Monday, February 6, 2012

The motivation for becoming a foster family

Continuing a short series of posts on foster care, I would like to address the important issue of motivation. Why should a family become a foster family?

Granting from the outset none of us have entirely pure motives about anything we do, be honest about why you are becoming a foster family.

Here are some wrong motives:

  • To come off as super spiritual in your church.  You know, you're the truly committed ones, taking care of the "least of these" unlike most everyone else.

We love the attention of others, don't we?  We especially love when others think we are genuinely and purely spiritual. Taking in children, particularly ones with special needs (physical or emotional) will certainly get people's attention and they'll let you know how impressed and moved they are by your mercy and compassion.  Seriously, don't ever get in to foster care if your aim is to shape your image among your Christian friends. Such motivation will not carry you through the difficult challenge of having foster kids come in and out of your house.  There's a disruption that comes from having a child who is not a regular part of your household drop in and drop out. All the sloppy, fuzzy attention in the world will not sustain you in being a foster family.  Further, such a motivation is not fair to your kids or the children placed in your home.  It has to be about serving Christ and the kids, not getting recognition from your church family that is all about you.  We try to keep our placements relatively low key, even among our church family as we're sensitive to our own sinful desire to want people to think well of us.

  • To make your family and friends think you are only a step removed from Mother Theresa

This wrong motive for being a foster family is related to the first one, but not exactly the same.  We have several friends outside our church family who are aware of our being a foster family. Several of these folks are not Christians, yet they are not antagonistic to Christianity. They are not understanding of the basic calling for every Christian to be a servant in some way so these folks will really poor on the praise and talk you up to their friends as if you were the successor of Mother Theresa in Calcutta.  It's kind of weird honestly.  But still, such praise strokes our egos and we may start to believe the hype about us.  Like the first wrong motivation, being a foster family in order to make people think highly of you is a motive that will, among other things, not give the longevity required to stick with it and be faithful.

  • Because of guilt about not doing enough to address all the need in the world

There's a fine line between guilt and conviction.  It's fine to respond to the call of foster care if you feel God is convicting your family to respond to the gospel in such a way.  Foster care is a calling your entire family needs to be convinced of.  The caution comes when conviction isn't really the driving force but rather a sense of guilt about not doing enough.  Guilt motivation always leads to disaster. Foster care because you feel guilty will negatively impact your family as the challenges come and lessen the quality of care you give children placed with you. When the inevitable frustrations of foster care come (like when a foster child bites your kid's finger to the bone), guilt motivation will make you impatient and cause you to quit. It's just a matter of time.  Serving out of guilt will also start to grow bitterness in your heart that will manifest itself a hundred other ways in your life.  Guilt can move a person to do something in the short term, but in the long term it will erode them from the inside out. There are millions of ways to serve our hurting world, find the ones you are called to, not guilted to.

  • To guilt others in to becoming foster families

As a pastor, I do want to challenge families in my church to consider becoming foster families.  We were challenged to consider our calling to this ministry by a family in our church.  They never guilted us, they just challenged us in light of what they knew about us.  We were actually exploring domestic adoption options when our friends asked us to think about foster care.  God used their challenge to confirm a call in us.  In turn, I want to do a similar thing, in a low key, careful way, concerning families we know.  Not everyone is called to this particular ministry, so the last thing I want to do is guilt people in to it-especially in light of what I just noted the point before this one.

  • To make money (the state pays a monthly stipend for each child placed in your home)

During our initial training and in every training session we have been part of since I have met people who have become foster care providers to make money or enhance their income.  We met one grandmother who worked full time, was custodian of two grandchildren, and wanted to be approved to take in three foster placements.  Her plan was to put the foster kids and her grandchildren in to day care all day (the state will actually pay for this), pick them up at 5pm and have them in bed by 8pm.  She described her plan very vividly and it was clear she was trying to arrange for the least possible "work" for herself in actually parenting the children.  At the same time she was keenly aware of the exact amount she would be paid to watch them (about $580 per child per month).  There are lots of people who become foster families to make money.  DO NOT DO THIS.  First of all, the stipend they give is meant to cover increased expenses for taking placements.  Also, the money really isn't very much upon analysis.  Like anything, if you do it for the money, how can your heart be in to what is necessary?  These are children you are taking in and they need you and the relative normalcy your family can provide.  Having your devotion focused on making money will take away from the quality of the care you provide.  I guess for the aforementioned grandmother foster provider, she didn't provide a whole lot of daily service so fostering paid well. For us however, Shari stays home most days with our young foster daughter.  She orders her commitments, to some degree, on taking care of this child.  The money paid by the state isn't close to the amount it actually costs (when you figure how Shari could be making more money doing something else and because of added expenses for care). Beyond being reasonable and responsible about what we can afford, we can't let money be a factor in why we do foster care.

