I want to start this post off with a HUGE disclaimer: foster care is a serious commitment and one that should not be taken lightly. It’s a hard road to walk and only a family who is fully being led to do it should do it.
I do not expect every family I run into to become foster parents. I do not think that’s even slightly realistic. However, I wanted to address something that has come up frequently in the last three years that I have been in the role of foster parent.
Many, many people tell me that they would really like to pursue foster care….when their kids are older. Now, I totally get it. It makes sense- older kids are more independent, can defend themselves against the words and actions of kids from tough backgrounds, older kids are usually out of the home for long periods of time during the day, and are just far less demanding and hands-on than younger children. Plus, young children are EXHAUSTING and adding foster children to the plate does not seem feasible.
But I think that there are downsides to fostering while having older kids, and they are not talked about as often. Sometimes it seems that the people I talk to are using this idea as an excuse- thinking about becoming a foster parent is terrifying, and putting distance between us and that decision with the age of our kids helps bring comfort to the idea of doing this job.
Listen- there is no formula for the perfect time to become a foster parent. What works for one family absolutely will not work for another family. What works for our family will not work for yours. However, if the Lord has called us to fostering, he will also provide for us every step of the way- whether our kids at home are younger or older.
Perhaps you are thinking about doing foster care, but you aren’t sure that having young kids while fostering is a good idea. I just wanted to share several reasons that having young kids while fostering has worked so well for us. Again, I do not think that these are blanket statements, and while they are true for my kids, they may not be true for yours. But perhaps there is someone out there who has really felt led to pursue foster care but have heard so much about waiting until the kids are older because it will be “easier” then. I have not found that to true, and I am so thankful that we have chosen to be involved in the foster care system while our kids are younger.
- Kids are a healing balm in the bandaid of foster care. Every child in foster care has been through trauma- this might be reoccurring trauma, or perhaps it is just the trauma of being removed from their parents and their home. I have found that foster care doesn’t often solve these problems, but instead slaps a bandaid over it, hoping to heal the wounds of the child and the family. Both children we have taken in through foster care have bonded almost immediately with our biological children, and have therefore felt almost immediately comfortable in our home. I can’t imagine how much different and harder the bonding and comfort level would be if we didn’t have younger children in the home to ease this transition. Even if foster care doesn’t solve the deep set problems, I have found that my children are like healing balm to the child who is going through this difficult time.
- Kids are a bridge to the birth parents. With both children I have fostered, the biological parent has relaxed immediately upon seeing me with my biological children. Abi’s Mom even commented: “I know that you are not trying to take her from me because you already have your own kids”. Heavenly’s Mom held Kiah the entire PCP meeting. Again, it makes everyone just a little more comfortable and relaxed when there are cute babies in the room. It allows people to have conversation and ask questions and see one another as people and parents, not just statistics. And, yes, both birth parents of my girls have indeed met my children.
- Kids are resilient. Another reason that fostering while the kids are younger is because they just take it for what it is. Did my two year old grieve when Abi left last summer? ABSOLUTELY. But she is resilient and bounced back after just a few months. She still talks about Abi and loves looking at pictures of her, but she easily understands and accepts that these children coming into our home are here for a short time and then will move on. Of course, as our bio kids grow older, we will continue to reevaluate if the grief and constant goodbyes are having ill effects, and proceed carefully.
- Kids are accepting. One of the hardest days of foster care is the first day. An absolute stranger is brought into our home and we are expected to parent, love and provide for this child who has probably had the worst day of their life. I find that with my young ones around, this transition goes so much easier. They throw open all the cupboards. share their toys and are more than happy to give a tour of the house. Tera plopped down in Heavenly’s lap almost immediately, asking to be read a book. They don’t ask what her past history is or what behaviors we can expect or why she doesn’t have any clothes. They don’t ask what happened to Mom or why her Dad _______. They just see a new sibling and are good to go.
- Kids are equipped. I truly believe that if God is calling a family to foster, he is calling the entire family, parents and children- older or younger. Our sweet Tera is an introverted and on paper would be a terrible foster sister. She doesn’t do well with new people, she doesn’t do well with change. And yet she does fabulous with all the ins and outs of foster care. I can’t help but watch her and know that God gave her some special coping skills for being a foster sister.
Bonus: It is so good for my kids. My own biological children have already learned so much through this journey of foster care. They have learned what helping is, what sacrificing is and what it’s like to literally be the hands and feet of Jesus to those who have nobody else. They are learning that life isn’t always easy for everybody, and that the whole world doesn’t have to revolve around them for it to keep spinning. They are learning how to share time and space and toys and how to be accepting of everyone no matter their language, skin tone or background. I assure you that for every moment of questioning why we would do this, I am so thankful that my kids get to participate in one of the greatest love stories in the world.
I know that whatever your family circumstances, if God is calling you to foster care, he will lead you through it. It’s not easy to find the balance of wisely protecting our biological children from the harms of the world while taking in children with ‘colorful’ pasts. There is no magic formula of what is right and wrong, and to be honest it’s always terrifying. I hope that this post does not come across as condescending, but instead will encourage you to think about foster care with biological children in a slightly different light.
I’d love to hear from you- if you are a foster parent with biological or adopted children, how do you manage the age dynamic? How old were your children when you started fostering and what are your thoughts on this? Have you ever mixed up your birth order?
Please, as always, feel free to reach out to me with any questions that you may have. You can leave a comment here or on any of my social media accounts as well as by sending me an email at [email protected]
For those of you who are new around here, we are Theo and Suzanne Hines. We began the process to become foster parents just two years into our marriage. Shortly after beginning the process, we became pregnant with our first daughter, Tera. This was totally planned and expected- we always wanted both biological children and to use our home and our lives to foster children as well. When Tera was 13 months old, we got our first placement- a newborn baby girl (yes, the girls were 13 months apart!). Several months into fostering Abigail, we got pregnant with Kiah. Also totally planned and rejoiced over. When Kiah was 7 months old, we welcomed our 10 year old foster daughter Heavenly into our home. We currently have Tera, Kiah and Heavenly and still maintain contact with Abi, too! Yes, I know that we are crazy blessed.