A For the Time Being reader recently contacted me and shared that her family is starting the process of becoming licensed foster parents in the unaccompanied refugee minor program. She asked, “tell me like it is, I know it’s not unicorn and rainbows.” I smiled as I read this, because, in truth, being a foster parents is the far from this, it’s filled with uncertainty and heartbreak. Being a foster parent has tested my strength in more ways than one: from morning teenage tantrums to runaways, I’ve learned that just when things seem to be going smoothly, everything will fall to pieces.
A few weeks ago, we made the difficult decision to have one of our foster children moved out of our home. His increasingly violent behavior was more than we could handle and a truly dangerous incident occurred in which he put our whole family’s lives at risk. Making the decision to have him removed was one of the most devastating decisions I’ve ever made and I’ve been wracked with guilt since. Did I make the right decision? Was I being selfish? I’ve rationalized the decision over and over a thousand times in my head. While in practicality I know we made the right decision (my husband was deploying again and as a single parent working full time, I knew our home was not the best and safest fit for him), I still, question the decision. Does he think we gave up on him? Does he know we still care about him and want the best for his future? Will his younger brother, who remains in our home, suffer because of this decision?
Given the unpredictable nature of foster care and our tumultuous experience, would I ever suggest an interested family not become foster parents? No. Instead, I’d say prepare yourself. Know that foster care will break your heart over and over again. Your children will not come into your home excited to be there. Your children might throw things at you, break windows, scream at you, and call you names (I’ve been called a fat donkey more times than I can count). While, I’ve cried more this past year than I’d like to admit and doubted my parenting abilities much too often, I’ll say that refugee foster parenting is magical in many ways. I can’t help but smile when I think about the joy we’ve shared as a family when we stumbled across food that reminded our son of his home country or hours spent giggling and dancing in our living room. A few weeks ago, when we were visiting my mom, my son commented just before he drifted off to sleep that, “your mom is strong, you’re strong, moms are strong” and I smiled at his insightfulness. If you’re thinking about becoming a foster parent, my words of advice to you are be strong; you’ll need the emotional, physical, and community strength to support you through the heartbreak and joys of being a foster parent.