Friday, May 6, 2016

A Guy’s Thoughts on Foster Care and Adopting Upstream

I've had many women tell me, I'd love to foster or adopt, but my husband isn't open to the idea. So I was thrilled when my husband sent me this article he had written. May is National Foster Care Awareness Month and this is the perfect time to post a dad's perspective. I hope it encourages other dads and husbands out there!

In Andrew's words.......

“If you’re here because you just want to adopt, you’re in the wrong place. We are not an adoption agency. We are a foster care agency.”

Those were the first words I recall hearing in our first foster parent training. I doubt they were communicated as abruptly as the way I just wrote them; but from my perspective, that’s what it sounded like. That is- a gentle nudge to move on if we were only there to adopt. And apparently that first talk did something since only 4 of the 12 people came back for the second class.

Now, granted, yes, we were there because our ultimate goal was to adopt, but we had come to the decision to pursue adoption by means of fostering kids first until one or two might become available for adoption. Getting to that point had been a process.

We had talked about adoption early on in our marriage and now, after having had 2 biological children, we felt compelled to move upon that unction.

During that journey, we had interacted with friends who had fostered children and adopted children through the foster system. As we evaluated all the options (local, foreign, fund-raising, etc.), foster care seemed, for us, to the most viable way to go about putting ourselves in a position to be able to adopt children from the local area where we lived.

A Man’s Influence on a Man
That leads me to the title of this article - “A Guy’s Perspective.” I don’t recall all the people we talked to and were influenced by over those years. My wife probably could name some people I’ve forgotten about. But there was one person that influenced me greatly as I talked to him and observed his life, Dan Lerro, a friend that pastors in Delaware. I didn’t think much of it then; but several years later, I realize how important it was to have another guy personally influencing me to get involved in this arena of orphancare.

Why? Well, my experience is limited, but most of the voices in foster and adoptive care seem to be women. Don’t get me wrong, I am extremely grateful for all the ladies standing up for the orphans of our world. And I know of a number of men who lead the way in these areas as well. But for the most part, the world of foster care and adoption is often filled with blog posts written by women, Facebook forums filled primarily with women, books written by women, support groups for women, adoption retreats for women, conference speakers who are women, social service positions filled with women, and initiatives and organizations run by women.

Again, that is not a statement against women at all. My own wife is one of those ladies doing most of those very things I just mentioned and I wouldn’t trade a thing in the world to have her continue flourish in doing it. But sometimes a guy needs another guy to talk to him.

My intention with this is thus to do one thing: offer a few lessons learned as a guy. If it helps some gals, great. But if it connects with at least one guy out there, even better.

Adopting Upstream
Circling back to our first day in foster parent training, we had quickly learned that seeking to adopt through foster care is what I call “adopting upstream.” That is, you are going against the current and purpose of foster care, which is reunification with the family. Reunification is a good thing. That's the way things are supposed to be. But foster care exists in the first place because of brokenness and sin in our world. And unfortunately, some things are never restored in time. So adoption exists because of brokenness.

But don’t glamorize adoption. The word itself sounds inspiring. The pictures look great. The version of stories most people hear sounds beautiful. And the right music video will make you want to give money towards it. But the brokenness that leads to adoption doesn’t magically disappear upon the act of adoption. The process of restoration has only begun and in fact, for the foster and adoptive parent, it is an immersion into new realities about your own brokenness.

I've not been at it that long compared to others or had it as “difficult” as others necessarily.
I haven't had a kid run away from my home. I've met those parents.
I haven't even had one cuss me out non-stop. I know those parents.
I haven’t had a kid smear poop on my wall every day. I know those parents too.
I haven’t had a kid try to beat up me or another. I’ve met those parents.
I’ve never had a kid try to literally kill me. I’ve know about those parents too.

If you’re waiting around for the perfect time, situation, circumstance, and child to get involved in foster care or adoption, then you’re getting into the wrong thing in the first place. The whole bit is messy. And if you’ve met a parent that doesn’t say it’s messy, they are likely either in denial or afraid to be honest with you.

It’s Not About My Needs
The single most common thing I’ve heard people say is, “I could never do what you do and foster a child, Andrew, because I just couldn’t handle having the child taken away.”

Now, I assume people don’t mean that they think I’m just a cold-hearted emotional Grinch, unaffected by “losing” a child. What they probably mean is that they feel weak and not strong enough to handle it...and for some reason they think I’m more emotionally resilient. Well, guess what? That’s not me. It’s important to note that neither foster parenting nor adoption is about how strong you and I are.

Let me state it this way: Don’t do it for you. Do it for the child. When your baseline question is whether you can handle the pain of loss, you have turned foster care and adoption inwards towards yourself. And that’s not the point.

Foster care and adoption (as it true with all parenting) is an outward-facing matter, for the concern and needs of the child. Their needs are far greater than our personal needs to feel a certain way. One of the key things I have realized is not to become entangled in the fear of losing a child but to become emboldened by the fear of what will happen to that child if someone doesn't take the risk to love them (even if for a short period of time).

