In my practice I work with many foster children, and so have had the pleasure of coming to know the couples that have undertaken to care for these children. In most cases, they have children of their own, at various stages of development.
I am well aware of the challenges involved in parenting one's own children. We brought them into the world, and so we are responsible for their care. There may be days when we wonder what we are doing, how much more we can cope with, and why we got into this in the first place. When that darling little bundle that you carried lovingly home from the hospital hits adolescence, it is not always the unfolding of the same dream we carried through pregnancy. It may even be a nightmare. But the child is ours, we love it, and so we carry on. And we dream of the future, when they are stable and secure, have a good job and a nice family. We have the sense that it will all be worth it in the end.
But think of these foster parents. They have the same full lives as the rest of us, with the same joys and struggles. Yet they open their hearts and their homes to another soul (or two or three.) Often they know very little about the child coming into care, but know that they are likely coming out of a traumatic experience. They welcome them, often sight unseen, and enter into the process of adjustment which affects not only the foster child but the entire family. Often, these children require extra time, attention and patience, over and above the necessary medical and dental care, school appointments, and so forth.
And so the foster parents give willingly, often not knowing how long the child will be with them. And certainly each child in care brings his or her own gifts to the family in the form of love, and often learning for everyone. But then there is also the loss, when the child they have come to love, may have to move on.
And, while I know that all foster parents are not the same, the ones I have known are pretty awesome. They've taken on a 24-hour-a-day commitment, caring for very special children who are often emotionally fragile.
I believe that, as adults, we are responsible in the largest sense for caring for all of the children on the planet. Foster parents have chosen to work at the front lines. Let's give them all the support, encouragement and thanks that we can.
Gwen Randall-Young is an author and award-winning Psychotherapist. For permission to reprint this article, or to obtain books or CDs, visit www.gwen.ca