I couldn’t tell you how old I was when my parents became foster parents. The memories are defined not by years, but moments. Rather than remembering my foster siblings by lengths of time—how long they lived with me or how old I was when they did—I remember them by their impact. When Cheyenne* and Alyssa came to live with us, I finally had someone to play Barbies with me. Ellie granted my wishes for a little sister. Baby Fin showed me the sweetest love and gave the best snuggles.
I’m sure my parents were worried about how fostering would affect my little brothers and me. It’s a valid concern, but as corny as it sounds, I think their true worry should have been how not fostering would have affected us. I cannot imagine the person I would be today without the dozens of siblings I had growing up, no matter how long they were in my life.
Making a list feels like an oversimplification of my experience, but it is the best way I can think of to convert the memories into lessons. So, as a now-adult, here are the biggest lessons I learned from my foster siblings growing up.
1. I have so much to be grateful for.
Seeing the brokenness that these kids experienced taught me so much about everything I have to be grateful for. Sometimes they’d come to our house with only a grocery bag full of clothes, and they never had any toys. At a young age, I realized how lucky I was to have an entire room full of things to play with and parents who loved me beyond measure.
Yes, it was not always easy for me to share my parents or my things, especially as a kid. However, my foster siblings taught me to be grateful that I have enough love and toys to share. Every time we got a new placement, I had to look my privilege in the eye, and that was good for me.
2. Everyone has a story.
My parents never went into too much detail about why someone new was coming to live with us, but they did a great job explaining that these kids needed some extra love.
Now that I’m older, my parents have been able to share more about their stories. It is both devastating and unbelievable the pain that is in this world. My foster siblings taught me that no matter someone’s appearance, there is far more underneath the surface.
3. Just because something is hard doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it.
My mom says that her biggest fear in becoming foster parent was how hard it would be. And it was hard. And heartbreaking. The tear-filled goodbyes were never easy. Adjusting to the change of having another person living in your house is never easy.
That said, all the difficulties were met trifold in rewards. I am so much richer because of my foster siblings. Foster care is hard, but it is also full of so much laughter, friendship, and love.
4. Love recklessly and forgive freely.
My foster siblings loved me recklessly and unconditionally. A few years ago, two sisters came to live with my family while I was away at college. When I came home for Christmas break to meet them, I was showered with the sweetest hugs. On day two, one of the girls told me she loved me. And she meant it.
They also love their parents unconditionally. No matter the abuse or neglect they endured, they forgave. I think there’s a lesson to be learned in that kind of innocent forgiveness.
These kids had so much love to give, despite their circumstances. Or maybe it was because of them.
It feels selfish to reflect on how foster care impacted me because that’s not what it is about. It is not about me or my family. Fostering is about helping those in crisis. It is about loving those who need it the most. That said, my experience is really the only one I can speak about. I can’t tell you if I made a difference in their lives, but I can tell you that they undoubtedly made a difference in mine. Some of us even still keep in touch. One of my sisters just got married!
Lastly, I want to add that not everybody is called to foster care, and that is okay! There are so many other ways to help kids in need and love your neighbor. However, if you do feel called to this form of social ministry, I encourage you to take the leap and have that first informational conversation.
*All names have been changed to protect privacy.