Unfortunately, I may never know the answer to that question. In spite of the fact that he has been my son for 2 ½ years, I don’t know how much longer he is going to live with me, how many more days that I will have the privilege of being his mother. I only know that I have this one day to make an impact on his life, to teach him the things that truly matter, to foster his potential.
Sowing and Nurturing the Seeds
And most parents have about 18 years to influence their child, to nurture his individuality, to teach him how to use his gifts, to train and mold his moral character. They get to watch in awe as those earliest traits develop into a unique individual.
But what about the parents who don’t have 18 years? I may only have a few months, or at the most, a few years, with my foster children. The knowledge that time with my foster children is ever so brief tends to cause my parenting to be intentional and sometimes urgent, my desire to make the most of every moment while I can. I never know how long my window of opportunity will remain open.
With the current three-year old in my home, my days are filled with hundreds of opportunities to make a choice: I can seize the moment to nurture, or I can postpone it until it’s more convenient or until I have more energy. Do I fret about the dirty dishes in the sink, or do I choose to read “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” one more time? Will I let him splash and enjoy playing in the bathtub for a few extra minutes, or will I rush him off to bed so that I can enjoy a quiet evening without interruptions? Can I give my full attention to his “symphony”, applauding loudly at his accomplishments, or will I focus on the toys that are strewn across the coffee table - yet again? Should I address the first signs of a rebellious attitude or lack of self-control, or is it just easier to ignore it so that I don’t have to train, and correct, and be interrupted? Many choices, multiple opportunities to truly “foster” this child.
I love the term “foster” parent, because it reminds me of what my role truly is: I am “fostering” a living being that is fragile, doing whatever I can to help him become healthy and strong. When I welcome a “seedling” into my home, no matter how large or small, healthy or frail, my job is to foster and nurture him, encouraging him to grow. To provide nutritious sustenance, so that he will thrive physically. To protect him against elements that will harm him or stunt his growth. To nurture his character, by training him to be honest, and compassionate, and self-controlled. To foster his abilities and gifts by identifying them and encouraging their development.
However, a very human side of me thinks, “Another person caused this damage; she should have to pay the consequences of her irresponsibility. Here I am, exhausting myself to help repair someone else’s child, spending hundreds of hours with doctors and specialists, keeping meticulous records of medication dosages and evaluation results, and losing numerous nights of sleep when he struggles to breathe or needs another g-tube feeding. And what is the result after he is healthy and thriving? Someone else will eventually benefit from all of my sacrifices. Why am I doing this?”
I need to remember, first and foremost, that I am not doing this for myself, for my own reward. In fact, my needs and desires can’t even be part of the equation. My perspective must be much broader than that. I do what I do out of compassion for the child, of course, out of a desire to give him every opportunity to reach his full potential. But ultimately, I persevere because I know that this child is precious in the Lord’s sight. Whenever a child is rescued from a dangerous or even life-threatening situation, and God’s hand providentially leads him to a family who will care for him and foster his potential, I truly believe that God must have a very special plan for that child’s future.(2) How grateful I am that God would “appoint me to His service,”(3) to provide the physical arms that will help accomplish His purposes in this child’s life. I need to remind myself that “I will very gladly spend for you everything I have and expend myself as well.”(4) I choose to focus on that perspective and follow that calling one day, one moment at a time.
The little guy whom I currently call my son gets excited about classical music and already imitates different musical instruments. . . Could he be the next Mozart or Tchaikovsky? His charm, dynamic personality, and interest in others easily attract people to him . . . Is it possible that he might become the next great statesman who will lead our country into the future? At the age of three, he can already count to 20, write his name, and is fluent in two languages . . . what if he grows up to be the man who discovers the cure for cancer? Chances are, I will not be there when he reaches adulthood, so I most likely will never know.
But like a patient gardener, I cannot worry about a future that I may never see. I can only “foster” with confidence today, knowing that this child, his future family and community, and possibly the world, may be able to enjoy the fruit that results.