“The longer that you foster, the more you find out about who you really are and what you really value.” — Nancy
Nancy and her husband both came from big families. She had nine brothers and sisters. He had six. When they got married, they dreamed of having a big, bustling household, just like they had growing up.
“The original plan was always to have a house full of kids,” says Nancy. By the time the couple was 30, they had only one child, a nine-year-old girl. But they still dreamed of the big, bustling household, so they decided to foster.
They made the decision to foster in 1986. Thirty-four years later, they have fostered over 250 foster children in Washington State.
Now in their mid-60s, Nancy, a teacher, and her husband, a retired contractor, mainly focus on fostering teenage boys. They like it because the teens have a bit more independence.
“We thought it’d be a better age group than the little guys. I just hate having them in daycare all day,” says Nancy. She’s currently fostering five boys.
It’s fair to say that Nancy’s experience has taught her a lot about fostering, knowing yourself, being flexible, and being prepared to love more than you ever thought you could. The lessons she’s learned are invaluable to any foster parent and especially to families thinking about getting into foster care.
1. You’ll Know Yourself Better
Reflecting on decades of foster care, Nancy will be the first to tell you that the experience has brought her real values into clear focus. “Do you want a clean house? Or kids that don’t swear? Or that don’t smoke pot?” says Nancy.
Being a foster parent has helped expose the gaps in her own personal philosophies. It’s taught her when to draw a clear line and when to let things go. Her advice for foster parents? “Trust those who have gone before you, and listen better.”
When she first attended foster parent training, Nancy remembers being asked, “What do you know is really going to push your buttons?”
For her, she knew it would be kids who yelled back, or told her to shut up. “I knew when that happened I’d be able to feel the heat immediately,” says Nancy. “It was true then and it’s still true to this day.”
But, she’s learned to cope.
“You learn how to control your response and think without reacting,” Nancy says.
2. You’ll Learn To Be Flexible
Every new parent daydreams about what kind of family they’ll have, what their rules will be and, how their values will dictate their child’s experience.
It’s true for big things, like deciding when to teach your kids about sex or death. It’s also true for little things, like “saying you’d never let your child have a pacifier beyond the age of three,” says Nancy.
But successful foster parents quickly learn how to adapt and decide what things are really important. As Nancy advises, “Give up the little things, let go, and learn to trust.”
3. You’ll Open Your Heart In Unexpected Ways
Perhaps the biggest takeaway from Nancy’s years in foster care is her ability to still be surprised.
“There are some behaviors or histories that some kids come with where you would think, Oh my gosh, I could never do that one. That’s something I could never handle,” says Nancy. “My husband and I have said this more times than I can count.”
But every time, they decided to look beyond the paperwork and take a chance to get to know the actual child. “There’s so much more to each of them,” says Nancy. Even now, during the pandemic, when handling five cooped up teen boys would seem like a complete whirlwind, Nancy is finding herself pleasantly surprised.
“It’s helpful that there are five. They can go out and shoot hoops, kick a ball around, or play video games with each other,” notes Nancy. “And if one of them’s grumpy, generally there’s somebody else who’s not. So, yeah, you know I think having five is easier than having one.”
Nancy knows that it’s never easy being a foster parent. There are always going to be struggles. But she relies on her experience, humility, and the support of those around her to get her through.
Join Nancy by starting your foster care journey today. Download our free resource, The Essential Guide To Becoming A Foster Parent In Washington State.