I foster every day...I encourage and promote growth and healing in the lives of my bio children and in the youth who I mentor. If I were just to tell you that I foster, you probably and most likely, would think that I am talking about “foster care.”
Without knowing it, you foster every day. We foster our relationships—at home, in our workplace, within our closest network of friends. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines FOSTER as “to promote the growth or development of : ENCOURAGE”. Some synonyms of FOSTER include: promote, bring up, serve, strengthen, uphold, contribute to, to name a few.
Some relationships that we foster take very little effort and others take a great deal more of our time and energy. In fact, there are times when we have to set boundaries and, at moments, we want to throw in the towel and give up completely. It’s easy when life is going well, but when trauma becomes part of the equation, it is hard--very hard--to foster. But the interesting thing is, most of us foster relationships with people who need to heal from some sort of traumatic experience or season of their lives. The problem is, many times we don’t recognize trauma nor do we know what to do about it, because it is so hard and painful.
Fostering in foster care is not just about welcoming a youth into your home. Well, let’s just say that the “Welcoming” is really just step-one in the “foster care” relationship. When a youth arrives in your home, those first “welcoming” moments begin to plant “seeds” of healing for their wounds that need immediate healing. This is when the “fostering” of the relationship really begins.
If we look back into some of the synonyms of FOSTER, one that stands out to me is promote—I think of promoting as an action, e.g., you promote healing by creating a safe space to help someone heal. For our foster youth, healing could be needed for very deep wounds caused by the instability and abuse they have experienced. If you apply this example in your personal life, you are probably doing some promoting already for someone you know and care about. It might look a bit different, as not all relationships or situations are the same, but I assure you that you are doing some action--some promoting--of positivity, even healing, for someone.
Let’s take a look at another synonym for foster that is my favorite: encourage. In your daily life, do you find yourself encouraging others—your child, spouse, friend, co-worker? Do you find yourself helping them live up to their potential; to believe in themselves? If so, then you are once again fostering--fostering someone to help them reach their goals or achieve their dreams.
Encouraging someone is not always easy. Trauma can block a person’s ability to believe in themselves; can inhibit their willingness to be courageous; it can even stunt their ability to identify the starting line for positive change. During my formative early adult years--the transitional years of growing independence and self-discovery--there were people who saw me as being “too much.” And I was too much—emotionally too much. I was not always fun, but rather most of the time I was serious and anxious, and easily startled. I never enjoyed events like the 4th of July, and many could not understand why I did not join in on the fun and festivities of that day. For those who took the time to foster a relationship with me and deal with my “too much,” they sympathized with me once they discovered (and helped me to discover) that I was not fun at these kind of events because fireworks triggered painful memories in me of the civil war I lived through as a child in Nicaragua. Fireworks reminded me of bombs, gunfire and death; this was my instinctual association. Any sound that had the slightest resemblance of a “thump” would startle me, causing me to jump and become unsettled. So yes, I was not fun and was “too much.” And underneath these reactions, I held a silent belief that there was something wrong with me—I was weird, different, and had no sense of belonging nor purpose. I so desperately wanted to belong, to have a purpose in life and to feel as “normal” as others seemed to feel.
Today, those who fostered a relationship with me and spent the time and energy to get to know me, are still my dearest friends. They would tell you I was not easy and they could have easily stepped away from me, as some did. But they didn’t, and I am incredibly grateful for their willingness to foster our friendship. They believed in me and found ways to give of themselves to help me heal and grow. They saw not only my broken humanity, but also my potential, so they chose to learn more about me so they would know how to support me. This was not easy for them nor for me, and something they did not have to do. But one thing I do know about those who do foster these kinds of relationships--they have a gift to serve beyond themselves not only to those within their inner circles, but also to strangers.
The foster care system IS about welcoming a youth--a stranger--into your home and it IS about your incredible willingness to sacrifice yourself to encourage, bring up, promote and contribute to the healing of someone you don’t know. This fostering may not just happen for the youth, however, but it could also include their bio family members as well.
Do you foster your relationships so they can grow regardless of the surrounding circumstances? Do you find yourself encouraging younger generations to reach their potential and to become healthy adults capable of contributing to our community, even when it feels like there is no hope? Did someone take time to encourage you in a way that made a positive difference in your future and you want to give back? If you find yourself saying yes to any of these questions, then would you consider foster care?
Fostering in the foster care system can take many forms: you can be a caregiver, a mentor, a tutor, a donor. Which one of these options can you see yourself doing? Which might you be called to do?