I’m convinced for every one couple we see pursuing becoming foster parents, there’s a whole host of others that are privately considering it but aren’t quite ready to publicly confess it. And sometimes the question holding them back the most is - “What questions should we be asking?”
I recognize single people can foster too - and many should - but that’s not primarily what this post is about, although some of the questions couples need to be asking themselves are relevant and applicable to singles as well. The purpose of this post, however, is to provide some context and structure to those private and personal conversations I know many of you are having out there. Hopefully it gives you some handlebars to hold onto and guardrails to navigate within. While this list is certainly not exhaustive, let it be a clarifying guide for you as you continue to consider and pursue taking your next best steps together.
1. What’s our motivation?
Foster care is less about getting a child for your family and more about giving your family for a child. A slightly different statement with significantly different implications. That's not to say that a family can't grow through foster care - it sometimes does - or that a family doesn't receive endless amounts of blessings and joy through foster care - they no doubt can. It is to say, however, that our first call is to give, not receive. Why is this important? Several reasons, but most notably is simply wanting to “get” a child cuts off your capacity to hope for that child’s family to be restored so they can go home. As well, what happens when process is especially difficult? Do you stick with it because it’s worth it, or step out because you’re not getting what you want? Check your intentions.
2. Are we on the same page?
While I understand the sentiment behind the question, I actually don’t like it as much as I like to ask: “Are you at least reading the same book?” Because sometimes we might be a few pages ahead of or behind our spouse, but as long as we’re reading the same book - i.e. sharing the same convictions and vision and taking steps forward together in the same direction - that’s what’s most important. Needing to be on the “same page” sometimes makes couples feel like until they are both absolutely and equally comfortable, confident and clear than they can’t do anything. I don’t necessarily agree. Maybe it starts small and simple; one step at a time. Attending an informational meeting or orientation class; going to dinner with a family that is fostering; reading a good book; etc. Don’t let being on page 17 while your spouse is on page 29 paralyze you. As long as you’re reading the same book, meet each other in the middle and go from there!
3. Do we have a support system?
You can’t do this alone. Nor should you try. You need a collective diversity of people around you to sustain you through this journey. Don’t have a built in circle or support? Start building one. Go out of your way to ingrain yourself into a local church ministry, an agency’s support systems or some other kind of community resource opportunities...even if the best you can do right now in your area is an online Facebook group! Don’t go at it alone! When you don’t ask for help, or when you refuse to lean into systems of support being offered to you, you deprive others the opportunity to serve. It’s that important - not just for you, but for them as well. These kids deserve for you to be connected and supported. Everybody wins when you are; everybody loses when you’re not. Don’t go at it alone. Read more here.
4. Have we counted the costs?
Have you removed the rose colored lenses yet? If not, let’s do that real quick. It. Will. Cost. You. Maybe some money, certainly some time, definitely some energy, and absolutely some emotion, convenience, comfort and normalcy. No one ever said, “I want to foster so that my life will be the same.” No. Everything changes. It’s hard, and it's important to be aware of the costs; to not go into this wearing rose colored lenses. But here’s the point - we accept the costs to us as worth it for the gain a child may receive. That’s why we do this. And when it’s all said and done, don’t just count the costs you will incur if you do it without considering what it will cost these kids if you don’t. Perhaps the question you need to be asking is not "Can we afford to do this?" but rather "Can we really afford not to do this?" A slightly different question with significantly different implications. Read more here.
5. How do we know if we’re ready?
Prepare and get ready, but be ready to not be fully ready. I’ve never met a foster parent that *felt* completely capable or ready; but everyone of them have been available and willing. That’s what it took. Many who ARE capable don’t always FEEL it. Fear lies and paralyzes. It keeps a lot of good people away from a lot of great kids. So, how do you know if you’re “called” or “ready”? When you know just enough to be afraid of it but too much to let fear have the final say about it. This means you don’t wait for fear or worry to subside before you act; you simply choose to fight forward so that fear loses and kids and families win. What if you started to assume the answer was "yes" until you heard a "no", rather than "no" until you heard a "yes"? A lot would change. It might just change what you do next. Read more here.
6. How will it effect our biological kids?
Foster care can give your kids a gift you as mom and dad would likely never be able to give them on your own. They will grow up in a different world - a world they can't pretend doesn't exist. There are certainly legitimate boundaries you have to set for the safety of your kids. You might have to say no to certain things, but you might also say yes to things you never dreamed you would. It will change and impact your kids in deep and profound ways - perhaps for the better. While it’s certainly not prescriptive – it’s not guaranteed that your kids will be involved with foster care as adults – no doubt the impact of growing up in a home that’s oriented around that cause is immeasurable in terms of how it may potentially express itself in the values and rhythms of their lives in the future. What a gift. Read more here.
7. How will we prioritize our marriage?
We don’t just bring foster children into our homes; we bring them into our marriages. The weight of caring for kids from hard places can either break your marriage or better it. You want to be more connected throughout - but that doesn’t just happen. It must be intentionally pursued, cultivated and fought for. That’s why the best thing you can do for your marriage in foster care is not allow your marriage to become all about foster care. In the midst of mounds of paperwork, training hours, court hearings and appointments, it’s easy for the activity of foster care to replace the intimacy of marriage. Be prepared to proactively work against that. Date each other. Pray for each other. Give each other breaks. Who knows, the beauty and brokenness of this journey might just reveal a version of you as husband and wife to one another you have yet to fully see in your marriage. A stronger, braver and more intimate one. Read more here.
8. When is the right time?
There's never really a perfect time to foster; just a lot of opportunities to say yes despite the many reasons you may have to say no. It's possible that the perfect season of life you are waiting on before fostering will never come. Have you considered that the parameters you have set to define when you're "ready" may be too narrow? What if they leave no space for you to actually ever feel "ready"? What if you're more ready now than you realize? This is not to disregard the very legitimate things you need to consider before fostering - like health, your marriage, your kids, your finances, etc. However, for most people it's an issue of time, busyness and of margin. Sometimes this is valid, but sometimes it's a smokescreen. Only you, through an honest examination of your own heart, can really determine that. Take the time to consider that in the grand scheme of things, the perfect time will never arrive. So what are you waiting on? Read more here.
9. What are we expecting?
God is more pleased by your willingness to be faithful along the journey of foster care than He is concerned about your ability to achieve a certain outcome through it. Be free from the expectation to fix or control everything in the process. The good news is that He does not call you to control everything in foster care. Some days will be filled with victorious breakthroughs, and other crippled under the weight of confusion and heartache. Your “success” in this is not dependent upon the momentary ups and downs; it is determined the moment you first say yes to this; everything that follows will be the mercy of God. Your job is not to save these kids; it's simply to love them – fully, freely and faithfully – and to trust Him with the rest. That’s your hope and assurance - that what’s completely out of your capacity and control is absolutely in His. Expect it to be hard, and expect it to be beautiful. Most importantly, expect it to be worth it. Read more here.
10. So, Now What?
Don't be so afraid of what's to come along the journey that you never actually end up starting it. Just focus on what's next. It could be registering for the next orientation class - no strings attached - just going to listen, learn and feel. Maybe it's grabbing coffee with another person or couple that has fostered or adopted just to hear and learn from their story. Or perhaps it's finally giving into what you've known has been true for quite some time - you just need to say yes and do it. Stop praying about it (yep, I said that), stop reading about it, stop doing studies about it, stop talking about the "what ifs" or the "maybe one days" - and just do it. Don't worry right now about the many, many other steps that will come after that. Just take your next best step. That’s all you can do.