Called: Becoming Foster Parents

In case you haven’t figured out from the title of this post, AJ and I have a big announcement! Probably the biggest announcement in the history of my entire blog. We will be opening our home and becoming foster parents at the end of this month! We started the licensing process back in April 2017 and figured it would take about a year to complete, giving us plenty of time to wrap our brains around the prospect of our entire lives changing. Spoiler alert: it did not take that long. I have a whole separate post coming on all of the nitty gritty details of the licensing process, in case you’re curious. But today, I want to tell you about what led us to this decision, how our feelings about it have changed, and what we think about it now. Brace yourself, this is a looonnngg post.

img_4322-21 We’re dreaming of winter and Rocket is dreaming of the days when he was an only child.

Feeling Called

As long as I can remember, I have always wanted to adopt children. I guess you can say I feel “called” to do it. I would consider having biological children if it was important to my partner, but the one thing I knew for SURE was that I would adopt someday. I didn’t know from where or what ages or genders or races, but adoption was non-negotiable. I have made this abundantly clear in every relationship I have ever been in. Over the years, I’ve been very intentional about checking items off my bucket list (like trekking in Nepal, visiting New Zealand, hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, seeing Victoria Falls, and going on safari in Africa) because I knew that I did not want to start a family feeling like I had missed out on something I really wanted to do. As I’ve now checked most of the HUGE things off my list, I’ve started feeling more settled and a little bit more ready to slow my life down, so AJ and I started tossing around the idea of starting a family. Without getting into every detail of the conversation, we decided to start by becoming foster parents.

Talking it Over

I’m not going to lie – there were mixed feelings about this decision at first. I feel extremely called to foster/adopt, whereas AJ came from a place of what would best be described as ambivalence. He wasn’t a hard no, but he also wasn’t super excited about it. We decided that it would make sense to start the licensing process, go through the required training, and see what we decided at the end of that process. If we were not both fully on board, we would not go through with it and would explore other options instead. To make a long story short, AJ got on board pretty quickly. Once he saw the statistics and numbers, started hearing what these kids go through, and started learning about what we could actually expect (versus the extreme horror or unrealistic success stories you usually hear), he agreed – we have to at least give it a try.

This is not a decision we came to lightly. We have thought through and discussed every aspect of this change that we can think of time and time again. After all, our lives are pretty cake right now – we travel whenever we want, go out to dinner, have expendable income, etc. It’s easy, you know? But then I think – how can we not take this opportunity? We have the time, the means, and the space. How can we turn away from these kids, just so we can travel more and go out to dinner whenever we want? There’s nothing wrong with making that choice, and of course, nothing is that simple. I know we will miss the way life was before, probably a whole lot. But I feel like we have to try, because there are kids suffering and not enough good foster families out there. We feel like we can be a good resource for kids and families in need.

Fears

At the beginning of the licensing process, we (although mostly me) were extremely nervous about what we might be getting ourselves into. Part of that was just having no experience with parenting in general (what do kids even do these days?), but another part was a deep-seated fear of being totally ill-equipped to handle behavioral issues that might arise due to trauma that the kids have faced. We (and again, mostly me) wanted this to work so badly – we see fostering as a long term thing – and I was terrified that we would become parents to a child with behavioral issues well above our pay grade and we would fail them. After reading more books on parenting kids from trauma backgrounds and attending numerous training sessions, I can now say that we don’t really worry about that anymore. We believe we have the tools and resources we need to help these kids unpack their emotional baggage. That’s not to say it won’t be hard, because of course it will! But now, it seems possible. Now, we (and again, mostly me, because AJ worries about nothing) worry about things like not knowing how to register a child for school. Does anyone know how to do that, by the way?

Motivations

One thing I’ve noticed over the course of my research and attending the trainings is that we have come to foster care a bit differently than many families in our area do. There are all sorts of reasons why families foster children, but here in the Upstate of South Carolina, there seem to be two big ones based on our experience: Christians feel called by the Bible to do it, or people struggling with infertility hope to grow their families through foster care and adoption. Neither one of those apply to us since we’re not Christian (AJ is Catholic, but that’s not Christian in the south – seriously) and, as far as we know, we are not struggling with infertility. So, that has left us in kind of an awkward spot. We have entered foster parenting with the simple intention of helping children and families who need it – nothing more, and nothing less. We are not fostering with the intention of adopting, although we are open to the possibility if the right circumstances presented themselves. The reality is that something like 50-70% of children who enter the foster care system are reunited with a biological family member at some point, and reunification is the goal of the foster care system, as it should be. We view foster care as hopefully a long term commitment on our part and not something that will end when our family, adopted or biological, reaches a certain size.

The Kids!

