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Jul 14, 2017

by Karly Raklovits, Foster Home Licensing Specialist, Bethany Christian Services of Michigan, Holland

My husband and I have had a teen boy in our home for about a year. This wasn’t a decision we came to lightly. I was “there” before he was—I knew I wanted to be a foster parent when we were still dating. We talked about it a lot, and he clearly knew my feelings on foster care before we were married.

As a licensing specialist, I lead monthly information sessions and regularly talk to prospective foster parents that are seeking information but aren’t yet on the same page. Foster care is a big decision, I tell them, and family unity is essential. These are tips I share when people tell me they want to foster but their spouse isn’t so sure.

Balanced perspectives are good.

Start by validating the feelings of the hesitant spouse. Often that spouse is thinking rationally, technically, about how foster care works. They are often concerned about cost (both financial and personal) and logistics, usually stemming from a protective instinct. These are all good things.

Often the person leading the charge is thinking emotionally. They have typically spent hours online looking at photos and profiles of waiting children and weeping. They have pictured each one of those precious children being a part of their life. Those are good things too.

Balance—in foster care and in your marriage—is exactly what you want and need.   

Allow time for a steep learning curve.

I have two siblings who were adopted as preteens and a brother who joined our family at age 26. I have a familiarity and established comfort level with foster care and adoption that my husband didn’t have when we met. I didn’t gain that overnight; years of daily family interactions normalized this for me. Foster care didn’t feel “normal” for my husband the way it did for me, and that’s okay.

Usually those who are most comfortable jumping in to foster care have friends, family, or someone close to them who has been a foster parent. Foster care is in their scope; it’s part of their worldview. Anyone who hasn’t seen or experienced foster care up close doesn’t know what they don’t know. We all begin with zero knowledge, and there’s a steep learning curve.

People have different images of “family.”

Foster care redefines “family,” and that’s not a small thing to ask. We come into marriage with an idea of what “family” means. Then once we’re in it, we usually have to adjust what we have pictured, and that usually comes with some struggle and sacrifice.  

Think about the years of molding it took to shape your picture of “family” to include children not born to you. Then extend that grace to others. It doesn’t happen overnight. If it did, that would be a red flag to me if I were your case worker. I would question what is happening and if you’re really on the same page.

Don’t guilt or pressure.

“But don’t you care about the children?” The reality is, your spouse probably does care about the children. Their hesitation likely comes from reconstructing an image of “family” (see above), not a lack of compassion. And, once again, this takes time. Foster parenting is hard enough as it is without you and your spouse being divided. When things get hard—and they will get hard—no one is served by bitterness or grudges, and you end up here:

“It’s your fault this is happening.”

“This is why I didn’t want to do this.”

“This was your idea, you deal with it.”

Unless you’re a united front, the bottom line is your home will not be the best place for a child who has already experienced too much instability. Dragging someone else along into this decision might seem good for you, but it will not be best for a child.

Uncover what is behind the concerns.

Spouses that are hesitant often fear that the minute you complete your foster care license we’re going to show up with seven children to place in your home. That’s not how it goes. We’ll help you with the learning process and work with you step-by-step. No one is ever “prepared” or “good at this” from the very beginning, and no experienced foster parent will tell you they’ve arrived.

Try to get to the root of what’s behind your spouse’s concerns. It might be fear—fear of unknowns, fear of letting go of control, fear of change, or fear of being uncomfortable. Love that person in those concerns; they are valid and real.

Continue reading Part Two.

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