Siblings and foster care: the give and take

As the mother of a large family, I am often asked all sorts of questions about doing foster care, but the one posed most frequently is “How do your girls feel about it all?” … followed by, “I am sure it takes away from them, doesn’t it?”

Well, I’m glad you asked.

When Jeff and I first considered foster care and adoption, we had many questions and thoughts and scenarios. Foremost, being the birth-parents of four daughters, we were concerned about their safety and happiness. They would be sacrificing a lot as well and that sacrifice wasn’t to be taken lightly. They would share their rooms, their toys, their time and their parents.

How would they feel when a child left? Would they understand it at all? We would bring it up often and always spoke the truth. We didn’t have a lot of the answers to the questions they had—and a lot of the questions they had were the same ones we had.

However, what we did know is that there were children who needed us, who needed our family.

When we received our first placement, we fell instantly in love—and discovered we were as ready as could be. Plus, our friends dropped off hand-me-downs and every kid gadget you can imagine.

However, what we could never have adequately prepared for were the emotions. I remember holding our foster son that very first night, with tears streamed down my face. I thought of his mother not knowing where he was. I remember my then 8-year-old daughter looking at me and saying, “I bet his Mom is really worried about him and I am sure she misses him.”

From that moment on, it was very clear to me that our daughters did “get it.”

Havyn, 15, remembers our journey into foster care this way: “The day that my Mom and Dad told us they wanted to start fostering is a day that I’ll remember for many reasons. I remember being so excited, as were my three sisters, and we were all very impatient as we awaited a placement.

“At the same time—because the process took a little while to go through—it gave me some time to think about what we were really getting ourselves into. I began to wonder if, because there were already four of us, there would be enough room for more, physically and emotionally. I wondered if there was enough love to go around … but my concerns were short-lived. The day we received our first placement, now my adopted brother, everyone in the house swooned and we all fell immediately in love with him.”

However, I remember one night at dinner our foster son was having a major temper tantrum. Havyn looked at me and said “I can’t even have a conversation with my own mother!” She was right. There were times when it was hard and they felt slighted. Times when they wished we could go back to our “normal” family life.

Thankfully, those times were few and often short. That same night, I removed our foster son from the table and sat back down to talk with my daughter about her day. After finishing our conversation, she went up to our foster son and began playing with him and said, “Sometimes we need Mommy, too.”

This was a major eye opener for me. We can never forget that all our children need us.

During our years of fostering, we have been able to see the things that have been taken away from our daughters, but also the things they have gained:

•    The experience has taken away any selfishness they had and taught them that what they thought was important, often really isn’t that important.
•    It has taken away their ignorance and allowed them to see that many childhoods are not perfect and to realize that children often have battles that no one knows about.
•    It has taken away their innocence. They have learned the hard truth about drug addiction, neglect and sometimes even abuse. Although hard to hear about, it has opened the doorway for us to talk about these very real problems.
•    They have lost their dependence. Our girls had to learn to do things for themselves, because sometimes we were tending to another child.

There are indeed sacrifices our birth children have made, but also many things they have gained.

Our 10-year-old daughter, Hannah, says “the hardest thing for me was having to share my parents’ attention. I was always the baby of the family, but now I wasn’t.”

Harper, age 12, adds that “since starting fostering, I have become more responsible and more appreciative of the things I have, including my family. I feel lucky and happy to help out. If we didn’t foster, I don’t think I would be as happy as I am now. It feels good to help others.”

I believe the most important thing that has come from our fostering and adoption is that our birth children have learned empathy—both for the children we have fostered and for their families.

We have taught our children that everyone deserves a second chance and a new beginning.

After the adoption of our son, Hayes, our oldest daughter, Haley, 19, wrote that “all these years we loved you like our brother, but now you are.”

There is no purer love than the love of a child.

Our girls have learned to love with their whole heart, even knowing that one day, with the inherent uncertainly sometimes associated with foster care, the subject of that love could walk out our door forever.

Jennifer Steele
Diakon Adoption & Foster Care parent

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  • We had 3 bio kids and 3 miscarriages. Our plan was always to have more children but we stopped being able to get pregnant. When the kids got older the house got really quiet. So…we decided to do foster care and privately agreed that if any child became available for adoption we would adopt. Somehow, after we declared our intention to adopt the first couple that became available for adoption, we always seemed to get placed with children that seemed likely to be adopted! So…now we have 7 adopted children and in our state, that is the limit! Maybe if we move to Oklahoma or something we can keep going! They are a big noisy handful, but my oldest son moved back to be near us because he didn’t want his siblings growing up without knowing him! And we have a granddaughter only 1 year younger than our youngest son!

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