Foster parenting: following a call
By Laureen F. Guenther
For Lana Lee of Spruce Grove, Alberta, foster parenting is a calling, a calling she couldn’t pursue without the help of God who called her. Lee, and her husband Layton’s, four biological children were teenagers when they began foster parenting. Six years later, they could be empty nesters. Instead, they’re raising an adopted six-year-old daughter and fostering two toddlers and two infants. “It’s what we’re called to do,” Lee says. “We’re just heeding the call. Our forte in our home is babies who come into care and have been prenatally-exposed (to substances), and typically come home (from the hospital after birth) going through some kind of withdrawal process.”
Over the years, the Lees have cared for 21 children. Some children stay for days. Some stay for years. One child, now their adopted daughter, is staying forever. Reunification with birth families is the most desirable option, Lee says, but that’s not always safe or possible. Whatever their reason for coming, and however long they stay, “Our rule of thumb in our home is that we love them like they’re never leaving,” she says. “If they stay for 24 hours, they get loved like they’ve stayed for 24 years. (God) gives us this ability to not focus on the fact that we didn’t grow these little people, that I didn’t grow them in my womb. But I can love them and nurture them as if I did.”
Layton works outside the home, and Lee is a stay-at-home parent, but they foster together. “The minute (Layton) walks through the door, he is a hands-on dad to them,” she says. “It’s breath-taking sometimes to watch. It makes me fall in love with him over and over and over again… to watch him step into the role of Daddy to countless babies that he did not partake in creating. These little people come to us, and he lays them on his chest and he feeds them bottles and he rocks them to sleep and he gets up in the night.”
“All four of our adult children are (also) hands-on involved in our little people,” she says. “They come in the door. They scoop up a baby. They grab a toddler. They get a glass of water. They plop one in a high chair. They change a diaper. Whatever needs to be happening, they’re just part of the dynamic. And all of our ‘littles’ know that our ‘bigs’ are safe and loving and involved.”
At its best, Lee says, foster parenting is a partnership between foster parents, the agency and the biological parents. But it took time to grow into that perspective.
“Initially,” she says. “I was filled with judgment against biological parents. Now, I have such a huge heart full of compassion for them. It’s viewing broken people through the eyes of grace. These parents are doing the best they can with what they have.”
Lee may understand better than some as her own childhood included abuse and neglect. “My mom was an alcoholic, my stepdad was an alcoholic, and I ended up knee-deep in alcoholism, too,” she says. “I know what it’s like to live that and I also know the hope that there is, that you can overcome and that you can come out of that darkness and walk into the light.” Some people tell her they couldn’t foster because they couldn’t love other people’s children as their own. “I assure you, you can,” she says. “Love isn’t a feeling. It’s an action. It’s not about feeling love for them. It’s about being the hands and feet of Jesus and acting out that love.”
Others say they couldn’t let the children go. “But, yes, you could give them back,” Lee says. “You do give them back. And we’ve had our heart broken countless times. It’s part of the journey. It’s part of loving and then letting go.” She also encounters the belief that biological parents can never love as well as foster families can. “I think that we need to not put God in a box, because He’s way bigger than that,” she says. “If we think (a foster home is) the only place that God can reach them, that is so beyond who He is and what He’s capable of. How about we treat each one with dignity and respect and love these kiddos who come into our care just as He would and let Him worry about the rest?”
Whatever the challenges, Lee says it’s worth it. “We’ve seen it first-hand, the impact that a home like this can have on these little people,” she says. “The seeds that can be planted in their lives. The actual physical changes that happen in their brain. It’s the most gratifying thing that we’ve ever opened our hearts up to. It’s such a delight to know that you’ve opened and created a safe space for these little people to come and be who they are and to be shown and taught what love looks like,” she says. That doesn’t mean it’s easy. “I couldn’t do it of my own strength. I need my Jesus to do it. It wouldn’t work without Him.”
She also appreciates help from others. “Be praying for the foster families in your church,” she says. “Check in and say, ‘I’m thinking of you. Is there anything I can do?’” When a foster family gets a new child, arrange meals, she says. Offer to care for a child so the mother can have a shower. Bring a gift to welcome a newborn. Just as important, she says, is what not to do. “Asking questions like, is that baby addicted to drugs? Asking where they came from. Asking what the parents did wrong. Why are they in care? Those are questions we really cannot answer. Their story is not our story to tell.”
She also won’t pass around a baby to be held. “Asking if you can hold the baby is probably my biggest no-no,” she says. “Even with a toddler or an older child, distance is best. These kids have already been removed from their primary attachment and so the next best attachment that they can form is to, us the foster parents.” “This is my life’s work,” she says. “This is what He called me to do at a very early age. He wooed me to it. These little (children), they’re His.”
CLN and the author wish to thank Carol Weisbrod for her assistance in facilitating this story.