One of the biggest controversies surrounding foster care is the effect that it will have on the biological children in the home. I think that this is one of the biggest fears that I have had going into foster care. How will Tera will affected? Could Tera get hurt? Is my desire to protect Tera enough to say no to foster children in need of a home?
I’ve scoured the web and found a lot of people who feel strongly on both sides. I’ve heard from biological children who grew up with foster siblings who rant and rave about how great it was for them. I’ve heard biological children who grew up with foster siblings who beg and plead that families not take foster children when they have biological children in the home. I’ve heard of horrible things have happened to biological children when foster kids came to the home. I’ve heard people say that protecting the birth order is the most important thing, and making sure that the biological child knows they are the #1 priority.
I bet my grandparents heard all those things, too, before they left for the mission field in the 1950’s. I bet as they boarded the ship (yes, ship. Airplanes were far too rare and expensive back then), they didn’t know that they were pregnant with twins. I bet once the supporters back in the States got word about the twins, they cautioned them that mission work could be “bad” for their children. I bet that when one of the twins, Daniel Hall, died of malaria at age 4 on the mission field, they questioned if mission work was really the right thing for them to be doing. I bet they wondered if they had stayed “safe” stateside, maybe then their son would not have died on the mission field. But you know what? They continued to serve. They had two more children, Nancy and Natalie who joined Dean. They stayed on the mission field for many more years, serving and making many more sacrifices, although none as great as the sacrifice of losing their child to a foreign disease, I’m sure. All three of their children went on do mission work as adults. I know for a fact that none of the children were perfect, and have made their fair share of mistakes. But what if? What if my Grandparents, Don and Betty Hall, had decided that the potential sacrifices were just not worth it?
I bet my parents also heard all these things when they went to the mission field, too. What if your kids get hurt, get attacked by a Muslim, get typhoid or AIDS or malaria? What if your children go to boarding school and then resent Christ and their parents with everything in them? What if they hate mission work and forever need to go to counseling as adults because of all the things they went through as kids on the mission field?
Yes, indeed. What if?
So many what if’s. So many things that could go wrong. So many bad things that could happen to Tera. So many decisions to make, so many potential hazards to weed out. So many things to stay up late at night worried about. What if? What if?????
Theo and I love Tera, and we will love any other biological children that we are blessed with. We would do anything to protect her and teach her. But sometimes the things that will teach her the best are not always the easiest things to go through. Sometimes we as parents will give our children the easy way out, and then they never learn how to cope when the hard days come.
I think that the decision to do foster care will always be based on the circumstances. If our biological children are being harmed because of foster care, we will choose to end that ministry in our home. We would never sacrifice the needs of our biological children just to accomplish some sort of “great deed” in the Kingdom. This might look different day by day, and year by year. Perhaps there will be years that Tera will not be able to handle being a foster sibling. Perhaps there will be future biological children that will need more of our attention. They will be our priority.
But I never want to use my biological children as “an excuse” to live in a comfort zone. If the Lord has called us to foster care, he will equip us. And that will include equipping our children. And that will include giving us wisdom when to say yes and when to say no. It will include guiding us and directing us in wisdom and sometimes sacrifice through our calling. It won’t be easy, but it will be right.
All that to say, foster care can have many benefits for biological children. It may depend on the age of the child, the maturity of the child, the personality of the child…but please we won’t write off foster care simply because we have biological children in the house. Those children also need a home and a place to learn and grow. It’s not mutually exclusive that those who are in a hurt place will hurt. What they might need instead is a place to learn how to heal.
Here are some of the benefits of foster care on Tera:
- She will learn to say goodbye and transition. As a missionary kid, I know about this one all too well. In fact, this is one of the hardest parts of being a missionary kid, and I’m sure it is similar to being a biological child in a foster home. As children move in and out of our home, Tera will learn to say goodbye. Because we will teach her and train her ways to cope with the grief of saying goodbye and transitioning. Some placements will be harder than others, some quicker than others and some more long-lasting than others. But the skill of knowing how to cope with grief and saying goodbye is one that is good for children to learn. It may have some long-lasting difficulties, but it will also teach basic life skills. Adulthood is also full of transition and saying goodbyes, and this aspect of foster care can help prepare Tera for those basic life skills.
- She learns to share. I think that this applies to any child who gets a sibling! They suddenly learn to share. They learn to deal with another person taking Mom and Dad’s attention. They deal with another person helping themselves to their toys. They deal with learning how to share a room, yet still making personal space for themselves. Not many people argue that having another sibling is bad for a child…so why would we claim that learning to share with foster siblings is a detrimental thing?
- She learns to love. Tera is already learning this one at the ripe age of 15 months. She is learning to love a sibling, to see them as valuable, to understand that humans are worthy of love, no matter the circumstances.
- She learns that the world isn’t all good people with good hearts and good circumstances. This is a hard one to teach our children. How do we explain abuse, murder, drugs, rape, and other poor decisions that some parents make? How do we explain that some parents are not able to care for their children? How do we keep their hearts innocent while also slowly letting them in on the fact that our world is very, very broken? I think that the safe environment of our home is the best place to start teaching this lesson. And this lesson goes along with the gospel. We can’t teach about Christ’s great sacrifice and redemption if a child doesn’t understand just how bad the world is that Christ came to save. We can’t look forward to heaven if we don’t know that the world is a broken place.
- She learns to value diversity. Tera will most likely have foster siblings from many different races and backgrounds. At such a young age, being able to be around other kids with different skin and different hair is good for her. It will teach her to value that other children might look different, but we are all the same beyond our appearances. I truly hope that as she gets older she also learns about different cultures and how to value and respect other people’s cultural heritages.
- She learns how to carry out Biblical commands in a practical way. The pastor might preach about loving orphans and widows, but how many children actually know who an orphan or a widow is? Or what loving them really means? Children need practical applications, not just general commands. Tera will have a practical visual on how to love orphans and widows, how to learn patience and loving the least of these. She will have an example of what opening up your home looks like, even when it’s not the most convenient thing. She will be able to see that what carrying out commands looks like, not just in our home, but in those who rally around us to support us as foster parents.
I’m certainly not saying that foster care is the right thing for every biological child. I’m simply pointing out some of the things that might benefit Tera through this journey. I hate it when people tell me that they can’t do foster care because they are too concerned about their biological children’s well-being. I assure you that we have thought through all the different ways that this could affect Tera. I think that the decision of fostering children is not based on whether it is right or wrong, but instead on whether or not it is what God is calling your family to do. God has called our family to foster, and He has not promised that it will be easy on us or on Tera. Just as he called my grandparents to be missionaries and required of them that they be willing to give up their child. Life isn’t about making decisions for us or our family that are “easy” and “the best”. It is a delicate balance, though.
One of the common themes that I noticed in all the articles I read about detrimental affects of foster care on biological children was that the biological children felt like they couldn’t communicate openly with their parents. It’s the same thing that I’ve heard from a lot of MKs: They felt like their parents “ministry” was so important that anything they felt or said might get in the way of that, so that they never said anything or allowed themselves to feel anything, or say anything against that “ministry”. This led to deep resentment towrads that ministry and eventually an inability to cope with anything to do with that ministry. I hope and pray that we always maintain open communication with Tera and our other biological children. I hope that pray that Tera never feels that we are neglecting her in favor of a ministry. I hope that pray that while all of the circumstances of foster care may not be easy for Tera, that she will grow and mature through them, and that they will make her more like Christ.