“Do you have kids?” is a common refrain in our lives, a consequence of being in our 30s and married for some time.
We didn’t give birth or adopt. But some days we are parents, waking up early to get the kids to school or helping with homework in the evenings. We have celebrated three 18th birthdays with our kids. We were parents about every other month last year for anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. We are a kind of parent people seldom talk about and frankly we didn’t even know existed until a few years ago.
What we are is respite or short-term foster parents. We provide a home to teens when they are between placements, just entering the system, waiting for another family to finish the licensing process, when their parents have to be out of the state or country, or when any number of other life events occur.
When we first considered becoming foster parents we were fairly certain doing so was incompatible with our lives. We both work full-time and often take work home with us. We travel frequently. We weren’t interested in, nor do we have a house that is ideal for, a baby.
But we kept reading about foster care and ultimately felt it was something that made sense for us. Here in Washington there are an estimated 10,000 foster children yet only 4,600 licensed foster families. Last year, almost 200 foster children spent, in total, more than 1,000 nights in hotels or government offices due to a lack of available placements.
One of the things we’ve noticed since we started as foster parents is how many people we know who say they’ve thought about being foster parents but assumed they couldn’t do it for one reason or another — not unlike us a few years ago. We’d had a stereotype of foster care — that you needed a stay-at-home parent who could attend regular court, doctor and school meetings in the middle of the day, being available for yearslong placements, taking young babies.
Fortunately, we learned about a program here in Seattle, Refugees Northwest Foster Care, which works primarily with teens, that was an especially good fit for us.
Our experience is that folks often think they can’t help or that they are not the kind of people who could be foster parents. In our program we have foster parents who are lesbian and gay parents, middle-aged couples, young and single people, folks whose biological kids have grown up and moved out of the house and those who have other young children and teens. We see foster parents take in sibling sets, teen moms and their children, or kids they sought out because of a common religious or cultural background.
Being a part of the foster-care system has made us better people and citizens. We no longer simply read about the news, rather we see the impact of the news through the lives of the young people who pass through our living room — children impacted by the Rohingyan genocide, cartel violence, and the trafficking of young children.
We have also become more connected to our local area, having learned where to buy Halal meat and the best pupusas and which dentists take state insurance, and are better educated about laws designed to help foster (and homeless) children attend the same schools as they transfer between homes.
Since joining a network of foster families we have seen many ways others get involved. There are now more organizations providing homes for teens aging out of the system, young adult refugees who just miss the cut off for placements, or young adults who were kicked out of their homes over their LGBTQ identities. These young people often need a place to stay while finishing high school, learning a trade, or starting college, and don’t need as much supervision, yet do need people to love and care about them.
Others support foster care by being a mentor or a tutor to a foster child, or donating dinner at a favorite restaurant to a foster family so they have a night off from cooking. A local group of churchgoers near us makes dinner each month while we have foster-care-training sessions.
We have become friends with a supportive, inspiring and diverse community of foster families who have taken in children for long-term placements who trust us to support their children while they are away or while they are preparing for a new placement.
While fostering may not be for everyone, we’ve found it to be a perfect way to become a family. And now when people ask “Do you have kids?” we have an answer: “Yes, we have many!”