We know not everyone is called to be a foster family or in the right season of their life to be a parent themselves. But one thing we hear constantly is, “I would love to help, but I just don’t know how.” I get it, it is very overwhelming. No one wants to step on any toes or be in the way, and the world of fostering is unique. Every single situation is different.
There might be foster parents in your life who you’ve already reached out to and let them know you care. That’s great! Maybe you even said something along the lines of “just let us know what you need.” You even really, truly meant it. But they probably did not reach out, partially because they are very overwhelmed and literally did not have time, and partially because their needs are ever-changing.
This post is for them as much as it is for you. I want to give them a resource they can pass along to their friends, family, or church when people ask, “What can we do?” And I want everyone to know that you can help with out breaking the bank.
Here are a few ways anyone can offer help and encouragement to foster families:
Talk to us. The world of foster care can be very isolating. Sometimes we are serving children who have intense medical needs or have been through severe trauma. It can be too overwhelming to even go out in public for weeks at a time. An email, card, or text message from a friend who is there to check in or say, “I see what you are doing and here is what I love about you and your kids” means a lot more than we can express.
Offer a service. Families who can offer respite care or babysitting are a true treasure. If that is not your calling there are still other ways to serve. Maybe you have great photography skills and can offer to take a family portrait or individual photos of our newest additions. (Although please understand that we cannot allow you to share them on social media.) Maybe you can do yard work or drive one of our family members to an appointment. My friend Chelsea recently helped our family in a big way by staying with our biological children for a few hours while we were called into court. Her mom, Linda, has been driving our youngest daughter to gymnastics once a week. And many friends from church stepped in over the summer to volunteer to mow our grass. These might seem like little things to some people, but to our family they are huge!
Gifts can be tricky. Please try to understand. We appreciate that some people prefer to give monetary gifts. Gift cards to places like Target or the grocery store are great. My friend Korie’s daughter made our foster children each a handmade blanket and dropped them off for their first night in our house. All of these gestures are so nice and we appreciate the care and thought you put into them. We do. But please know that if you give a child in foster care your gift like a toy or clothing (and that’s great, please do!), it may not necessarily be received with gratitude. And that is ok.
Foster children are going through the most traumatic period of their lives. To them, this time when they are afraid they’ve lost the people who meant most to them, it might not feel like an appropriate time to celebrate. It is nice to want to shower them with love and material things they might not have had access to previously. Just please know it may not be received the way you intended. They might not care at all about a new toy or new clothes you offer. Or it might not feel right to them to be receiving toys and games while they know their family members are homeless or incarcerated or suffering. It might also feel like a bribe to them, or like we are asking them to be happy in the midst of an unimaginable situation just because they have a few nicer toys now.
They might even act out and destroy the thing you bought them. On purpose. I might stand there and do nothing but watch, and then you might see me kneel down in front of them and tell them it’s okay and they are safe. You might not like it. Sometimes that behavior comes from feelings of guilt, anger, sadness, fear, or frustration. They are allowed to have all of those feelings. Sometimes that means things, which are just things, will be broken in the process of healing. Broken toys can be dealt with later. That is okay. (And I will deal with it, I promise. But that might not look like you expect.) A broken toy, even if it was brand new and expensive, means nothing in relation to a child’s shattered spirit. Please do not expect me to police my children’s (perfectly appropriate) emotions just so that you can receive a forced imitation of the reaction you were hoping for. I will not do that. I’m sorry if that seems callous.
Please don’t expect too much from me. I’m sorry I can’t meet you for dinner. It’s not that I don’t want to. I’m sorry that it’s too expensive and too chaotic for us to drag our entire family to the restaurant. I’m sorry I stopped sending you birthday cards and I forgot to call (or maybe I didn’t forget to call, but by the time I got home from the hospital-again-it was 2am and I didn’t want to wake you). Know I still care about you. And I’m sorry our friendship seems so one-sided right now.
If you would like to reach out in a practical way to a foster family you know, here are a few ideas. These are the things they probably wish they could ask for but don’t know how.
- Babysitting/become certified for respite care
- Meals (homemade, rotisserie chickens, take-out, and pizza gift cards all count the same)
- Send a card, email, or text message to check in
- Leave a small surprise on the front porch
- Offer to mow the grass
- Gift cards for gas, groceries, clothes, or family experiences like a movie night
- Offer to drive the kids to extracurricular activities
- Invite ALL of our kids to the birthday party (then be understanding when we don’t show up)
- Show up in pajamas with hot tea and chocolate and pretend you don’t see our mess
- Take a family photograph for us
- Pull a few friends or a church together and hire a cleaning service for a few weeks.
It really does take a village. You do not have to be a foster parent yourself to make a big difference in the lives of foster families.
If you feel like you ARE interested in fostering or adopting, visit Adopt US Kids to find out how to get involved with your local agencies.
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