Can I share something with you?
Being a parent has been the second best thing I have ever done. The first, of course, was marrying my wife! To be sure, being a parent has made me a much better person, in so many ways.
Yet the road to being a parent for me took a sad path in the beginning. My first child died of a disease known as anencephaly, a condition where the brain, scalp, and skull never truly form.
When my wife gave birth to our child, she was in labor for 92 hours before our first daughter was born. The tiny infant died immediately upon reaching oxygen. The next several months saw my wife and I both suffer from overwhelming grief. We both reacted differently to the loss of our first child. Kelly grieved in a healthy fashion, while I did not. I remained in denial for quite some time, in fact for the next two years. I buried myself in my work, refusing to grieve or feel sadness. It was not healthy for me or for our marriage.
Since that time, my wife has given birth to three healthy children, and we have adopted three more from foster care. Furthermore, we have been foster parents to dozens of more children, as we have tried to help children in need.
As a result of our first child dying, as well as four failed adoptions, I have come to realize that the gift of children is a precious one, and that the responsibility of raising children is one that is so very important.
There have been those moments when I have questioned whether or not I was making a difference. There have been those times when I have grown frustrated with the system, as I have had to stand by and watch some of the children in my home go back to environments and situations which I knew that were not healthy or safe, for that matter.
To be sure, I have also watched my wife’s own doubts, and her desire to no longer foster, as her heart had been broken numerous times from the many children she had grown to love, only to see them return to homes where the children were once again placed in jeopardy.
It is the same for so many foster parents who have shared their stories with me. I have heard from foster parents who lose sleep each night for weeks and months on end, trying to calm and soothe a baby born addicted to crack, heroin, or meth. I have heard from foster parents who have been yelled at on a daily basis from foster teens who are so emotionally upset by their own experiences that they take it out on their foster parents.
I have heard from those who have been told one day they could adopt their foster babies, only to be told another day that the baby would return instead to a biological family member the child had never met. The stories are countless, the stories are heartbreaking, and the stories are never ending.
Surely, there is no earthly reason to be a foster parent. So, why do we do it? For many, like my wife, we are answering a call. The call to take care of children who are hurting, who are scared, who are in need.
As a foster parent myself, I want to remind you that what you are doing is important. What you are doing matters. What you are doing is truly making a tremendous difference in the lives of children in need.
Though you may feel exhausted at times, and though you may feel that you are not making an impact, you are changing the life of a child. You are planting a seed in the life of a child in foster care that WILL grow, and WILL bloom.
You may not see this transformation while the child is living in your home; this seed may not blossom until much later, but it will blossom if you plant it with love, water it with your tears, and nurture it with your time and compassion.
Sometimes, we may not be able to save a child from having a horrible and tragic experience before they come to live with us. Yet, we are given the chance, as foster parents, to save them from experiencing other future horrors, and taking them away from dangerous situations. Without a doubt, this is a joy itself.
As a foster parent; indeed, as a parent, you are making a difference! You are saving a child from harm!
It is my hope that you continue caring for children in foster care. There are so many children in care, yet so few willing to help. May you have the strength and resources, compassion and support; and may you continue to change the life of a child in foster care.
Dr. John DeGarmo has been a foster parent for 14 years, now, and he and his wife have had over 50 children come through their home. He is a consultant to legal firms and foster care agencies, as well as an international speaker and trainer on many topics about the foster care system. He is the author of several foster care books, including the highly inspirational Love and Mayhem: One Big Family’s Uplifting Story of Fostering and Adoption, and writes for several publications, including Foster Focus Magazine. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, through his Facebook page, Dr. John DeGarmo, or at The Foster Care Institute.