Foster care: are you ready to love unconditionally?

Written by Franz Iacono

Foster care: are you ready to love unconditionally?

Love is like oxygen. It’s indispensable, but harmful if too pure. Becoming the foster parent of a minor will mean loving him like your own child, fully knowing he will soon leave you. Can your heart take it?


When one talks about foster care, you must be more specific, as there are so many different solutions. There is full-time foster care, when the minor is taken in by the family for a period ranging from a couple of months to years. There is also a part-time solution, when you offer your home to a minor for more limited periods of time, maybe just a couple of hours a day, or on the week-ends or during holidays. There is so-called “ready foster care”, when you take care of a child from 0 to 5 years of age, for a period of nine months. Or the type of arrangement where you also take care of a struggling parent, such as mother-child foster care or so-called “family foster family”.


For all the different formulations, the motive and objective of the foster process remains the same. There is a struggling family which can’t take care of the education and the material and affective needs of their children; there is a judge whose verdict is for the children to be temporarily removed from their parents; there is a couple (or a single parent) who offers to take their place until the problems of the family of origin are solved, also thanks to the intervention of social services.


The temporary nature of this institution requires a particular attitude on behalf of the aspiring foster parents, which otherwise risk ending up in extremely fragile psychological situations. Their job is far from easy: they must be de facto parents, but at the same time know how to emotionally deal with detachment.


If you are emotionally fragile, these conditions will probably be unbearable for you. But if you have some specific character traits, you will have the chance to live an extraordinary experience: that of pure love, without the need for possession.


You must have parenting skills.

It sounds paradoxical, since if you give birth to a child, you aren’t required to possess any particular skill. After all, nobody is born a parent, as you’ll learn at your own expense. If however you volunteer as foster parents, you can’t face the task as an amateur. This doesn’t mean you have to have had children of your own, just that you must be aware of your role as an educator, you must possess the will to be present in the child’s life, and – last but not least – a solid strategic trait.


You mustn’t feel the need to “make yourself complete”.

Again, the foster parent is required to have a different and more mature attitude compared to that of a normal parent. Often one decides to procreate to feel fulfilled and complete, if not even to save a marriage. In the case of foster care, however, it isn’t the need for parenting that must prevail, but “the spirit of parental service”, which always focuses on the child, and never on personal aspirations.


This is the point when idealism clashes with reality. Foster care is often seen as a fall-back solution for infertile couples who haven’t been able to adopt a child. It can in fact happen that, past the two year mark, if the family of origin hasn’t overcome its turmoil, the judge decides for the extension of the foster care, transforming it de facto into an adoption. It is an understandable situation, given the difficulties encountered by families who attempt adoption, but “falling back” on foster care for reasons of unrequited parenting is extremely dangerous both for the child and for the parents. Especially if the judge pronounces the reinstating of the family of origin, instead.


You must be strict but nurturing, especially with adolescents.

If you mean to welcome an adolescent, you will need extra skills. Kids from 14 to 17, especially if living in a community, have survived a long time without parents. They aren’t used to being treated with affection, and are extremely weary of foster parents, towards which they are often brassy and challenging. To overcome their defenses, you must wisely mix rules and coos.


Especially at this age, kids need the presence of a parent who puts down the rules (normative role) and another who dispenses cuddles and warmth (nurturing role). Usually the former is taken on by the dad, and the latter by the mum, but parents can and should exchange these roles, as homosexual couples do. If, however, you are a single parent, double the challenge, as you must be able to play both roles.


Think you have what it takes? If so, muster up the courage to welcome a child into your family. He might be with you for only a year or two. But true love will nurture your soul forever.

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