Listen to Jessica's broadcast The Complicated, Beautiful Life of a Foster Mom.
When my wife and I felt God prompting us to become foster parents, we knew that we wanted to provide a loving, stable environment that would nurture kids in need of godly values. After becoming licensed, however, we quickly discovered that our desires were rather idealistic. Our training hadn't covered the reality of how to interact with a traumatized child who has severe trust issues — one who may be suffering the fallout of being physically beaten, malnourished or sexually abused.
We concluded that foster parenting requires energy, patience and compassion. Here's what else we've learned about this important calling:
Surround yourself with support
We can't expect outside assistance to come from an overworked caseworker, who may take days to return a frantic phone call. That's why we need "wraparound care."
Often organized by churches or small groups, wraparound care helps sustain foster parents. Church members and friends can spearhead efforts to collect diapers, formula, clothes and car seats for the new arrivals; cook an occasional meal; or arrange for respite care to give us a break by baby-sitting. Find those who will help and don't be afraid to ask for their support.
A hardened, mistreated child often develops unhealthy survival skills and may be an expert at pitting one foster parent against the other. Stay unified, remembering that you and your spouse are on the same side and want to see a successful outcome.
Offer patience and compassion
Foster parenting isn't about making a child see logic or obey but about being patient and compassionate. Recognize that meltdowns will come, sometimes multiple times a day. We must see circumstances from the child's perspective, which often means looking past an outburst and realizing that something else is causing the misbehavior.
Our primary job isn't to correct wrong behaviors and to enforce rules; it's to build memories, to offer a safe, stable living experience and to provide some fun along the way.
Include them Have your foster kids participate in activities, give them responsibilities and provide the affirmation they desperately need for good behavior or a job well done. Make them feel like part of the family. Include them in conversations, Bible readings, daily chores, fun activities and family photos. Introduce them as your children, not as your foster children.
Most importantly, pray — for God to sustain you and for you to have a heart to understand the inner turmoil the children are experiencing.John W. Kennedy is a freelance author.