What I Have Learnt From Fostering
Watching our four children grow up confident of themselves, fun-loving, cheerful and caring, I am convinced that the home environment plays a very important part in shaping our children. We believe every child deserves a secure and loving home, and it breaks my heart to know there are children in Singapore who do not have a place they can call home.
For this reason, we made the decision to become foster parents so that we can provide these children with an experience of what it is like to have not just a home, but also a family. There are many important lessons we have learnt in our fostering journey thus far.
Love can heal
The reasons why foster children have to leave their birth family often involve a lot of anguish and pain. When these children enter a new home, they carry with them scars they have gotten from their childhood, and instinctively put up defense mechanisms to prevent themselves from getting hurt again. I have heard of previously neglected children who hide their food because they are afraid of starving, and sexually abused children who insist on sleeping in the living room, because they fear what could happen in the bedroom. Sometimes, a certain sight or smell may jolt to memory something bad that happened in the past, causing them to act out, leaving foster parents confused and upset.
How can foster parents help a child heal from all the pain he or she has experienced? Though we cannot remove their hurt, we can play a crucial part in their healing process. I have discovered that showing authentic care and concern and providing words of affirmation bear much weight in communicating that they are valued as an individual. I believe we should give them a chance to experience life in a healthy family environment, and help them to look with hope and anticipation to the future, not with fear. Essentially, we should live on the simple faith that love can change them, slowly, but surely.
Love with no regrets
In some cases, foster parents are given ample time to prepare for the arrival of a new foster child; at other times, very short notice is given. Either way, it is crucial to physically prepare whatever we can. There is much value in requesting for as much information as possible on the demographics of the child, so that you can get practical necessities ready, like diapers and milk bottles for infants.
This is why having a support network of other foster families or people who are willing to lend a helping hand is so valuable. When you know of people who are ready to support you, you can be confident that help is near, especially when you need it urgently. Knowing other foster families also allows you to discuss issues specific to parenting a foster child, raise questions you may have, and encourage each other’s foster children. Sometimes we forget that we don’t have to walk this fostering journey alone; we can turn to the community around us.
Getting ready physically is rather straightforward, but preparing yourself emotionally takes a lot more effort. As foster parents, we need to be prepared to face the unavoidable emotional aches – to feel and enter into the pain of the children who come through our doors, to endure the frustration and stress of daily demands and struggles, and to ultimately face our greatest fear of all – the grief of returning the child we have nurtured and loved to their birth parents.
In spite of these stresses, we made a decision to love with no regrets. Our mandate is to love no matter the outcome. The grief pales in comparison to the joy we experience in seeing a child’s life transformed and the impact we have made to turn the course of a child’s life from destruction into one that is full of love, hope and joy.
We are made ready on the journey
I have often been asked the question, “How will I know if I’m ready to become a foster parent?” The truth is, no amount of preparation and information can prepare you for this life-changing journey. You are made ready on the journey.
The key is to open our hearts and be willing to face our fears. Do not let fear stop you but let it give you courage and strength to launch out to do what you truly believe in – that every child deserves to be in a loving home, and love can change even the hardest of hearts.
Joy is married to Daniel and they started their fostering journey in 2011, and have fostered two children ever since. They have four birth children, and firmly believe in the power of love to transform the lives of those they reach out to.