There’s a whole lot that happens when you begin the licensing process to become foster parents, but one of the big things is that you decide what ages and genders you would like to foster. When we started thinking about it, we had absolutely no idea! Our application initially said we were open to kids ages 0-18 which, needless to say, is a pretty big range. We had no clue what was right for us! After talking with our licensing coordinator and doing a lot of soul searching, we ultimately decided to open our home to boys and girls ages 4-11. Basically, elementary school age (kids here can start kindergarten at 4). Our primary reason for choosing this age range had to do with a couple factors. First, with both of us working full time and the logistics of the day care system as it pertains to foster care, we felt that we could not reasonably care for children that were below school age.Β  Second, given the fact that we are relatively young (31 and 29), we felt that taking on teenagers would be challenging with no parenting experience whatsoever. We definitely see ourselves working with teens in the future (there is a huge need!) but we wanted to get some experience under our belts first.

After deciding on an age range, gender, and the number of kids (we are starting with 1 but will eventually bump up to a sibling set) you are willing to accept, you then fill out an expansive checklist that talks about a huge range of medical issues, behaviors, and more that you are willing or unwilling to accept. So, for example, the checklist might ask if you are willing to accept a child with a learning disability or a family history of learning disabilities. If you say yes, you then have to say whether you are willing to accept mild, moderate, or severe forms. The list covers everything from cancer to hearing loss to food hoarding issues and mental illness and everything in between! This list helps the licensing coordinator write your home study (the giant report that talks about what you would be like as parents), which the Department of Social Services uses to match a family with a child. Of course, there are many times when a child may come into the foster care system and have issues that are not immediately known about or discovered, so there are no guarantees, but the list helps frame what you do and do not feel comfortable handling.

One thing that is super important to note is that there are very strict rules about sharing identifying information online or on social media about the kids in our care. Namely – we can’t do it at all. So there will never be identifying photos, names, or stories on this blog or any of my social media accounts. I will share some of the ups and downs with you as I can, and I’m happy to answer any questions about the process, but if you are looking for juicy stories about the biological families and why the kids are in care, you won’t find them here.

Getting Ready

As I mentioned, we’ve been reading, training, watching videos, and more for months now to get ready. Are we really ready? No, definitely not. But at this point, we feel as ready as we possibly could without having any parenting experience. We have got the kids’ room ready and are slowly accumulating all the gently used clothes, toys, and books we can find. After all, 4-11 is a big age range! We will be opening our home at the end of August but have no idea when we will receive our first placement or how long it will last. We know it will be a whirlwind trying to adapt to becoming parents overnight, so we are trying to enjoy the calm before the storm for now.

The Answer to the Question You’re Asking Yourself Right Now

“Are you really prepared to give up travel?” Of the few people who knew we were becoming foster parents prior to me publishing this post, every single one of them has asked me this question. It’s a fair question, to be sure. And the answer is “sort of.” I am fully prepared to give up traveling the way I do right now, which is constantly and by myself to crazy places for weeks at a time. I’m ready for that because, as I mentioned, I’ve checked the big things off my bucket list already – that was intentional and planned with parenthood in mind.Β  However, one thing we believe we have to offer kids is the opportunity to see and experience the world, and we are hopeful that we will be able to take trips with our foster children as often as the circumstances allow. There will be some kids who are not in a place where they can handle the stress of a changing environment, so in those cases, we won’t. But when possible, we fully intend to take them with us, whether it is to a wedding in New Jersey or Washington DC or out to Utah for a marathon. That said, we also plan to take breaks between each long term placement in order to take a breath and regain a sense of “normal life” for a while – probably a couple months. So, I’ll do big trips during those breaks. Don’t worry, your favorite globe trotter is not giving up the travel lifestyle anytime soon! It just might look a little different.

What about running?

To be honest, I have no idea what my workouts will look like once we become foster parents. I know that my days of two-a-day workouts are probably over. I know I’ll likely be doing early mornings and lunchtime workouts only. But I also know how important working out is for my body and my mind, so I plan to make it a priority to the extent that that is possible. It will depend on the child in our home, but I know I will be healthier mentally and physically (and a much better parent) if I can workout regularly. So, we’ll just have to wait and see what that ends up looking like!

Yup, it’s happening.

At this point, we’re just ready to get started and figure it out as we go. We vacillate between feeling ready and excited and completely terrified and like we’re making a huge mistake. I think that’s probably normal. I don’t know how long we will last or how good we will be, but we’re ready to give it a try. I look forward to taking you along for the ride!

LEAVE A COMMENT: I’d love to hear your questions or thoughts about foster care. Have you ever considered becoming a foster parent? What information do you want to know about the process?