Lest you think I’m implying the foster care and adoption are more supreme than biological parenting, let me be clear. No one (in their right mind) enters any type of parenting because they are looking to make their lives easier or simpler. Thus, biological, foster, and adoptive parenting are all selfless acts and all carry enormous risks. If you’re looking to meet your needs through any type of parenting, believe me, it will drive you to despair pretty quickly.

Foster and adoptive parents aren’t extraordinary. They are just extraordinarily normal. Just normal. There are other parents out there way more patient than me, with more experience than me, and with better housing accommodations than me. But you don’t need to be a Superman or Superwoman. Kids just need an average Joe or Jane who will take a risk.

Yes, it's not easy, but the risks are worth it.  That said, we haven't taken every risk presented to us. We've said both "yes" and "no" to situations and at times people have disagreed with us on those decisions. We plan and then we pray and then we leave our plans in God’s hands.

You Can’t Worry About Losing A Child
Before we became foster parents, I had this sense (and a false one really) that I was in control of my kids. I had them with me and no one would take them, right? They were mine.

I was brought to a new realization though, having had foster children who have sat at the edge of leaving forever. I came to a real sense of knowing children are a stewardship from God, whether foster, adopted, or biological. In fact, foster care has just reminded me of how much I'm not in control of anything in my parenting (or… in life period).

Losing a foster child isn’t the only parental “loss” that you’re going to face. You're going to let your kids go at some point anyway. In fact the moment they come out of the womb, you're in the process of slowly releasing these little humans to be self sufficient (and at some points trying to push them out the door if they are 25 and still living in your basement). And think about all the crazy things kids do every day, jumping, rolling, falling, fighting. It’s not like children are the most discerning when it comes to danger. One of the strongest arguments for the existence of God is the fact that every child doesn’t kill themselves somehow every day. When kids fall down the stairs, they pop back up and keep running. When I fall down them, I’m wondering if my life insurance policy is high enough as I’m bumping along.

We never really know the end result of a pregnancy, or if a baby will make it to full term, or make it through the delivery day, or be born free of mental or physical disabilities, or that we will outlive them, or that they will grow up to respect us and love us and not disown us….and the list potential of “losses” goes on and on. We’re not promised anything about our kids, ever.

So, I had to come to grips that I didn't just need to grow in my trust of God regarding adoption but that I needed to grow in my trust, period, as a parent. My fear of “losing” a foster child might really be a lack of trust in God more than anything else. I thought I was more in control than I was. That thought was scary to me and still is hard for me.  

Pity Won’t Get You Through
At the end of the day, losing kids or having kids leave may be the least of your worries in the foster and adoption process. From the outside, it seems like pity for the kids is what compels people to enter into the arena. And that may very well be part of the reasoning. But pity won’t get you through the process. A few weeks or days or maybe even minutes into a situation with children and the feeling of pity may have gone to the wayside quickly.

Loving Them Well
Your biggest struggle in the process probably won’t really be the kids. It will be you. Your heart. No, not your heart, as in a heart-attack (although that’s possible) or as in your broken-heart (although that’s likely), but rather your heart, as in your passions and desires that will war within you as you wage war with your own sin, pride, and brokenness. Getting what I want, when I want it, the way I want it has one common theme: “I.”

My wife says it this way: “The hardest part is not letting them go but loving them well.” Yes, that is truly the hardest part, not because the children are necessarily unlovely, but because of my unlovely heart. Overcoming my selfishness has been harder than anything else.

Don’t Try to Love Them the Same
When it comes to love, one of the questions you may have is whether you’ll be able to love them as much as your own biological kids. Here's the thing. You don't need to try to love them the same. You need to just love them as fully as you can for who they are.
You have to realize that you'll never really love everyone in life the same. I don’t love my wife like I love my parents. My love for my Dad has a different dynamic than my love for my Mom. My love for my two brothers is different because they are different people.
For instance, I can remember thinking, when my daughter was about to be born, that I wouldn’t be able to love her as much as the son we already had. That’s because I only had one child. I couldn’t fathom having another child and having to divert some of my love to another one. But it’s not about spreading out our love equally among people. It’s about loving the individuals God puts in our lives as fully and as freely as we can by His grace.
Don’t Wait Until You Feel Ready
Don’t wait until you feel ready. You’ll never feel ready.

Your feelings can’t be the determiner. Don’t wait until you feel like you can care for them. That may not come for a long time. You will have to act in faith at some point.

Faith means you won’t be able to figure everything else.
Faith means you can’t see and touch everything.
Faith means there’s risk involved.
And faith means you might feel uncomfortable.
But faith also means confidence in a a Savior who has everything figured out, can see and touch everything, is the best risk-manager around, and can provide all the comfort you’ll ever need.

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