The role of a father figure in a child’s life cannot be understated. Fathers are important. For children who enter foster care, a foster dad can make a lasting impact.
One Foster Dad’s Decision to Engage
Early in their marriage, Mark Smith and his wife, Laura, decided to attend a foster care information session.
Laura had always had a heart for foster care. Mark did not necessarily have the same passion for foster care as his wife, but he believed that God uses people to help others find healing and restoration. But most importantly, both Mark and Laura shared a deep desire to be used by God. This desire led them to consider foster care.
At the informational session, Mark and Laura learned more about foster care, including the importance of safe reunification when possible. Ultimately, they decided that it was not the right time for them to begin fostering. The idea of becoming foster parents was put on hold for several years.
But in early 2021, Mark and Laura decided to take the leap.
They began engaging with foster care with no agenda of their own. “Our desire has been to be open to what God would do,” Mark explains.
From the beginning, Mark and Laura have been open to following God’s call. They recognized that God might call them to be foster parents only for a short season. Alternatively, God might lead them to foster long-term or to eventually adopt from foster care. But they knew that no matter what happened, they wanted to follow God’s lead.
Becoming a Dad through Foster Care
Mark’s first experiences as a father came through foster care. He and Laura received their first placement in April 2021: three children, ages six and under.
“To say that I didn’t know what to do would be an understatement. I was nervous and excited at the same time,” Mark describes. “Like someone walking around in the dark, I eventually started to find my way.”
After three months, the three children returned to their home state and eventually were able to reunite with their biological family.
In July 2021, Mark and Laura received a second placement, which has been with them ever since.
The Meaning of Father’s Day
This is Mark’s second Father’s Day as a foster dad. In the last two years, his perspective has dramatically changed.
“I never before realized the level of sacrifice that’s involved with being a parent,” Mark acknowledges. “I’m now more grateful than ever for my own parents and the love that they’ve always shown me.”
Parenting is often a thankless job. Father’s Day is a time when families can honor fathers. Mark is honest about what this means to him.
“I’m thankful for a day where we get to celebrate the efforts that fathers make,” Mark expresses. “Kids never understand the sacrifices that parents make for them, so I think it’s great that we have a day where kids of all ages can find ways to recognize and appreciate fathers.”
Learning Lessons as a Foster Dad
Parenting has a distinct learning curve. While many parents can prepare in advance during pregnancy, foster parents are often thrown into the deep end of parenting.
To make matters more challenging, children in foster care have experienced trauma from abuse, neglect, or abandonment. Parenting children from hard places is never easy.
Mark learned three important lessons about fatherhood and foster care:
- It is harder than you can imagine to be a parent.
- The kids need you more than they know.
- “The system” will always let the kids down, so we need to do whatever we can to be there for them.
Even though Mark had no prior parenting experience before becoming a foster dad, he recognizes the impact he can make. He elaborates, “I am far from a great father, but I know that these kids need a father figure in their lives, so even if my best isn’t perfect, I trust that it is better for them than if they didn’t have anyone.”
Foster Dads Need Support This Father’s Day
Mark and Laura are blessed to have very supportive family members, friends, and an amazing church family. They have received support in so many ways along their foster care journey. But the most beneficial support they have received has been through attending a support group.
“To gather once a month with others who are going through the same challenges and victories is helpful and encouraging,” Mark insists.
Churches across the United States are expanding their foster/adoptive family ministries. But all too often, these ministries are led by foster or adoptive families themselves because no one else has volunteered to lead it. A great way to support foster and adoptive families is by leading one of these ministries.
There is always room for more support. Mark admits that he and his wife do not take enough advantage of opportunities to spend time away from the kids, whether with a date night or a short vacation. “We’ve not allowed ourselves much time to rest from the kids,” Mark explains. “Activating our network to babysit and provide respite is a great need.”
It is not uncommon for foster parents to hesitate to ask for help. If you know a foster or adoptive family, understand that they may desperately desire respite care or other support but not want to ask for it. Be proactive in offering support to foster and adoptive parents consistently.
How You Can Pray for Foster Dads
Above all else, foster dads need prayer.
This Father’s Day, pray that foster dads would be encouraged. Foster dads embrace the brokenness of families and children on a daily basis. They sacrifice their time and energy to contribute to another family’s restoration. It is easy to become discouraged and lose hope. Pray that foster dads would remember why they do what they do.
Pray that foster dads would seek Jesus daily. Foster dads reflect Christ to the children in their homes. They provide stability, constancy, and steadiness for children who have only known chaos. It is vital that foster dads seek God’s wisdom and guidance as they parent children from hard places.
Finally, pray that foster dads would have strength. In his Letter to a Foster Dad on Father’s Day, Jason Johnson writes:
“If you feel beaten, it’s because you are a fighter.
If you feel bruised, it’s because you are a protector.
If you feel empty, it’s because you are a provider.
If you feel lonely, it’s because you are a leader.
If you feel tired, it’s because you are exhausting yourself on things that ultimately matter…
…and in the end, you know there’s really no better way to live.”
Pray that foster dads would have the strength to endure the challenging days, keeping in mind that God has called them for a very important purpose.
So to all the foster dads, adoptive dads, kinship dads, father figures, and mentors, Happy Father’s Day. Thank you for all that you do.