Have you seen the movie Wonder? It is the story of a boy who is born with facial deformities which require multiple surgeries and much medical attention. Caring for his needs, taking him to medical appointments, and advocating for him is a full-time job for his mother.
One of the themes in the movie centers around how his older sister gets pushed aside and is left to fend for herself much of the time. Because she is able to care for herself and understands that her brother needs the extra time and attention, her parents take for granted that she doesn’t need them as much. She struggles to find an identity apart from her brother and to find someone who will be there just for her when she needs them.
On the Sidelines
While watching that movie, I couldn’t help but think about my own biological children and others I know whose parents are doing foster care. Their story looks much like this. They know their parents are doing a good thing. They know the children in their home are in desperate need of a safe, loving family. They know they too have a role, to be good friends or role models to those children.
But it’s hard.
Their parents are torn in many different directions. Foster children require more of everything: more appointments, more discipline, more love, more energy, more emails and phone calls, more time.
Oftentimes biological children, especially if they are much older than the fosters, are left on the sidelines wondering what just happened. They still need all of the time and attention they were getting before, but their parents just can’t provide it right now.
When the biological children are a similar age to the foster children, they suddenly see their mommy and daddy loving, holding, giving extra attention to this new kid in their home, and jealousy sets in.
Think about all the time that parents spend preparing older siblings for a new baby. They read the books, explain everything in detail, and perhaps let them pick out a new toy for the baby. Children in foster homes don’t have that luxury. Their parents can’t possibly prepare them in the same way for new children about to enter their home. They have no idea when the children will be there or even their ages or genders.
It takes time for the family to adjust to a new child in the home. But after a while, they find their new normal. Everyone grows to love the foster children as a part of their family. And then suddenly, sometimes very suddenly, it is time to say goodbye.
Older children in the home can understand it better, of course, because they knew the child wasn’t meant to be there forever. But the younger ones struggle the most. All they know is that they had a new brother or sister for a while and now they’re gone.
It can feel like a science fiction movie, where children come and go from homes, placed and removed by the “powers that be.” How can you possibly explain that to a young child? Their brother or sister, who has become as much a part of the family as they are, is gone. Will they be next?
Is It All Bad?
You’re probably a little surprised right now. Perhaps you expected me to write all about how wonderful it is for kids to grow up with foster children in the home. Indeed, it is wonderful, but not everything is perfect. Foster care is hard. It is hard on the entire family, especially the children in the home. But it’s definitely not all bad.
Anything worth doing well requires some kind of sacrifice. What I know without a doubt is that if you are doing what God has called you to do, it will be good. Some things will be hard, but the good always outweighs the bad. Biological children in foster homes are gaining far more than they are losing.
While their peers are at home arguing with their parents over their abundance of first world problems, kids in foster homes are seeing firsthand how other kids in their own county live. (And yes, they are still arguing with their parents over those first world problems at times!) They see children in their home who have never been swimming, have never been on a family vacation, or have never gone shopping for a new pair of shoes.
They see those children enter their home frightened and lost. Children who have just said goodbye to everything and everyone they’ve ever known and entered the home of strangers. Children who are vulnerable and distressed. They understand that they too have a place in providing healing for this child.
What Biological Children Gain
That can have a profound effect on a child. They gain a whole new perspective of the world. It helps them to appreciate what they’ve been given and the opportunities they’ve had. Here are just a few of the positive things biological children learn when they grow up with foster kids in their homes:
- An understanding of the world that few of their peers have
- Putting others above themselves
- Sacrificing their wants and desires for the good of another
- Love for those who are different than they are
Having little ones in the house has lent a whole new perspective to my teen boys’ lives that they wouldn’t have gained otherwise. They’ve made sacrifices for their sisters and other foster children, but it has been worth it.
I love to see the boys come home from work or school and greet their sisters with hugs and kisses. It truly is a “mutual admiration society.” Even as I write this, one of my boys is outside playing hide and seek with his sisters. I keep hearing, “I found you!” and the subsequent squeals of delight. Watching my boys love on and play with their little sisters is one of my favorite things in the world!
My oldest son has written a post about how foster care and adoption has affected him and his world view in so many positive ways. If you’d like a first-hand glimpse into the heart of a foster brother, check out his guest post. I promise, it will stir your heart!
Any time we do something that will positively affect the lives of others, there will be resistance. It will be hard. Sacrifices will be made and it won’t always be picture-perfect. But it will be worth it. We trust God to work out the hard things while we continue to do the things he calls us to do.
Throughout the month of May, I am writing about foster care from several different perspectives.
Check out the other posts here: