Most new parents-to-be know exactly what to expect. There are full libraries of books on what to expect when you’re expecting. You have nine months to prepare for a newborn baby. You know that it will be a newborn baby. It will not be a toddler or a teenager on day one. In fact, you grow as the child grows. You get to learn each other, learn what works and what doesn’t, learn how to respond and adjust as things change. But that’s not how foster care works and we cannot expect it to.
When we first began fostering, about to be first time parents, we chose to set our age range at 0-6 years old. We assumed that as new parents we would be best suited to care for little ones. So that’s where we started.
I look back now and wonder why we were so tied to that age range. Why did 0-6 feel doable and not older kids? How did we even decide that cut off age? I honestly don’t know. Maybe it’s because babies are cute and that’s how we saw other parents starting their parenthood journey- with a baby. I’m not sure. We started off with three rambunctious siblings all under the age of three. Wow! Let me tell you, that was a joy and a challenge for sure.
We quickly realized all the things we didn’t know. All the things we needed to learn to care for these precious kids who couldn’t care for themselves. They couldn’t articulate what they wanted, needed, or what their routine should be. We jumped right in and it was a steep learning curve for sure. The three months that they were with us were fun, but also exhausting. We were up late with bottle feedings, up early with toddlers wanting snacks and cuddles. We scrambled to find daycare and rushed home from work to pick them up before closing. We found a routine and we stuck with it.
We loved those kids more than I thought was possible. Goodbye was heartbreaking. But you know what, it was also a relief because we needed a break. We were exhausted running at 110% all day every day. We had to re-evaluate.
Our initial age range wasn’t a good fit for what we were actually prepared for. What we were actually going to enjoy and be good at. We had to adjust. This meant that we weren’t on the list for tiny babies anymore and honestly, that was hard for me. I couldn’t take newborns because I had to work and I couldn’t take off six weeks to stay home with them before they could go to daycare. It was unrealistic. Finding daycare was a challenge anyway.
So we adjusted. We changed our bedrooms around and prepared for older kids- not much older, but a little bit. We found our sweet spot with elementary age children. We found that it matched our schedule, our abilities, and our energy level better. They were able to start immediately in school, could enjoy coming along with us on work trips occasionally, and we enjoyed the way we could interact with them. They could tell us more about their life, their routine, the things that they liked and didn’t like. It was just easier. It was what we were initially avoiding in indicating the age range we originally chose, but it was in fact exactly where we fit best.
Every family is different and I cannot tell you what will work best for your family. I can only share my story in hopes that you may evaluate what you can offer as a foster parent in this current stage of your life. Consider your family dynamics, rhythms, routines, and needs. Some families with biological children hold to maintaining birth order. Some don’t. There is no right answer.
Things change too! You can adjust along the way. You’re not forever locked in to any age range, gender preference, or number of beds. You are in charge of your home! There is no penalty for embracing a new phase of life and what that means for your family. You cannot be everything always. Over the last few years, what we can offer has changed multiple times as work and life has looked different in different seasons. Choose what works best for you, and rock the heck out of that role!
Let’s not compare our strengths to others. There is a role for all of us to play. When we try too hard to fit into a category that we are not matched for, we will not be successful. But when we accept ourselves for who we are, our home for what it can offer, and our family for the unique role we can play, we will thrive. The kids in our home will thrive when we can offer them our best selves. And they are the whole point, right? It’s about the kids.
I love the quote (and have no idea where it comes from), “foster care is not about finding a child for your family. It is about finding a family for a child.” And I believe that is true.