So what is the right motive for becoming a foster family?

Foster care is a calling.  Calling is sometimes difficult to explain, but suffice to say, it's something you'll know and be able to identify if you are careful in your attempt to discern.  I think, in a nutshell, in testing your calling to foster care, it helps to be honest about what motivates you.  There are a few motivations I think indicate genuine calling to this ministry:

  • Do it for Christ
Foster care is a response to the gospel for us.  Christ as given Himself for our sins so we can be right with God and we are so grateful.  We are adopted children ourselves.  Christ is our sufficiency through and through.  We want to respond to His call to minister and serve "the least of these" (Mt.25:45).  For us, this is a tangible way God has equipped us to serve.  We are answering a call that is clear to us.  Seriously, if you are called to foster care by God, you will know.  It will be directly related to a sense of gratitude for what God has done for you in Christ.  Every Christian will have callings that are responses to the gospel.  This is one for us.  It might be different for you. That's OK.  Be sure to seek out your calling.  It seems esoteric saying we're doing this for Jesus, but it's the truth.  It's just a very clear way for us to serve Christ and it excites us to do.  If you don't have such a sense, it's probably not for you. 
  • Do it for the children
If you have children of your own, you know how truly helpless they are for so many years. They are totally dependent on others for life.  Foster children are always, in some way, a victim of circumstances they don't deserve.  You can't do everything for them, but giving children a safe, "normal", experience can be powerful.  We don't underestimate what positive impact can occur with any of our placements.  Only God knows what their stay with us will mean ultimately. We look at each child as a stewardship from God to care for as long as He has them with us.  Really, this is how we should look at our "own" children.  It sounds hokey, but seriously, do it for the children. It's not their fault the situation is what it is. Maybe you can give them a glimpse of Christ?
  • Do it for the community 
The community around our churches need the Church to be the Church.  One of the ways the Church is salt and light to the greater community is by service like foster care.  There is much need in this arena and who better than Christians to serve the community by providing homes for displaced children?  What would the community at large do if no one could take in foster children?  Our family really feels convicted about this point. Christians are well equipped to answer this need in every community.  We have also found foster care to be a link to people outside the church.  There are many people who are not Christians serving as foster families.  We have found interacting with other foster families to be a connecting point with the wider community, which gives us a chance to share Christ in word and deed. I understand the concern of some believers about the influence of the wider culture coming in to their home. In the case of foster care, especially with young children, this is not really a factor. You're the one doing the influence.  Foster care is a great way to make an impact on the community for Christ.
  • Do it for the good of your family
Foster care does involve some sacrifice, but very honestly the benefit is so worth it.  Our family has been totally transformed because of this calling.  Having foster children in our home has the effect of taking our eyes off self and putting them on someone in need. Our children are less selfish and we're all much more caring than before.  Now, don't get me wrong, my boys still fight with each other, but I'll tell you what- they just about never fight over their baby foster sister.  She's the one thing they don't fight about!  The same has been true about all our placements thus far. Doing foster care for the purpose of growing your family in service, care, and concern, is a good motivation (combined with the others, of course) for sure.  Foster care has served to enhance my children's understanding of the sinful realities that exist in the world.  My kids are pretty sheltered in general. Foster care has exposed them to the real world in a personal way.  It makes them less judgmental about others, especially when we take in a small child who has issues, yet clearly isn't the cause of their situation. I can't say enough about how foster care has enhanced our family in manifold ways.  

More posts on foster care coming soon:
Determining which foster placements you should take
Foster care as a family calling and ministry
Foster care to adoption


Woody Woodward said...

Pastor, yesterday after worship when Cheri and I witnessed Ginger, holding the little one, and her tiny fragile arms tight around Ginger’s neck, and then that precious baby from Jesus, who had such a difficult beginning, saw you and smiled….. That’s about as good a motivation that any of us need!

Kelli said...

Tony, thanks for raising this issue. I resonate with many of your comments as the foster care journey for us has been one of joys and trials. The thing that gets me through the rough days is that God called us to this and our main role is to be obedient to that. We cannot control the outcomes, we can't fix the problems that these two teenage boys bring with them and we can't heal the hurts they have endured. We can only take it a day at a time and fully embrace that we are so limited in our ability to create change in their lives or in the system. It makes you fully reliant upon God, recognizing that he is a huge God and we are nothing without Him.