I’m still not okay with calling myself a “former foster mom.” It just doesn’t feel right. My heart is still so in the world of foster care as I support families in the trenches and continue to deal with post foster care issues with my kids. After five years in group home work and 7 years as foster parents, I can’t imagine a time when foster care won’t be on my heart and in my mind, but for this season we are not active foster parents.
This has been a weird loss of identity that I’ve struggled to put words to. Foster care is hard, but at some point it does become your normal. Dealing with caseworkers and lawyers and team meetings and all the paperwork– it can be frustrating, but it also can become the rhythm that structures your days. When you’ve spent years investing in “the system” to try and make improvements for these kids and their families (which can sometimes feel like beating your head against a wall), it is just odd to step outside of it. At first, there’s relief. And then there are questions.
Is there more we should be doing? What about all the other kids who need families? What about the kids already in our home– are they going to resent us if we keep going or if we stop? Will we ever have time to relicense if we let our license go now? Will we even know if our former foster kids or siblings of our kids come into care? All those relationships we developed– how do we continue to encourage those people now that we’re outside of the system?
Now that I’ve sat with these questions for the last two years (since our license lapsed because our home was too full by the state’s standards), I’m finding a place of peace. I’m learning there is a right time to step out for a season, but that doesn’t mean we stop caring about the kids in foster care or that we stop being a voice for them.
But in order to end our foster care experience with a desire to continue to be advocates for these kids, we need to know our boundaries. We can’t keep being foster parents until we’re burnout and we’re parenting our own angry, resentful, traumatized children because of how we kept doing this work long after our passion for it was gone. We need to know when to say “no” to placements that don’t work for our family and when we’ve come to the end of or ability to juggle the needs of foster care and foster kids with the needs of our family. This can be an extremely guilt-inducing place to be, but if you overstay your welcome in foster care you will leave with a bitter taste and an inability to continue to help these kids in the ways they need it.
When you’ve devoted yourself to the work of foster care, it can be difficult to know when to step out. You know the speeches you’ve given others about the need for foster parents and it makes you feel like a hypocrite when you’ve reached the end of your rope. It’s important to remember that we don’t do these kids any favors by bringing them into our home when we’re already exhausted or overwhelmed. Sometimes NOT renewing your license is a decision you make because you care about foster kids. We can hear these stories about families who took 60 placements over the thirty years they did foster care and we feel like our little contribution is insignificant. But when you’ve loved kids well– no matter how many kids– you’ve made a difference.
It can be especially hard to let go of that license if you are having to do it not because you are exhausted, but because your spouse or your kids are no longer supportive. It’s so important for the health of our families and the health of our foster kids that we’re on the same page when we decide to take in children. No child wants to come into a home that’s divided on whether or not they are a good idea.
Although it can feel like letting your license go means you can no longer have input in the foster care world, I have come to see that now that I don’t have a specific child in foster care but I do have relationships with people in the system, I am BETTER equipped to be an advocate for the changes I have seen the need for over the years. I am no longer perceived to be biased because now I don’t have kids in care. I’m not worried that if I say the “wrong” thing, someone might take my child. I am able to take time I didn’t have when we were in the thick of daily foster care responsibilities to now be a voice for kids who need it.
I have said for years that being a foster parent isn’t the only way to care for foster kids. Now is my chance to live that out.
So Former Foster Moms, we now get to be the help we wish we had had when we were foster parenting. We can be the ones to coordinate meals when a family gets a new placement. We can hold diaper drives or fundraisers to help foster kids get to summer camp. We can become a really well qualified CASA as we take our intimate knowledge of foster care with us into the courtroom. We can investigate becoming a respite family or speak to our local churches about the needs for foster families. We can become advocates for legislation that would benefit foster kids and their families. There is so much work to be done to support foster kids and we are now expertly qualified to help.
No longer being a foster parent isn’t the end of our involvement with foster care, it’s just the beginning of a new chapter. It’s okay to grieve this transition and then advocate with passion for these kids in new ways. And who knows? Maybe we won’t be “former” foster moms for long.
–For more information on foster care in Nebraska, contact