This is for foster parents & anyone who seeks to support them
This came to me as I spent the last few weeks preparing to co-deliver a workshop to a group of foster parents, all seeking to make a difference in their respective corners of the world. This caused me to reflect on my own personal feat with fostering, I provided service for the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto for 18 years, retiring in July of 2018. It was both challenging and rewarding, as they say.
A lot of what we see in the behaviour of children in care is merely the effects of trauma, creating an illusion of sorts, and doesn’t represent who a child really is. The “real” child is often buried beneath wounds – not so different from you and me, we just hide it more easily.
There’s a spiritual aspect of being a foster parent that is rarely spoken of, highlighting this may inspire you to transform your experience, and thus the experience of the children you are called to serve.
Any act of service, no matter how small, is a sacred one
Foster parents are often overlooked and certainly under-appreciated within our community. They have no sick days, no benefits, they are merely reimbursed for their service, and to say they get little appreciation would be a grand understatement. Fostering was my life’s work and is still my life’s work by extension of the messages I now feel called to share, usually pertaining to burnout.
While carrying out this calling, you may sometimes focus on the inevitable eyes of judgment surrounding you; the eyes of workers who have never lived with other people’s children, the eyes of community members who think they can do a better job but would never consider it for a moment, and even the judgmental eyes of the hurting child before you.
In these moments, hold in your mind’s eye these powerful words from Theodore Roosevelt:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood…”
You are IN the arena
Here is a certain reality of being a foster parent. You will stumble. You will struggle. You will be utterly aware in many encounters that you could have done better. But you are in the arena. Fostering takes bravery. You will not be perfect, but you are trying. Cultivate a sense of compassion for any perceived failure. Of every child I ever served, one thing I could always see in them was their awareness that I was trying my best. That was one of the rewards, they often extended me the very gift I was trying to extend to them…compassion.
Once I embraced this calling as spiritual, I became more successful and I now embrace all incoming experiences, challenges and blessings alike, with the importance they are due.
You are in service 24/7, 365 days a year. Even when your foster children aren’t with you, you are still fostering –listening for a phone call, knowing that wherever they are they may need you, shopping for their needs, resting up so you can be ready for their return etc. You cut the toenails of other people’s children!!! You hold space for other people’s children as they rage-fully lash out at you for their pain. You hold space for them even when they look at you with contempt in their eyes because you aren’t theirs forever. You wipe their noses and you rub their backs. You wake up at 2am when they have night terrors. You sacrifice time with your own children and with your extended family because of this calling. I could go on and on, but you get the picture.
YOU live this.
Rethink the meaning of success
Don’t lead with the expectation of seeing your impact. Re-think the meaning of success. It’s common as foster parents to look for behavioural changes as proof of a job well done.
A few years ago, I fostered a 12-year-old girl. She was challenging and rarely happy with the care we provided. She always seemed angry and it seemed like we never made an impact. After a short placement, this young girl moved back home. I reflected in this moment and felt in some way that I had failed her, I felt I hadn’t “reached” her. I wanted visible results! When I saw her a year later, she looked like a new person, the transformation in her was visible. When I said with surprise, “What happened to you?”, she responded lovingly with, “You happened to me!”
Sometimes we see the impact we make and sometimes we don’t. Perhaps it is not always for us to know.
Make this about you, not the child….wait what?
Allow fostering, and any experience, challenge, or relationship, to be about YOU and not the other person. This may be contrary to what you have been taught (i.e. this all being about the children) and this may sound selfish at first but hear me out. Allow this experience, like all experiences, to be about your personal spiritual growth.
My belief in the structure of the Universe is that we are all on the exact same path, every last one of us, including the children we serve. We are all on the path to becoming the people we are most capable of being, bestowing our unique gifts onto the world, to eventually reach our full potential in our lives and ultimately through, and in, our service. Your service isn’t about them, it’s always about you.
