As I have sojourned through seven decades of life, I have been in awe of the individuals who have been gifted with skills and abilities so beyond the norm. There are musicians, scientists, athletes, writers, artists; people in all walks of life who have a Special Calling to bless humanity with their unique gift. The contributions of the uniquely gifted make life rich, more meaningful and better for everyone. But, let’s not forget – each one of us has unique gifts and skills to contribute to the grand scope of life. Some gifting is more visible and overt, but all is valuable and needed!
It is just human nature for society to focus on--and throw accolades to--the most visibly gifted individuals. Master musicians, artists, renowned writers, actors, Nobel laureates, et cetera, deserve their recognition. Unfortunately, the not so visible contributors fall under the radar and may be seen as “less important” or less valuable. Not True! One such class of individuals with a “Special Calling” are Foster Parents. They are absolutely unique and indispensable, not only to the wellbeing of children and youth, but to the strength, stability and wellbeing of our culture.
Parenting, in and of itself, is a challenge. You can pretty much guarantee that every parent has been pushed to the limits, experienced grief and frustration, cried a lot, and have had “what have I done” or “I can’t take it anymore” moments. Foster Parenting is even more of a challenge, requiring very unique and special skills – a Special Calling. Let’s talk about that.
Have you ever traveled to a foreign country, another state, town or even a neighborhood where you felt like a stranger, i.e., very uncomfortable, awkward and anxious? Foster Parenting is the same phenomena in reverse. Within our industry it is often referred to as “stranger care” because the child and foster parents are strangers to each other. Very often their worldviews, cultural experiences, expectations, and their core values are very different, even conflicting. Successful Foster Parents are able to navigate and master the collision of these two worlds and bridge their differences.
Without a doubt, it takes Special Skill to stand against the tide of emotion, behaviors and turmoil produced by the trauma a child has experienced. Being extricated from their family is traumatic enough. Yet there is always some underlying reason that led to their removal which adds additional, and often very substantial trauma. Youth coming into foster care are in pain. They are scared, angry, and unskilled in managing their feelings. It takes a Special Calling to see past the overt manifestation of trauma, to view the heart, character and potential of each foster child.
Bringing a foster youth into one’s family produces immediate change and challenge. Aside from dealing with their trauma, the entire family ecosystem is turned on its head. It’s like bringing a new baby into the home for the first time. There are changes in schedules, meals, and everyday routines; comfort zones, rest and relaxation may disappear or become significantly altered. It definitely takes a very special person to put Compassion before personal Comfort to succeed as a Foster Parent.
If you are like me, you really enjoy your personal space and privacy. Foster Parents don’t have much of this. In fact, they have to live under a microscope; constantly in view of a bunch of folks. Social workers, agency staff, therapists, school personnel, and possibly even biological parents and relatives, all have their eyes on the family. How comfortable is that? Plus, people are coming and going all the time. There are social worker visits, special in-home counseling sessions, and visits by licensing workers. What was once a normal family environment now feels like Grand Central Station. The Unique skill of a successful Foster Parent takes this in stride as part of their responsibility, and makes it work!
Most of us have a couple of things that we do well. Foster Parents must possess many skills that help them be adaptable and able to change roles on-the-fly. They are not just “parents,” they are teachers, first responders, counselors, advocates, negotiators, comforters, protectors, watchdogs, and transporters. Successful Foster Parents have a big toolbox and a large pantry of ideas, techniques, strategies and interventions.
Foster Parents have a Special Calling because they have a heart of gold while being tough as steel. Taking a foster youth into your home always has risks. Risk of failure, risk of loss, risk of feeling helpless, and risk of harm or negative impact on other family members. Foster Parents are masterful at putting the needs of others before their own. They understand the positive impact they are making with their foster children is worth taking all of these risks. Foster Parents are the exemplification of doing whatever it takes to positively change the life of a child forever!
Foster Parents are Unique. They have chosen to become “mom or dad” when they didn’t need to. They possess the intrinsic understanding that their sacrificial giving has lifetime implications for the child or youth they welcomed into their home as a stranger; while seeing them leave as a loved one. While some people invest for financial gain, they invest in children as our most valuable resource. The rewards for their investment are invaluable. Foster Parents understand that what they do reverberates positively in our society. Every foster child who has healed because of their Foster Parent will be a contributor to society moving forward, and not a consumer.
May is National Foster Care Month. I am so honored to shine a bit of light on the amazing people who answer the very Special Calling in their lives to serve as Foster Parents. Thank You to every Foster Parent for recognizing and using your unique, special gift to the betterment of your foster children and our society!
If you're interested in becoming a foster parent and making an impact, start by filling out an interest form by clicking here!