May 12, 2017

One family’s decision to become foster parents means their own kids get less — and that’s a good thing.


When my husband and I decided to become foster parents, we found that while discussing things like buying a minivan and finding another crib on Craigslist, emotional considerations came up, too. We had questions such as:

  • How would our families feel about having other children with us at Thanksgiving dinner or opening Christmas presents?
  • Would our two daughters feel jealous of other children sharing their home and parents — not to mention their toys?

Ultimately, opening our home to other children would likely mean my own children would have less — less space, less attention, less of our disposable income, less than our undivided focus. It also might mean sacrificing something that my own privileged kids take for granted: Not only space, time and stuff, but their place on the pedestal of our family’s life.

This pedestal, all shiny white with Corinthian detail, has a plaque on it reading:

“These children are special.”

“These children deserve the best of everything.”

“These children, by virtue of being born into a comparatively well-off family in a safe suburb, should be shielded from people not like us.”

“These children should not have to share the good things they have with those who have not.”

In a world where some children live in sewage-filled slums — in a country where some children see drugs and guns before they see a schoolbook  —  the fortunate children are showered with designer clothes and Pinterest-worthy birthday parties and throw tantrums if Mommy and Daddy don’t drop everything to turn on a video for them rightthisverysecond.

My kids are those fortunate kids.

Maybe yours are, too.

Becoming a foster family hasn’t made them patient, selfless little angels (and it hasn’t diminished my love for a Gymboree clearance sale or an Etsy-inspired “Happy Birthday” banner). But it has opened our doors and our hearts to sides of town and walks of life of which we otherwise might have stayed blissfully ignorant.

My kids now know that people can make bad choices and go to jail and still love their kids.

My kids now know that there is plenty of space and stuff and food and love to go around, and that they are not made poorer by sharing their riches with other kids.

My kids now know that you can love people who weren’t born into your family as much as people who were.

Actually, they know that better than I do. They are the ones who remind me that our “guest kids” are members of our family as much as they are. They are the ones who can’t let their newest little sister go to bed without a big hug and kiss goodnight.

So much has been said about our “kid-centered culture” today, we forget that we parents are the ones who put children on a pedestal, assuming that all the attention and material things we lavish on them is good for them.

For our family, foster care meant taking our own children off that pedestal. When we do that, we might find that caring and sharing comes naturally for kids, that relationships both within and outside of our immediate family mean more than all the luxuries we could give them.

Jessica Miller Kelley now has three children of her own and sometimes a foster child, too. She works in publishing.