There are parents, and then there are Parents. There are plenty of folks who do an outstanding job of nurturing, protecting and guiding their children to become healthy, successful adults. For these people, excellent parenting is a high priority in their constellation of life consuming activities. But, then there are those unique individuals where parenting is not just an important responsibility, but rather, it is their Vocation. Parenting isn’t an option or a casual choice; it is a mission, a calling—a summons to fulfill an inner drive of intense intrinsic importance. These individuals are programmed to parent, wired from inception to be part of a special, elite class with a unique purpose.
I think everyone knows someone who characterizes this vocation; in fact, you’re probably thinking of several names and their circumstances right now. There are those who parent special needs or severely disabled children; care givers of children and youth lingering on the doorsteps of death; and those who are tasked with parenting a child from birth well into adulthood due to physical or mental challenges, to name only a few. These Vocational Parents are called to provide extreme care well beyond the norm to children whose lives depend on them. They are life and hope and encouragement and love in a specially designed package. They are indispensable, and they are awesome!
I count Foster and Adoptive Parents in this elite league of Vocational Parents. Sadly, I don’t think our society and culture shares this viewpoint; most likely because the incredible responsibilities they take on and the work that they do are rather abstruse and only noticed by a few. True too is the fact that societal perceptions have been darkened and jaded by the sensationalizing of a few, rare instances of inappropriate conduct (less than 1/10 of 1% to be exact!). California will soon be rebranding foster and adoptive parents to the title “Resource Parents”; a more apt and suitable description. It is my hope that the rest of the country will follow suit in this necessary rebranding.
Vocational Parents provide a service, a level of quality and care which cannot be replicated elsewhere. Sure, you can institutionalize children, but every bit of research over the last three to four decades has cast a bright light on the fact that institutionalizing these children is more damaging than helpful. Unnecessarily warehousing children and youth under the guise of “treatment” is an injustice, and a horrible, damaging disservice to these young lives. Thus, the role of the dedicated Vocational Parent becomes so much more essential and valued. This need is especially true of Resource Parents who serve the most vulnerable children and youth in our society. In fact, family-based treatment services have been identified throughout the country as the “intervention of choice” for children and youth whose lives have been impacted by trauma.
I hope most of you have sweet memories of a parent who had a positive, affirming impact on your life. Unfortunately, there are still many who have had very adverse childhood experiences, primarily at the hands of a “parent” figure and who are still reeling and healing from these wounds. This reality only accentuates the value and importance of Vocational Parents. One of the key characteristics of these remarkable individuals is their seemingly unconditional and uncanny ability to nurture, care for and support children and youth in the most dire and uncomfortable situations.
A huge body of research literature exists which clearly demonstrates that children who have not had ample physical and emotional attention are at higher risk for behavioral, emotional and social problems as they grow up. In fact, researchers such as Dr. Bruce Perry, have demonstrated that physical and emotional deprivation damages the brain! The literature also tells us that with the appropriate parental intervention healing can occur and some of this damage can be reversed. This is not parenting for the masses. This is parenting born out of the artfulness and skill of the Vocational Parent whose patience and high tolerance for challenging behaviors serve as a catalyst for healing.
I think it is safe to say that most of us enjoy taking a break and not working 24 hours per day, seven days per week. Keeping this kind of schedule isn’t desirable. But think about those Parents who do keep these kind of hours--including Resource Parents—-because they are working with traumatized youth in the foster care system and they must be the Vocational Parent all the time! These parents dedicate most of their time and energy because the lives of the children and youth entrusted into their care depend on them, no matter how exhausting it may be.
I want to encourage all of us to recognize, acknowledge and applaud the healing hands and sacrificial giving of our Vocational Parents, especially Resource Parents, as we celebrate National Foster Care Month this May. These parents are life and hope and encouragement and love in a specially designed package!