I’m Not a Foster Parent Because I Can ‘Handle It’

I didn’t decide to become involved in foster care because I’m such a great person. The fact is, I almost didn’t do it out of fear. Here’s how I broke through.

“I would love to do foster care, but I could never do that. Raise a child in my home and then possibly have it removed from me. That would break my heart. I just couldn’t handle it.”   I’ve said it myself and I’ve heard it a million times. I’ve even said the words, “I’m just not that selfless”.

I didn’t think adopting through foster care was the right choice for my family. I was scared. I feared the heartache. I feared the bruise my ego would take after I raised a child in my perfect little home with my perfect parenting standards, and then watched that child be removed and sent to live to with a not-so-perfect family. How could I ever handle that? I feared the grief I would go through, the empty house, the inability to move on and try again. Other families fear the effect and toll it will have on their resident children. The list of fears that keep people from doing the things they wish they could do is very long.

I was fearful and I surely wasn’t selfless. But, I needed a baby. Like, REALLY needed a baby. Everyone chooses to become involved in foster care for different reasons. Some choose to foster and/or adopt before even trying to have biological children. Some choose it after they have created their own biological brood. Others, like us, choose it because they can’t get pregnant and they have a big, deep, dark, vacant black hole to fill. Not to be too dramatic, but if you’ve gone through “unexplained infertility” you know that black hole of which I speak.

I’m very open about (well, about almost everything) being a foster/adoptive parent and often say that one of the reasons we chose to go through foster care was because we didn’t want to spend exorbitant amounts of money to grow our family. That nothing in life, no way of bringing a child into this word is a “sure thing” and therefore we didn’t want to add financial loss to the heartache of losing a potential child. But thinking back…would we have? If we had the money to do so…would we have tried IVF, surrogacy, private adoption – had we had the opportunity? Yah, we probably would have. Because that would have been less scary. However, everything really does happen for a reason and I’m thankful every day we didn’t have those opportunities because it gave us the chance to adopt through foster care. Notice I didn’t say because it gave us the opportunity to have our son. While he himself is a blessing to our family, that’s not my point here. My point here is that I’m actually thankful we experienced foster care. We experienced doing something selfless, though admittedly for a very selfish reason. It gave us the opportunity to learn what we’re actually capable of – when the fear of doing so is removed.

Fear: I was afraid of losing the child we were raising through this process. But for the first time I had a child in my home. I was finally raising a child. I was feeding him, rocking him, training him to sleep. I was clicking him safely and snuggly into his car seat and I was walking my little stroller around town. I was filling bottles and washing burp cloths. I was staring deeply into his eyes at 2am. I was tired and blissfully happy because I was finally raising a baby. I was not worrying about if I could get pregnant or if I was ever going to be a mother and raise a family. I was raising a child. I remember telling someone, “Yes, it’s not a sure thing… but at least I have a baby in my home. I’m doing something. I’m loving him and being loved back by this tiny amazing little creature.”

Fear: At any point a relative could have been approved and he could have been placed with that family. Or, his parents may have been successful in completing their service plan and be awarded him back. Or the court or CWS may have made any number of decisions I wouldn’t agree with. My response to this was, “Yes. It’ll hurt. It’ll hurt so badly I wont be able to move. But after I grieve, I’ll get up and wash it off and I’ll DO IT AGAIN. Because I want a baby.” This is where the byproduct of selflessness comes in. I knew that for however short or long I had him, I was giving him the best life he could have in a time when he so desperately needed it – at least that made me feel better at the time.

Fear: Foster children come with baggage. Like, a serious amount of baggage. Some have been neglected or have been exposed to illegal drugs during pregnancy. Some simply have horrible psychological genetics. Some will have attachment issues, some will have that “addiction switch” pre-flipped and some will have learning disabilities. And you know what? They’re still pretty awesome people. Kids are resilient. Kids bounce. There are tons of wonderful and amazing services, therapies and supports if they do have any of these issues. But raising one myself with a handful of those issues I can attest that 90% of raising a child with any of these is still just that… raising a child. They still smile, and coo, and cuddle. They still run and jump and interact with friends and family. They still argue and talk back and throw food and fuss and yell and drive you crazy. That fear is blown way out of proportion in relation to the amount of wonderful, fun, frustrating, messy and silly things they do on a regular basis just. being. kids. And even the kids born to perfect parents with perfect genetics (where are these people?) have disabilities and psychological disorders too. I don’t know about you, but my own personal genes aren’t much to write home about. I have just as much chance of making a child with any of the above listed issues (well, probably not the exposure to illegal drug use). And side note:, man, is my kid beautiful. I’m always saying that I could never make a kid this cute.

I would never know the other side of these fears had I never been forced to break through them to face the challenge and fill the void in my heart. It’s sort of like doing your first tandem sky dive – they jump on 2 so you don’t have the chance to think about it and react. I would love to say I’m one of those wonderful people who just walked up to the agency and decided to do foster care simply to give back to society. Or that I chose to adopt an older child already in the system and immediately available for adoption, or a child with known disabilities – for those are the truly selfless fostering heroes. Nope we did it for purely selfish reasons. People would stop me and say, “Thank you for being a foster parent” or “He’s so lucky to have you. You’ve saved his life” Let me tell you, there was nothing noble about this. I needed a baby. If we hadn’t said yes when we got “the call” some other wonderful foster family from our agency would have and he still would have been just fine. Point being: One does not need to be selfless to be a foster parent.

I was recently inspired by this thought while watching a very close friend of mine act as a surrogate through an agency for complete strangers. She got to know the couple through the process and became friends with them. They did the IVF and she got pregnant carrying twins but she miscarried and it was horribly sad and frustrating for both her family and the hopeful couple. When she told me how excited she was to try again for them I was so proud to know her and be close to her. It’s so easy to say, “That sucked. I’m not doing that again. EH, I tried though.” But she wasn’t worried about the fear. She was only worried about helping that couple start a family. Because, like with fostering, it’s not about the fear. It’s about doing what makes your heart full in the end, regardless of the chance of heartache – and regardless of the reasons that got you there.

Humans are far stronger than we give ourselves credit for. It takes a lot to really truly knock us down. It’s a lot worse inside our heads. What with all those fears multiplying like bunnies running rampant up there bouncing off the padded walls of our skulls. If we spend too much time protecting ourselves, or our loved ones, from pain or heartache (feeding all those bunnies) we’ll miss out on the amazing opportunities life has out ahead of us. I’m so glad I didn’t let fear keep me from foster care.

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This article originally appeared at Lavender Lemonade.

Alissa Parks
Alissa Parks is a blissfully happy mamma and doting wife from Southern California. She raises her adopted son and dogs and writes to share her experiences about foster care, infertility, marriage and mental health in a way only an Eternal Optimist can. You'll find her blogging at Lavender Lemonade.

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