March 18th, 2013
We hate being told we must be saints or angels, because we’re doing something really ordinary and normal – that is, taking care of kids in need. If some children showed up dirty and hungry and needing a safe place on your doorstep, you’d care for them too – we just signed up to be the doorstep they arrive at. The idea of sainthood makes it impossible for ordinary people to do this – and the truth is the world needs more ordinary, human foster parents. This also stinks because if we’re saints and angels, we can’t ever be jerks or human or need help, and that’s bad, because sometimes this is hard.
Back in 1980 my parents, who already had two children and a third on the way, took the decision to make themselves available as foster parents as well, out of a mixture of leftist idealism and Christian sense of charity. At first they were looking for younger children in the same age range of me and my brother, but instead their first placement was sixteen year old, the first teenager they had to learn to deal with. It actually worked out pretty well: he stayed a couple of years, moved out when he got his first job, is still part of the family and that was that. Over the years our family took in a half dozen or so children of different ages and personalities, some staying only a short period as things improved with their biological families, some staying for years, becoming part of the family.
As a kid growing up with at least one or two foster brothers or sisters living with us, all this seemed normal, even though we were aware that it was not common to do. There were problems and conflicts of course, but no more so than with your biological siblings. Certainly we never thought of our parents of saints or angels, nor can I remember other people thinking that way about them; they got praise for what they did, sure, but nothing as absurdly over the top as that.
Being a foster parent, like being any parent is hard work; it’s far from well rewarded monetary and of course there are some special challenges you won’t have to deal with if you stick to just raising your biological children (if only because of the whole necessary bureaucracy surrounding fostering) but it’s not a profession for a saint. Saints don’t raise children.
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