gentle correction and guidance (which they definitely have not received from their mother).
This needed to be the case for any children that came into our home. It was my job to make sure that each kid who walked through my front door felt safe and loved.
Apologies, forgiveness, and agency are all connected
Because our home is a place of practice, there will always be mistakes. With children who have had minimal parental guidance (their mother often left them alone to watch themselves from as young as the age of 7). They’ve learned that “I’m sorry” is an admission of guilt, and they really only know how to respond in anger, so small situations tend to escalate quickly.
We spend a lot of time discussing how it does not matter who started the situation – and they can’t choose if the other person apologizes to them. All they can choose is how to respond to what was said or done to them.
My job as “mom” is not to punish the “offenders” and get justice for the “victim” (because honestly, they probably both started it!). Instead, my job is to help them learn to both apologize, both forgive, and both strive to choose to end a conflict – to act the way God wants them, instead of naturally reacting.
Treat others how you want God to treat you.
Whenever there is a conflict in the home with these kids, it tends to unravel quickly. But part of the problems is the way they treat each other in general – they rarely say please or thank you to each other, and often resort to name-calling, punches, and harsh voices.
I have spent a lot of time in prayer about how to help them be kind to one another, and one day inspiration struck. We discussed the Bible verse that says, “Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged.”
I explained to them that they way they treat each other will be how God will treat them on judgment day. So just like the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have done unto you,” we remind them that they should treat their siblings they way they want God to treat them. It’s made an amazing difference in their behavior towards one another.
You will never understand another’s perspective.
I was a Resident Assistant in the dorms in college. I’ve been a missionary in third world countries. I’ve experienced abuse (not by anyone in my family). I am a CASA volunteer (which is someone assigned by the courts to be the guardian ad litem to a foster child.) I have siblings adopted out of foster care. I’ve seen horror stories worse than what I read about in “A Child Called It.”
I thought I was pretty experienced in what I’d seen in the world.
But nothing prepared me for parenting children who had experienced poverty, neglect, and abuse. Some of the things they worry about are things that would never occur to me. Some of the things that they don’t know are completely inconceivable to me.
The only way that we are going to come close to understanding what another person goes through is to get to know them. And when we make quick judgments about someone being rude or difficult, we need to take a second to remember that they may have concerns in their lives that we could never even imagine…..and we should give them grace.
Be gentle. Love is everything.
These children have been shown a lot of love from their biological father, but not a lot from other family members. They have been abandoned by their mother again and again, and they expect it from others.
One of their first evenings here while I was out grocery shopping, they were roughhousing and broke something that was a special gift from Phillip to me when we were married. When I spoke to the children the next day, I could see the fear in their eyes. I assured them that I still loved them and wanted them there, and you could just see the confusion and disbelief come over them.
How can children begin to develop self-worth or self-esteem if we don’t let them know that they are loved, no matter what? As I’ve seen these kids’ thirst and need for love, I have tread carefully to make sure they feel it. It has made me realize that I owe the same to my own children. They, too, need to know that I love them – no matter what. It is so easy to get more frustrated with my own kids, and to not protect their tender hearts.
One thing that has helped us is figuring out what each person’s love language is so we can show love in the way they most understand.
We have more influence than we think we do.
The first week the children were with us (and were staying overnight, due to lice), I was sending them off to bed as they said goodbye to their father for the night. The 8 year old told me it was unfair he had to go to bed at 9 pm, that it was too early. While his father put on his shoes to leave, I told the boy he was lucky, because my parents sent me to bed at 7 pm every night until I was 8, and then I went to bed at 8 pm until I left high school.
Imagine my surprise the following week when the boy returned to my house after his first night back at home and complained to me that his father was now making him go to bed at 8 pm!
I never told his father to change anything, but his father was striving to do the best for his son, and in some ways I reflected the ideal of what a mother (and home) should be. It was extremely humbling, and I realized just how much of an influence I had.
We never know who is watching us and what they are learning.
Change takes time, and it’s hard to see when we are in the middle of it.
