Fostering, like any other significant commitment or change, will definitely add stress to your marriage and affect any children in your home. If both spouses are not unanimously on board, I would recommend waiting until the decision is unanimous. This, of course, can be extremely frustrating if one spouse feels Gung-ho about it and the other spouse or partner is anything less than lukewarm.
Over the past three or four years I’ve talked my husband into renewing our foster care license for “just one more year”. When I recently realized that I need more required training hours to complete in order to renew our license for yet another year and I asked my husband to accompany me to an upcoming training it led to a big discussion about the pros and cons of keeping our license open for another year.
Let me explain something about how my husband thinks and makes major decisions versus how I think, which might help you to understand or imagine how our discussion went: My husband has always been very methodical and practical. He carefully weighs the risks and benefits before becoming to a decision. He also has an MBA, which translates into him viewing things from a cost/benefit analysis. Even when trying to decide on a place to go on vacation, he carefully scouts out the best deals and frequently uses the term “ROI”- which, I have learned, stands for Return On Investment. His thinking is basically motivated by “What are we going to get out of it? Is it worth it in the end?”
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not one to have my head in the clouds, but I am a bit more guided by what I feel in my heart and sometimes decisions based on gut feelings can’t be explained logically- or they just don’t make much sense- at least initially. I also admit that I have sometimes been guilty of making decisions based on the premise “What do I have to give?” rather than “What will I be getting in return?” To me it just comes down to the whole principle of “Ask not what your country or (fill-in-the blank) can do for you; Ask what YOU can do for your country (or whatever).” Although such thinking may be considered by some to be noble and altruistic, it can also be foolish at times if one is constantly in a cycle of giving and giving without replenishing the source- and by source, I mean my own health and sanity and balance, as well as the time and energy I can devote to my own children.
My advice to those considering fostering:
If you look at being a foster parent from a cost/benefit perspective, I can tell you with much certainty that you will give much more than you get. If that bothers you, then you may want to look into another form of service to children and families. However, if you are willing to sacrifice and put your own gratification on the back burner, and don’t mind giving more than getting, then go for it! Please know that you will have support from others who have walked the same road. They can buoy you up on the hard days and listen to you vent with an empathetic ear because they “get it”- they’ve been there, too.
I also firmly believe that it is not just okay, but necessary, to take a break when needed. Don’t be afraid to take a break through respite care or support from friends when dealing with particularly demanding or difficult placements. And absolutely, take time to grieve and heal after heartbreaking cases of reunification. Reach out to others who have been there, because it is a loss that not everyone can understand.
Some cynics (or even yourself) might think, “Well, you signed up to foster- you knew there would be heartache, what did you expect?” That may be true, but your bravery and willingness to open your heart has blessed a child or helped give a family a second chance. That is not only commendable but courageous.
To make a long story short, my husband and I have decided to close our license of fostering through our state after 12 years. It was an easy conclusion for my husband to make, but not necessarily easy for me to accept. Logically I know that I will have more time to devote to my children and to my schooling and other endeavors and I won’t have to go into a full-on adrenaline rush/panic every time I see “DCFS” on my caller ID, but I also feel like I’m giving up part of my identity and, of course, I think in the back of my mind and in my heart “But what about the children?”
In response to that question- which is not necessarily rhetorical, I have three children in my home who need me now more than any other children need me at this point in time. And besides that, it’s not a contest to see how many children one can foster or adopt or how many years of experience one can accumulate- it’s about helping one child at a time. Just think of it: If even half of the homes who are eligible in the United States would go through the training and foster just one child- what a difference it would make in the lives of those children!
Going back to the whole “Return on Investment” concept which I mentioned at the beginning of this post, even if our family hadn’t been able to adopt two of our children from foster care, the lessons we’ve learned, lives touched, and, I think, most importantly, the qualities and character we’ve developed, have been more than worthwhile.
Yes, I am a bit sad about not renewing our license for yet another year, but I am also starting to fill at peace about it and even some relief. I don’t want to think of it as cutting all ties to fostering forever, but rather, taking a much-needed break and a bit of a different path.