October 11, 2012
It happens everywhere, usually when I least expect it. At the market. At church. At the doctor’s office. People look at me and say, “I’ve always wanted to become a foster parent (or adopt), but . . .” And then they begin explain why they never have. Many, many people have the desire to love an orphan, and truly believe in their heart that it could be their calling. Unfortunately, there are hundreds of reasons, especially here in our affluent, “pursuit of happiness” country, for why the good intentions never quite materialize into actual reality.
Okay, let’s be honest. If you or I personally met a child whose one and only dream was to belong in a family, who only wanted to know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of a parent’s love, would we really be able to look into those hopeful eyes and say, “I really want to adopt some day, but right now my life is so busy. You know how it is, driving my kids to soccer practice, piano lessons, and dance classes. I mean, it’s a full-time job just getting dinner on the table and getting through the evening’s homework, not to mention how crazy things are at work right now.”
And then could we really continue with our justification? “And I’m so sorry, but I really can’t afford to adopt you. After all, we have our family vacation to Disney World coming up later this year, and pretty soon it’s going to be time to replace our second car. Would you excuse me for a second while I take a sip of my Starbucks Grande Pumpkin Spice Latte? Anyway, as I was saying, I really do hope to adopt. Some day.” Of course it would be ridiculous to try to explain our decision-making process that way, and it sounds so harsh. However, every time we put a “but” on the end of our sentences when talking about fostering or adopting some day, we articulate the priorities in our life, the treasures in our heart.
As I talk and interact with other people in my community, and as the subject of foster care and adoption eventually, inevitably, comes up, one thing I hear quite often is that parents want to wait until their “own” kids are older. On the one hand, I whole-heartedly agree with parents desiring to establish their children as the priority for their time, energy, and financial resources. I’ve actually seen many blessings in my own family as my older children are able to nurture and influence their younger foster siblings. On the other hand, I would like to offer a few cautions to the perspective that waiting until “later” to welcome another child would be beneficial.
First of all, as anybody who has ever been a parent for any length of time can affirm, every age has its joys and challenges, and just because children get older, it doesn’t mean parenting gets easier. As our pediatrician likes to say, “Little children, little problems. Big children, big problems.” Opening our hearts and our home to fatherless children now that our children are in their teen years is actually more challenging in many ways than when our children were younger. It can be difficult to balance driver’s ed classes with babies getting strapped into car seats; creating high school transcripts with reading “Good Night Moon”; and potty training with discussions about dating. Hmmm, actually, now that I think about it, is there really much difference between a pouting toddler and a sulky teenager? Just kidding.
And let’s face it, I’m not getting any younger either. It’s one thing to stay up all night with a colicky baby or console a whiney toddler when you’re twentysomething, energetic, and ambitious. It’s quite another thing altogether to do those same things when you’re forty-something, pre-menopausal, and irritable. And waiting until your children are grown and on their own? It would be very difficult, if not impossible, to give up the longed-for, well-deserved rewards of being an empty-nester, only to start the parenting process all over again. I would encourage young parents . . . please don’t wait too long! Now may be the perfect time to embrace the amazing, challenging, honorable calling of welcoming a child into your family!
On a slightly different note, I would offer a second caution to people who want to wait until their children are older before taking the step to foster or adopt. Unfortunately, children becoming “older” isn’t necessarily synonymous with becoming more “well-behaved”. I may be stepping on some toes here, but we’ve all seen them around town or maybe even in our own homes: the prince and princess who know that their parents will give them anything they want if they just scream loud enough or whine long enough. The little ones who have been given every reason to believe that the universe revolves entirely around them and whatever it is they want at any given moment.
I was quite saddened, recently, when my little guy and I attended a storytime program at my local library, an event that was geared towards children ages 2-4. It wasn’t so much as a story hour as it was an hour of preschoolers running wildly around the room, completely ignoring their mothers’ requests to calm down and pay attention. Just as I was becoming increasingly irritated at the situation, the woman standing in the front of the room said, “That’s okay, Moms. We all know that children under the age of 5 are unable to sit still.” Really?! Is it difficult to train a child to sit still? Of course. Does it require a lot of hard work and consistent training? Absolutely. But are they “unable” to sit still? No way!
Please hear me when I say that I do not judge or in any way feel superior to those moms at the library. Believe me, I am far, far away from being a perfect parent, and I can completely relate to the frustrations and weariness involved in child-rearing. Don’t even ask my children how many times I raised my voice today!
My point is, with wild, out of control, demanding children at home, of course mothers are exhausted at the end of the day! Of course the thought of adding more noise and chaos to the mix seems out of the question! As long as the families in our society buy into the myth that children are “unable” to behave, parents will be never find enough room in their weary, stressed, over-extended lives to reach out to children in need. How I hope that those families don’t just passively “wait” until their children get older before they foster or adopt, hoping that their children will magically morph into responsible young people. May they use the waiting time well, training their children to be patient and self-controlled and giving them opportunities to be kind and compassionate to others. Then, when their children are older, they really will be ready to extend their hands and hearts to a child, a child who will be blessed to be a part of such a loving family.
Many people may have good intentions, and may even currently feel the tug on their hearts and lives. My challenge to them is: Why wait? Right now may be the right time to actually take the steps to foster or adopt: making that first phone call, filling out that preliminary application, attending that informational meeting. Our schedules will most likely never be less than jam-packed with commitments and activities. There may never be an abundance of money in the budget. And I can guarantee that our “own” kids will never be perfectly behaved or at the “ideal” age. If we wait until everything in our life is just right, there never will be the optimal time.
Why wait to give a child a home and love and a family? Sure, it may be necessary to make some minor sacrifices. To pinch pennies, squeeze in another bed, and set the alarm clock for a little bit earlier each morning. It may even require huge, life-changing sacrifices like postponing retirement plans; changing jobs or becoming a stay-at-home parent in order to care for a child’s special needs; relocating to be closer to the support system of extended family; or even saying good-bye to week-end getaways with your Honey, at least in the foreseeable future. Yes, fostering or adopting a child is an enormous decision, a decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly!
But for those who are willing to step out in faith and do something so frightening and monumental? What will you find? You will discover that your family has more love and resources than you ever realized! That whatever it was that seemed so important before, well, it wasn’t really a sacrifice after all. That welcoming this precious child into your family was the greatest blessing you ever could have imagined! You will shake your head and laugh, asking yourself, “Why did I wait?”