Many of us counted our blessings over the Thanksgiving holiday: surrounded by loved ones and carrying on favorite traditions. It can be a great comfort to have familiar holiday routines to look forward to each year. We may be anticipating the same comfort this Christmas and have already eagerly begun the many preparations. This is a lovely reality for many – but as a compassionate congregation and church family – we’re also aware that the opposite may be the current reality for some.
The phrase ‘awkward family Christmas’ may even feel like an understatement to some. Life may feel like it’s rushing by in a blaze of chaos at full steam. In support of Grace Fisher's emphasis on helping vulnerable children, we focus on justice for youth by supporting local organizations, schools, and foster families. In our desire to be sensitive and supportive of our brothers and sisters whose family life may not fit the look of a Norman Rockwell Christmas card, the Blog Team interviewed some of our families that are foster parents. We hope the following provides insights into what it is like to be foster parents -- insights to fuel great compassion, care, and prayer.
But first, here is some info regarding fostering:
There are over 5,000 children in the Department of Child Services system in central Indiana. Over 4,000 families are supporting these children as part of that system. The typical child is in the system for 1 ½ years and spends time in at least two foster homes. The majority of foster children are reunified with their biological families; however, many are in the system longer and cannot experience any kind of reunification and adoptions are rare.
Grace Fishers is the home of several foster parent families; you may know some of them. We were able to interview two families: Ryan and Megan McGee and Tyler and Hailey Hacker.
Meet the McGees
The McGees were called to become certified and foster two children they knew. Ultimately, they were foster parents for 14 years, having 20 children in their home, primarily preschoolers. They adopted two of their foster children, a boy and a girl.
Meet the Hackers
The Hackers felt a calling to foster kids as their main Christian ministry. The Hackers have been fostering for over three years and have had eight children in their home, ranging from newborn to 10 years old. They recently adopted a foster son.
The following are some main themes we learned from recorded interviews.
The Typical Foster Kid
Most are good kids without a home or someone to love them. The younger ones do not understand why they keep moving around, and the older ones naturally become jaded due to their circumstance. Most often, the foster kids arrive with little or no notice. Foster parents rarely know what needs the children will have before they arrive and must scramble to obtain proper clothing, bedding, etc. The children cope with their difficult lives in various, and sometimes disruptive, ways. It can take months for the whole family to settle into a good rhythm where everyone feels at ease.
Parenting at the Next Level
A day in the life of a foster family brings many extra challenges. There are lots of meetings, therapy sessions, and interruptions. Yet being able to see the foster kids mature and grow while living with them affirms that fostering is their calling. Foster kids often experience events like family celebrations, holidays, birthdays, and church for the first time. These seemingly simple events help the kids experience a normal family life. The McGees are proud that they (mostly Megan) worked hard at building relationships with the biological parents over the years. She always wanted the parents to feel supported, even when it was awkward. Thankfully, there are some ‘silver lining’ moments: Hailey was especially touched recently when one of the foster kids started calling her “Mom.”
Both families emphasized that trauma is huge, but rarely acknowledged by those outside the system. The direct trauma experienced by the foster children affects anyone caring for them. Especially anyone living with them, as it disrupts just about every aspect of life.
Fostering family members must manage and cope with the constant flow of foster kids in and out of their homes. Foster families’ biological children may resent the newcomers and struggle to adapt. Further, foster parents must balance how to deal with their biological and foster children in ways that everyone thinks are fair. Understandably, the parents and their biological children frequently seek therapy for help.
Foster Families Community
Foster families are very close with each other, even forming life-long bonds. Both the McGees and Hackers said that without a strong community of foster families supporting each of them, they could not make it. Indeed, when they need support or friendship, often it is the other foster families they turn to first. Outside the foster community, life is often very lonely. People do not understand how emotionally and physically draining being a foster parent can be. Sometimes when foster parents describe some of the frustrations in fostering, people will suggest that the foster family simply quit fostering. This shows the level of misunderstanding people have about the depth that foster parents care for the most vulnerable in our community.
What Can We do?
If you know any foster families, simply ask them how you can help. At the very least they will appreciate your willingness. Hailey mentioned she would appreciate a meal brought to their home most anytime!
More generally, at Grace Fishers, there are two main ways you can help.
Care Community teams provide support to foster families in a variety of ways so they can foster longer and stronger.
Care Portal provides needed support with the goal of preserving families. They help families who are struggling economically and with being able to care for their children well.
Care For Others During the Holiday Season
The hustle and bustle of the holidays can be a lot and feel overwhelming to even the most conventional of families. If only December were two months long to squeeze out every last drop of holiday excitement and joy! It’s hard to take a pause and reflect on the real reason for the season and what really matters, but as a church, we must! Let’s not get carried away by the artificial commercial glitter and glam of this season. Let’s glorify our Savior Jesus Christ and honor Him by honoring others and caring for their real and practical needs. We’re all a family united by God’s adoption of us through Christ. What a reason to celebrate!
About the Author
Jim Alstott and his wife Judy have been attending Grace Fishers since its very first meeting in 2013. They have two adult sons and one 6-month-old granddaughter. Jim is passionate about serving men who aspire to grow in their walk with Christ. He helps lead the Tuesday evening Grace Fishers Men's Group in the church lobby. For more information, contact Jim @ 317-695-9940.