When people complain about their families, the most common response I hear is, “You can’t pick your family.” How true for blood relatives.
With my husband and I being so far from our relatives, we need family – blood relatives or not. We are grateful to be a part of our church family, which is sometimes referred to as being adopted into God's family. That is something we can choose to do, but how about children born into a family where they don’t feel loved, or worse, one that didn't genuinely want them?
As a child, I always supposed my mother had a lot of children so we could all do chores around the house. It was a child’s point of view, and I now understand the family unit better, but I know of children born into homes less than ideal for the nurturing and love required to grow the body and mind. How can we nurture those children in homes of turmoil?
Some of us may volunteer with child-oriented organizations, like scouting, church-centered Awana clubs, community youth groups, and even the Police Athletic League. Somehow the child has to get to these activities, which usually means a parent cares enough to get them there.
What happens when the parent is so self-absorbed that the child goes wanting? Are there people willing to bend their lives out of their trajectory to love these children? Yes, and I’ve met some of them.
They are an extraordinary group of selfless people called foster parents.
I have foster parents as friends, who tell me there is a stigma attached to the name, which is sad because I have read the figures, and only a scant percentage of people take advantage of the system for money. It is too hard of a job to do when there is easier money to be made.
Statistics from 2019 show over 420,000 children were in foster care nationwide. Can you imagine? Read that number again – just shy of half a million kids out there who want and need care. About one-third of those were placed with another relative, and less than one-half were placed with unrelated voluntary parents.
The stated end goal of foster care is to reunite the family, if at all possible, but sometimes, it just isn’t.
We have a relative who passed away in her 40s from cancer. She married a man that couldn’t get out from under substance abuse. They had two beautiful daughters, and he was seldom home, sometimes because he was in jail or because it was better that he wasn't around.
When this precious woman died, people in the local jail informed her husband of her death. Imagine – two girls, one pre-teen, and one in high school now on their own without a soul in sight to care for them.
The heartache had to be deep from not only losing their mom, but also their home, then realize their friends from school will be gone once they are in "the system." The one living grandmother of these girls was already caring for her aging mother in a small apartment. There was no space or finances to care for two teens, and it would not have been a suitable environment for the girls either - what then?
The system took over, and thankfully, a wonderful, single cousin of their mother volunteered to change her lifestyle to accommodate raising children unexpectedly in her mid-30s – teens no less. She was their godmother and committed to her cousin and God that when these girls were babies, she would nurture and care for them if the need ever came about.
I can’t think of many young women at that age willing to take on that kind of responsibility. Of course, the two girls in the foster system were thrilled, even though they had to move from their home and school to another town.
Their father is still in and out of jail and substance abuse, and he is still not capable of raising these young women. What a relief to our family that these girls are well-loved, looked after and blessed with the sacrifice from their mother’s cousin. Somewhat of a stretch in the blood-relative line, but it certainly is a family by choice.
Those who know a foster parent probably know that they are loving someone else’s children as best as they know how. These people will be putting up with the same fits of rage when the hormones hit at a certain age, but they, like any good parent, will work it out for the best of the child.
These foster parents sacrifice an excess of their freedom to love and care for these oftentimes broken children who need hope, assurances and love constantly. One of my friends, a former nurse, now fosters babies born and left by mothers who are addicts. Once they can safely leave the hospital, she keeps each baby in her home, loving them the best she can until a family can be found to adopt the little one forever. It is a continually revolving door for her.
She says she cries when they go, but it surely is a mix of tears of missing that child and those of relief that a young family is willing to love this special one themselves.
Whenever you meet a foster parent, genuinely recognize and thank them for the service they are doing for the next generation of Americans. These foster parents are the reason orphanages aren't in our country today. What a blessing they are to all of us.
May God continue to watch over them and the children in their care. I am sure He does because, after all, every single one is His special creation.
ED. NOTE: Amy Patsch writes from Ocean City.