So, how many kids do you have?” she asks me as she scans my groceries and adds them to my shopping bag. Her question stuns me but at the moment, I’m not sure why. It should be easy and yet inside my head, I have a moment of panic…Two? Yes, I have two amazing kids! While “two” is likely what the cashier at the grocery store would think is the right answer, it’s not the right answer for my heart. Because when I say two, I skip over the eight foster littles who have claimed my heart even though they no longer live with me. They aren’t mine, and yet they always will be a part of me.
Here’s the thing.
There isn’t anything easy about foster care. Simple questions aren’t simple. And there are no easy answers to anything because foster care isn’t easy. Having said that, here are the five questions I’m asked most often and the answers I’ve come up with. I’ve found having a set answer ready to give makes these innocent questions much easier to handle, so I hope this will be helpful for my fellow foster mamas. And for those of you who don’t foster, let me encourage you to not be afraid to ask foster moms questions because even though the questions may be hard for us to answer, by showing interest, we know you care and that means a lot!
Question #1 How do you do it?
True story. A lady said to me… “I just love kids so much I could never foster” Right. And I hate them, so foster care is easy for me! Just kidding. Well, sort of 😉 I may have thought that in my head for a moment, but in all fairness, my personal opinion and experience is that when people ask this question, generally followed by “you are so amazing, I could never do that” they actually aren’t telling me how wonderful I am. Instead, they are giving their personal reason for why they can’t/won’t/don’t want to foster themselves. They mistakenly think that because I foster I must think everyone should do it. And that is not true.
Well, we don’t always do it well, that’s for sure (insert laugh here because let’s be honest, it’s so true!), I think we are all called to do our thing. If we all do our thing, then all the things will happen, so there is no need to feel guilty over the things we aren’t doing. For now, foster care is our thing…. Paired with a smile, this works really well. Often people will follow up by sharing the amazing things their family does. But if not, then I change the subject by asking something about their family.
Question #2: How do you not get attached?
Foster families and anyone who knows us knows we do get too attached! There is no way to foster well and NOT attach. Attachment is the point- as you’ve probably heard, the foster kids need us to attach because it helps them learn to love, to feel safe, and to trust. When people ask this question, what I think they really want to know is how do we love and let go, how do we engage and care and go deep, knowing the child may leave at any moment. And it’s a fair question. In a perfect world, there would be no need for foster families because there wouldn’t be broken families. Foster care feels odd to people because it the need for foster care stems from a broken world, and it definitely isn’t natural to love and let go like this.
We do get attached! And it’s not easy when the kids leave. We cry and are sad, but we talk about it and process together, and as you can see, we are still mostly ok. This isn’t a perfect example, but I try to view it as if my friend needed me to care for her kids for a bit. I’d love them, include them in my family, and take care of them as if they were my own, but the entire time, I’d know they were eventually going back to her.
Question #3: What’s their story? (Also- What did his parents do? Or- was his mom on drugs? Or- She’s so cute, doesn’t her mom want her?)
The hard reality is that foster parents often times we don’t even know all the details of the case, and but if we do, we can’t share it due to confidentiality laws. I have a lot to say about this situation, but that will be for a different post! For now, I’ll say that I think most people are genuinely curious, but the more we say the more they ask and it gets complex fast. Its essential we protect the personal stories of the kids and so this question calls for an answer that is honest but also discreet.
Option A– I’m curious about her story too! Actually, we often aren’t told much about the case, which is crazy since we do the day-to-day care, but that’s how it is. What we know is that she needed someone to care for and love her and we are so thankful God brought her to us! (then gently change the subject, sometimes by sharing a sweet story about the baby and then let the conversation move on from there) If they bring it back to this subject, I’ll use Option B.
Option B– Depending on the person, I might start by saying this: “Kids go into foster care for lots of reasons, usually due to drugs, abuse, or neglect, and… (then move to option A).
Disclaimer– there are some who need to know. Those who are helping care for a child might need to know some of the issues he/she faces in order to provide better care. This is where foster parents have to use their discretion and share the info carefully with people they trust.
Question #4: What about your bio kids?
A friend of mine asked me to write about this a couple of years ago. You can read what I wrote here: https://cultivatingus.com/arent-you-worried/
I’ve given this a lot of thought over the years. The reality is, I have lots of reasons to worry about my kids and they aren’t all connected to foster care! Foster care is not easy, but life is not easy. As a result of foster care, I have seen my kids learn valuable lessons about faith and service, courage and generosity, and the impact of choices. As a family we work hard to minimize the negative impact this makes on them, but overall, even though it’s hard, it has been a mostly positive thing for our family.
Question #5: How many kids do you have?
I can’t tell you what I actually muttered to that cashier that day in the grocery store. It took me days to figure out why her question rattled me. After some reflection, I realized this question shone a spotlight on one of the hard and also beautiful things about foster care…. the fact that that I have been a mom and still love the way only a mother’s heart can, to kids who no longer live with me, who will never remember me, and who have impacted my life forever. By not mentioning them in a casual conversation it feels like I’m not giving them the value they deserve. At the same time, the cashier really was just making casual conversation. And so, bottom line, when this is asked, I answer with the number of kids currently in my home and say a quiet prayer for those who don’t live with me anymore.
My response if we have a placement:
I have three kids. Depending on who I’m talking with, I may add: “I have three kids, two biological and this sweetheart is our foster baby”
My response if we don’t have a placement:
“I have two kids” Depending on who I’m talking with, I may add, “we also foster and so there are several kids who hold a special place in my heart even though they don’t live here anymore” Of course adding this detail also means they likely will ask a foster care related question. Most of the time I don’t mind having that discussion because I feel more awareness is good for foster kids. However, sometimes I just can’t take the time and so if I know this, or if I’m simply not in the mood, I won’t bring it up!
Bonus – Foster Care? I know someone who…. [insert terrible, horrible, “foster care horror story” here}
Oh yeah. Every foster mom has heard of these. It is like labor. Every mom feels it necessary to tell the poor newly pregnant mama their birth horror story… same with foster care. Anytime someone hears you are fostering, they will share the terrible story they heard about foster care. I honestly feel that most people make these comments in an attempt to relate. Foster care is difficult in that it is a pretty bizarre system, and so this makes it harder to relate. For this reason, sometimes these attempts come out sounding a bit “off.” But at the root, no matter what they say, I think most people are really commenting about how they have heard that foster care is hard. And so, what I say is something like this:
That’s terrible… Yes, foster care is really hard. That’s why we definitely need you praying for us! But its also good too and it has taught my family so much. Despite the hard, its been good too.
These aren’t the only questions I’m asked, but these are definitely the most commonly asked ones. What about you?
What questions do you have? Foster moms, what are you asked and what do you say? Let me know in the comments, and be sure to subscribe to my blog (sign up on the right) to receive these posts of encouragement directly to your email inbox!