What I Want You To Know About Being Young Foster Parents

What I Want You to Know is a series of reader submissions. It is an attempt to allow people to tell their personal stories, in the hopes of bringing greater compassion to the unique issues each of us face. If you would like to submit a story to this series, click here. Today’s guest post is by Justin.

First, being a foster parent was my wife's idea...an idea that I dragged my feet on for a while. I'm an attorney, so my mind tends to think about liabilities, and in this case, it was liabilities associated with taking care of someone else's kid. What happens if they get hurt somehow? What am I going to do if they start making outrageous claims against my wife or I? Too much lawyer and too much tv, I suppose. I gave in, though, and I have never regretted it, not even when we had to let go of the 10 month old we thought we were going to be able to adopt after having him for 7 months.

The little tyke was our first foster child, and it destroyed us when they changed their minds and decided he had to be paired with his siblings he had never met or lived with (he was taken from the hospital). This was one of the aggravating things and one of the things that can make it hard to deal with the system. But, we got to care for and nurture this baby, to watch him react to us and love us. He melted our hearts and we knew he wasn't ours, but that didn't matter. When he left, we cried. We knew he was going to forever home where he would be with his sister, so we were happy, but still devastated. He was like our own, and I think that is what causes people trouble. How do I let go?

You don't really. He will always be a part of us and will always have a part of our heart. Just like the 2 other kids we have fostered since then. Best I can say is that you deal with it! Think of it as risk-reward. Yes, your heart might/will ache when they leave, but the rewards are astounding: you've helped a child find normalcy and love when they lost it all; you've been a guide to an experience that can be as traumatic as what they were going through because they don't know that what they were going through was anything other than normal; if they go home, then you know things are better at home, which is great because they are with family and at home; if they go to a forever home, then you know they are going to a permanent place that will love them and keep them happy. Knowing that helps provide peace to endure the hurt.

We didn't have kids. We had only been married a couple of years. I'm in my 30s and my wife is in her mid-20s. So, I guess what I would say is that fostering isn't for the old. You don't have to wait until you've had your own kids and they are old enough or have moved on. You don't have to wait until all of your bills are paid off or you are exactly where you want to be in life. These kids don't get to wait for a more convenient time, so why is that our excuse? We make sacrifices for own kids and families...we can do it for these kids too.

If you have a heart, then you can do this. It will destroy you and free you. It will bring you down and lift you up. You will be frustrated and heart broken, but you will also be filled up with joy and love. These kids can add to your life almost as much as you can add to theirs. They need to know that it isn't their fault. They need to know they will always have people that love them. And, whether they go back to their parents or go to other family or to a "forever" home, they will remember the love and the good times...they will remember the feeling of being happy at a time when they are sad and lost and scared...and they will remember you. We have all had heart break in our lives...our hearts mend. It takes time to move on, but you can do it. The hurt becomes some of the happiest memories you have, because it was not out of family obligation or even family love, but out of selfless love. You have the chance to take in these children and treat them like your own...to show them that even though they came from a bad place, they deserve all the love people have inside them. They need it, they want it. And, you will be amazed at the reciprocity these kids show, even when they are sad and just want to go home. You can become like extended family to them.

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