If you’ve ever asked me if I had a brother, I probably told you no. And that was a lie.
But, in my defense, the truth is a bit complicated.
One of my brothers has fiery red hair, and a fiery personality to match.
One of my brothers has an infectious grin that will make you giggle against your will.
I’ll never forget the cold, December 23rd night that I met one of my brothers and how he soothed our sad hearts.
And one of my brothers was the sweetest little boy I’d ever met until August 27, 2003.
I haven’t seen or spoken to any of them in over 15 years.
When I was 12, my mom made the amazing, selfless, life-changing decision to become a foster mother, and those boys were her foster sons. I was the proud big sister of them and three sisters, all of whom I loved dearly.
I rarely talk about my foster siblings, not for a lack of pride, but because so few people truly understand what it means to be a foster family. Simply put, you open your home and your heart to kids who need you. But in reality, it is so much more. It can be one of the most emotionally trying life experiences you will ever have. It will make you cry. It will make you grow. It will make you question your beliefs. It will challenge you to see the world differently.
And it made me who I am today.
Last week, I heard an NPR conversation about fostering that featured this blog post by foster parent Sharon Astyk. It’s worth reading in its entirety, but I will share these portions that particularly spoke to me and my experience:
1. We’re not Freakin’ Saints. We are doing this because it needs doing, we love kids, this is our thing. Some of us hope to expand our families this way, some of us do it for the pleasure of having laughing young voices around, some of us are pushed into it by the children of family or friends needing care, some of us grew up around formal or informal fostering – but all of us are doing it for our own reasons BECAUSE WE LOVE IT and/or LOVE THE KIDS and WE ARE THE LUCKY ONES – we get to have these great kids in our lives. … The idea of sainthood makes it impossible for ordinary people to do this – and the truth is the world needs more ordinary, human foster parents. This also stinks because if we’re saints and angels, we can’t ever be jerks or human or need help, and that’s bad, because sometimes this is hard.
7. When you say “I could never do that” as if we’re heartless or insensitive, because we can/have to give the kids back to their parents or to extended family, it stings.
Letting kids go IS really hard, but someone has to do it. Not all kids in care come from irredeemable families. Not everyone in a birth family is bad – in fact, many kin and parents are heroic, making unimaginable sacrifices to get their families back together through impossible odds. Yes, it is hard to let kids we love go, and yes, we love them, and yes, it hurts like hell, but the reality is that because something is hard doesn’t make it bad, and you aren’t heartless if you can endure pain for the greater good of your children. You are just a regular old parent when you put your children’s interests ahead of your own.
11. Foster kids are not “fake kids,” and we’re not babysitters – they are all my “REAL kids.” Some of them may stay forever. Some of them may go and come back. Some of them may leave and we’ll never see them again. But that’s life, isn’t it? Sometimes people in YOUR life go away, too, and they don’t stop being an important part of your life or being loved and missed. How they come into my family or for how long is not the point. While they are here they are my children’s REAL brothers and sisters, my REAL sons and daughters. We love them entirely, treat them the way we do all our kids, and never, ever forget them when they leave.
I write today to challenge everyone reading this to think about welcoming an unforgettable child or two or 12 into their life. And I do mean everyone. You don’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to have it all together. You don’t have to have a lot of extra time or money. You just have to have the desire to meet the needs of another.
Take my mom for example. She was a single mother with only one child left in the house and an incredibly demanding career. But she recognized a need – foster parents of color – and took the plunge.
Today, there is another need: foster parents who will accept LGBTQ youth. Young people are acknowledging and expressing their sexuality earlier and earlier. We are fortunate that some organizations, such as STARR Commonwealth are recognizing this and making an effort to place these youth in homes that are safe and supportive. But that recognition and effort means nothing if safe and supportive homes don’t exist.
LGBT community, Queer people of color, and allies, our youth need us.
I can’t stress enough how rewarding an experience fostering was for me. If you want to know more, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment or shoot me an email.