When my husband and I entered the world of caring for kids in crisis over ten years ago, it was hard to find resources about what to expect and how to love these kids well. At just 22 and 23 years-old we became “parents” to a group of 7 boys between the ages of 6 and 18 through our work at a group home. We were idealistic, hopeful, and committed to seeing kids come to have hope and idealism about their own lives. And in many ways we haven’t changed a bit.

Our "family" (7 kids, 2 interns, Brian and me), Thanksgiving, 2006
Our “family” (7 kids, 2 houseparents, 2 interns), Thanksgiving, 2006

Oh, we’ve gotten wiser. After five years working with group home kids (primarily teenage boys) we adopted our son from West Africa and then transitioned to being foster parents for babies and toddlers. Our goals shifted from helping with homework and teaching independent living skills to mixing special formula for preemies, going to court hearings, and finding the balance of advocacy and diplomacy within the foster care system. But in both settings we have learned that it is a difficult task to support families who have reached a point of brokenness where kids can no longer safely live with parents. There has been a lot of wisdom gained for us over the years of learning how to have relationships instead of animosity, but our idealism and hope keep us going. We truly believe that families can change and that we can be part of that process when we’re willing to work as part of a team.

But our time of being able to actively provide care for kids in transition is coming to an end. What began as a way to help babies and families has become the way God has grown our own family and we have reached our legal capacity (in Nebraska you can’t have more than six children under 12 years-old  and continue to be foster parents). With the adoption of our foster daughter this month and the birth of our (surprise!) biological son next month, we will have six children under the age of 7. After years of infertility we realize the enormous gift we’ve been given to care for these lives, but our hearts remain tender towards the needs of the children we can no longer open our home to. Our ability to directly care for foster kids has come to a close, but our desire to help is still strong.

Photo by Rebecca Tredway Photography
Photo by Rebecca Tredway Photography

So we find our roles are shifting. We have become passionate recruiters for more foster families. We will speak whenever, wherever there’s a desire to hear about the needs in foster care. We provide support to other foster families as they navigate the process both in Nebraska and across the country.

When we first started on this journey, there weren’t many resources out there. Privacy and confidentiality concerns often keep foster parents from speaking openly about what this experience is like. That means that stereotypes of foster kids and foster parents remain intact and foster families can feel isolated. This was my main goal for starting to write about our story. I wanted people to know that we were a “normal” family with “normal” kids who just happened to be state wards. I wanted people to see the humanity in the families we serve and to know they could make an impact, too.

I’m thrilled that this role of mine has now expanded. I’m thankful I get to partner with Christian Heritage to help encourage and support foster parents across Nebraska. We have been foster parents with Christian Heritage for 6 years and after seeing the level of integrity with which they do their job helping kids, I wanted to help them recruit and retain quality foster parents by sharing our story. Part of my passion is to help those who could make a difference in “the system” see how truly needed they are and that they may already possess many of the necessary qualifications to help kids in their community.

So in a series of posts for Her View From Home I will be giving an insider peek at what life is like as a foster parent. I welcome YOUR feedback and specific questions so I can be sure I’m addressing the areas you are interested in. What keeps you from becoming a foster parent? What are your fears? What have you heard that keeps you from taking the next step? How has foster care impacted your life? Hopefully over the coming months I can help clarify what you don’t need to worry about (and what you do!) and be the push you need to move forward to use whatever gifts and talents you have to help these kids. Not everybody can be a foster parent, but everybody can do something. What can you do?

Leave your questions or thoughts in the comment section here or send them to [email protected]

Maralee Bradley

Maralee is a mom of six pretty incredible kids ages 8 and under. Four were adopted (one internationally from Liberia, three through foster care in Nebraska) and two were biological surprises. Prior to becoming parents, Maralee and her husband were houseparents at a children’s home and had the privilege of helping to raise 17 boys during their five year tenure. Maralee is passionate about caring for kids, foster parenting and adoption, making her family a fairly decent dinner every night, staying on top of the laundry, watching ridiculous documentaries and doing it all for God’s glory. Maralee can be heard on My Bridge Radio talking about motherhood on "A Mother's Heart for God" and what won't fit in a 90 second radio segment ends up at www.amusingmaralee.com.