The Peace Corps says that working for it is “the toughest job you’ll ever love”. The same may be said for foster parenting. Becoming a first-time foster parent represents a significant change in your life and in your family member’s lives, so contemplate the pros and cons and make the decision that is right for you and your family.
There are so many children needing foster families. Often, the need for foster families exceeds the number of foster families available. You could help address this need; you and your family could foster a child.
Your loving home could provide the support, nurturing, and structure that a foster child needs to survive and thrive; learn to trust, give and receive love healthfully, and make good decisions; enhance his/her self-knowledge and self-esteem; and broaden his/her perspectives and horizons. In sum, your loving home could make all the difference in the world to this child.
Foster parents often feel that their lives, too, have been enhanced because of their relationships with their foster children. Foster children may provide their foster parents with poignant lessons in overcoming obstacles, the strength of the human spirit, and the extraordinary capacity that some people (especially children) have for forgiveness. Foster parents also can enhance their human relations skills, especially adapting, compromising, and understanding, as foster children come into their homes with pre-conceived ideas of acceptable behaviors and boundaries that may be (or initially seem to be) inconsistent with the pre-conceived ideas of the foster parents. Foster parents can have their own perspectives broadened, as they are often introduced to perspectives, talents, and personalities to which they may not have had much exposure prior to fostering. Through all the loving, seeking understanding, and standing by one another, foster parents and foster children can form life-long, loving bonds.
If you already have children of your own, your children may bond with your foster child. Close friendships may develop that may endure throughout their lives. Many of the benefits that foster parents can experience from fostering, as listed in the paragraph immediately above, can also be experienced by your children who are then foster siblings to your foster child.
Foster parents receive an income for fostering.
Foster children may come from severely abusive, neglectful, or otherwise unhealthy homes. Such children may have emotional scars that run deep and affect their ability to relate well with others. For example, if a foster child has experienced sexual abuse, s/he may be fearful of your touch, so hugging this child may not be received by the child as the affirmation of healthy parental love that you have intended it to be. Some foster children may have known starvation; they may take food from the kitchen and hide it in their bedrooms (just in case . . . ), thus causing an ant problem in their foster homes. Some foster children may have difficulty trusting because they have been disappointed so many times; they may attempt to push their foster families away in an effort to prevent them from getting “too close” (i.e., close enough that further disappointment is possible). Pushing foster families away can take a variety of forms: anger (yelling, cursing, “the silent treatment”, etc.), physical violence (hitting people, throwing possessions, damaging items, etc.), running away from home, and other methods for creating emotional distance between foster child and foster family. These and other behavioral challenges can cause significant difficulties for foster families.
If you have children of your own, your children may be harmed by the unhealthy behaviors of your foster child. For example, if your foster child is a victim of child sexual assault, he may, as a teen, perpetrate on your toddler child just as he was perpetrated against when he was a toddler. Sadly, without adequate counselling, it is what he knows based on the experiences he has had.
Similarly, your pets can be victims of your foster child. If your foster child has known physical abuse, your pet may bear the brunt of his/her anger as s/he strikes out physically.
If your foster child comes to you later in his/her childhood (i.e., as a pre-teen or teen), it may be more difficult for you and your family to break through any unhealthy barriers that s/he may have established and therefore to bond with and help your foster child. Additionally, the older foster child may have substance abuse and promiscuity challenges that may complicate matters.
Foster children often need a great degree of love and understanding from their foster families. If you and your family cannot provide these (for example, if you lack patience), fostering may not be right for you.
Fostering is not right for everyone. Fostering a child in need is a difficult job that could end very badly for all involved or create life-long, loving bonds that are a blessing for all involved. Families considering fostering should review the pros and cons and make the decision that is right based on the totality of the information.
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