There are some days when the kids were all fighting with each other and we all end the evening in tears. It’s so easy on those days to feel like nothing I do or say makes any difference at all. One night in particular was extremely difficult. I don’t remember what it was about, but I remember sending the five children home after dinner with a desire to just give up.
To my surprise, that evening the missionaries who were teaching them after their baptisms sent me a text message. They told me how impressed they were in the lesson that night at their home. Because they teach them only intermittently, they have been able to see the growth and progress made in the kids’ behavior.
It reminded me of trying to watch paint dry or water boil – if you just sit and stare at it, it takes forever and there’s no discernible difference in dryness or temperature. But if you walk away for a while and come back, you can definitely see that all of the little seconds added up to make a large change. When I am in the middle of change, I can’t see it actually occurring. But that doesn’t mean the change isn’t happening. We don’t actually feel the rotation of the Earth under our feet, but that doesn’t mean the Earth does not revolve!
Sometimes I’ve seen it on my own – like when one of the boys who couldn’t bear being touched ran in and gave me his first hug out of nowhere. It brought tears to my eyes because I knew how much effort had gone into earning his trust enough to receive that simple gesture.
It’s okay to make changes and to be “mean.”
When the kids first started coming to our home, I wanted them to like me and feel comfortable. I hesitate on being strict on some things, and I wanted to always make meals that everyone wanted to eat. However, I quickly learned that there are only three meals that most kids can agree on: pizza, spaghetti, and hot dogs.
I refused to only eat those three meals over and over again. Eventually, I told the kids that we were just going to have to take turns on who didn’t like dinner that night! (Having an Instant Pot has helped a ton – these 10 Easiest Instant Pot Recipes for Beginners have been lifesavers!)
I also had to put my foot down on things, like no TV until homework was completed. I was expecting huge tantrums and sulking, but I was surprised by how easy it was. There were a few other things I had to insist upon that caused a bit more upset, but I had realized it wasn’t my job to be their friend – it was my job to teach them how responsible lives should be lived.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
The first few weeks of having these kids with us were extremely rough (especially trying to de-lice the home each day). Some women at church asked if they could help, and I started to say, “Oh, we’re okay, but thank you!” Then it hit me – we were not okay. I was drowning.
So I buried my pride and asked for help. I was so touched by the amazing response. Women brought meals, helped tidy the home, and some even came over to help nitpick for hours! (Seriously, I would have run the other way!) And even now, I still will reach out for help if I need it. When my own kids are sick, I ask for someone to take the baby for the day. Over Christmas break, I farmed the older kids out so they wouldn’t be bored to tears at my baby-centered home.
When you allow someone to help you, both parties are blessed. You get the help you need, and they get the satisfaction of being able to serve you and receive blessings for their service.
God teaches us lessons from being foster parents
This journey of bringing new, older children into our home has been hard. Probably one of the most difficult things that I have ever done. Each week, each day, it feels as if there’s a new challenge to face that I had not anticipated.
Each time we seemed to settle into a routine, something new would come along.
But I don’t regret it. Not for one minute.
I know that taking in these families is something God wants us to do.
Even though it’s hard. Even though I fail. Because boy, do I fail. I feel like I am re-learning these lessons over and over and over again.
But I obviously need it. I don’t do it because “I’m amazing and I can help those less fortunate than me.” That’s not it at all. The reason God asks me to do it is because I need these kids and these families more than they need me. I have so much growing and learning to do, and this is the way God is teaching me.
So I do it. And God helps me. He doesn’t take away the hard, but He helps make it so I can carry the burden. Reading the book “When God Doesn’t Fix It” helped me understand this better than ever.
I trust that when God asks me to do something, whether by way of general commandment or individual direction, He will always prepare a way for me to be able to do. He doesn’t ask the impossible – just the difficult.
And no matter what comes my way in the coming months, or even years, I know I’ll always have the strength do the right thing because God will help me.
An earlier version of this post that Tiffany wrote was originally published on The Crazy Shopping Cart HERE.
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You are an incredibly powerful writer. I really enjoyed reading this. You and all of your families are God’s gift to others around you. Thank you for writing this. (And tell your mom and Dad I said hi)
Thank you so much!! And I definitely will. <3