Every experience is your teacher, every person you encounter is your teacher, and nothing you experience here is random, or at least that’s how I see it. We aren’t here as humans having spiritual experiences, we are spiritual beings having human experiences. Thus, by extension, fostering is a spiritual experience.
I try to approach all people as my teacher, even when I am teaching. I have done plenty of teaching but in every instance, I was learning too.
If you approach fostering as a spiritual calling, and recognize that this, and all experience, is more about you than it is about the experience itself, you will cultivate and nurture yourself, to help from a place of strength and less from a place of weakness.
When we approach helping from a place of strength and making it more about us and our spiritual stance, we become less susceptible to burnout.
Allowing burnout serves no one
While self-care is valuable, self-care alone will not prevent or resolve burnout. There is more to preventing burnout; ideas in our minds and hearts can cloud us from showing up as our best selves. Check out my book to see how I eventually recovered from burnout which I experienced in 2011. Know that burning yourself out because you are holding the weight of the world on your shoulders, isn’t necessary. You are capable of so much more.
See every child as your teacher, approach them from a different space, a humble space, less from your ego and more from your heart centre, with less defence and more offence, more from the truth of who you are and thus calling out the truth of who THEY are. Make every single moment about YOU, holding firm to who you are in all of your convictions, people, including the children, are watching and learning.
Surrender & show up
Nothing teaches you surrender like deep conflict. We all know the fostering experience is riddled with conflict, both internal and external. Allow the fostering experience to guide you toward surrender.
I can’t tell you how to surrender, but I can give you a little snapshot into what it means for me.
This Universe, as I experience it, is more intelligent than me. You can call this God, Allah, Energy, Source, natural intelligence, or whatever structure feels best for you. When I surrender to this natural intelligence, in my life in general and especially as a helper, I am surrendering to something that knows what it’s doing, because I certainly don’t. The Universe is much more aware of my own personal gifts (and wounds) than I can be. Giving up attachments to the results is vital to truly surrendering to the path and embodying our best selves.
In surrender mode, my number one goal as a helper (and person) becomes merely showing up. Stepping into the arena. I do so with very little fear because I have surrendered, and the Universe has my back.
In the past, in my life in general and as a helper, I felt burdened by thinking I had to create the path. That was my ego.
I need to be ON the path or IN the arena. The path of surrender isn’t an easy one to be on, sometimes, as I experience it- it’s like walking into a thick fog (the fears of the future) that blocks the light (the growth and blessings that are coming), but proceed in surrender mode, knowing there is light ahead, even if you can’t see it. Have faith. The voices in your head will attempt to fill you with fear. But with love in your heart, ignore the voices and blindly walk along the path, your heart centre will direct you to where you belong.
As you walk along this path and stumble into a brick wall (I walk into plenty brick walls, thank you!) know that you were guided right into that wall. The Universe was using that wall to shine light on emotional or spiritual wounds or obstructions that would otherwise prevent you from being your best self. Every experience is your teacher.
Separate money from service
There is no amount of “payment” for the sacrifices you are making, move past any thoughts to the contrary. Be grateful for any reimbursement that does come through and let go of any that doesn’t. I am of the belief that The Universe knows and sees all that we do and will correct itself in our favour. Any focus on money will take away the focus from the real work to be done here. When necessary, put on the “financial hat” in meetings that are about money and require you to advocate for funds, make money the focus only in those moments, once you leave the meeting, take off the hat. As best you can separate money from the service, and hold steady to the importance of the work ahead- being of service to the children.
The most powerful spiritual act I can embody is to hold in my heart the awareness of the innate goodness of anyone who stands before me, especially in spite of behaviour that could suggest otherwise. In doing so, I stand in my greatness and call out to their greatness. The most spiritual thing you can do for any human being, child in care or otherwise, is to hold that knowing inside of you.
Fostering, if you allow it, will be a virtuous journey to YOU becoming your best self, and in the process, the children you serve will be given permission to do the same.
THIS is your ministry.