By Lester Wills
I became a “Foster Grandpa” is 2009. Ten years later I have been the proud “Foster Grandpa” of five children, two of whom became my forever Grandkids by adoption. This journey has been one that has been full of surprises...
When I first came to the US, my daughter and son in law very kindly allowed me to stay with them as I looked to establish myself in a new country. This meant I would become part of their foster family. This presented me with a series of surprises and much soul searching.
The first surprise was when my daughter said to me "what do you want the children to call you, Granddad or Grandpa”. As I had never considered the idea of being a grandparent my first reaction was that I was not that old! Not only had I never thought about that question, but I was also being asked to be a grandparent to foster children and was not really sure what that actually meant. I thought long and hard and remembered that my Father was in foster care and he lovingly talked about his Foster Mom. I realized that this was a very important role and could that I could make a real difference to any children my daughter and son in law fostered. I felt I was being offered the chance to help children through what would obviously be a difficult time and so came to embrace the idea of being a “Foster Grandpa”...(which it turns out means being a pretty traditional Grandpa, except just for a season of a kid’s life instead of all of it).
Even so, I still insisted I was not that old.
The next surprise came when I was informed that I would need to go through FBI checks. I had already gone through screening as part of the immigration process to earn my Green Card, but this was something else. I had never thought that being a parent/grandparent would include being checked out by the FBI before. I came to understand the need, but it was not something I had ever considered before.
I also learned that my daughter and son in law had undergone quite a bit of training. They had been counseled in how to work with foster children and coached in how to deal with what would be a traumatic period in the lives of these young people. Once again it was something I had not thought about, but once it was explained to me, it all made perfect sense. I realized that I had some learning to do and was able to educate myself by reading websites, some awesome books and picking my daughter's brain about all the training she had received. I would encourage any Grandparent of foster kids to do the same. While the kids were at the core just kids like any other, they had been through experiences no child should endure so being Grandpa sometimes meant knowing a little more about what trauma does to a child.
The next eye-opener for me was when I accompanied my daughter to what I can only describe as a promotional event. My daughter and son in law were ‘fostering to adopt’, which meant they were hoping to adopt a child/children eventually. As such, they attended ‘matching parties’ on a regular basis to learn about children in foster care who were legally free for adoption. I was shocked to walk into a large hall with lots of stands, each displaying pictures of children. Every stand had at least one social worker with details of children who were in care and who needed adoptive parents. It reminded me of conferences I had been to where outside the main hall there are stands with people promoting their products and services. Only the ‘products’ here were children! It was a real shock. It made me think long and hard about what was going on but I realized that there was such a great need for adoptive parents, the social workers were using every possible means to help these children. It still left me quite unsettled though.
Once two young girls arrived and we became a foster family I realized something else. I had never considered the fact that these children would have little or nothing and as a result would need clothing and toys, all of which was an expense to the foster parents. They receive a stipend but that does not come close to covering all the things they need to do and buy in order to make the home a happy one for their foster children. I must admit I had never considered the idea that such children would need basics like clothes and toys before. The girls they fostered arrived to their home with little more then the clothes on their back and a few dollar store toys. That first week was a whirlwind of appointments, interspersed with trips to the store for clothes, shoes, toys, bedding etc etc. Years later my daughter would become involved with running a Foster Closet and I would find myself explaining to people over and over that children arrive to foster care with little to nothing and why Foster Closets need to exist...
The whole thing was one surprise after another. It felt like different world that most people are unaware of, hidden in plain sight. Before I lived with my daughter and son in law I had no idea of the challenges, or of the amazing rewards of being part of a foster family.
I saw the commitment of my daughter and son in law and remembered the life that was given to my father by his foster parents. I embraced the opportunity to become a foster grandparent and found that I got just as much as I gave. I encourage anyone who is part of an extended foster family to ‘lean in’ - get to know the kids, love them, treasure them, even if you are only their Grandparent for a season of their life it is so worthwhile to invest in them for that time that you get to be a part of their lives.
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