I started working at Southland in 2006 and I’ll never forget as the realization dawned on me that somewhere around 10-15% of our youth group were foster or adopted children. It was very exciting for me to be in a church that valued taking care of children like Southland families do. And truthfully, it wasn’t long until I understood just how much Southland loves families, period. But I wasn’t naïve, I knew that there were challenges ahead for these kids and, by extension, for me as a pastor; and I was right. There were calls from concerned parents. There were late night visits to homes. And there were many meetings with kids, who despite the amazing homes they were in, didn’t feel that life was all that amazing. And why was that? Why IS that? What is it about these kids, whom I love so much that is so challenging?
At that time I was an outsider looking in on foster families so perhaps I could overlook the behaviour challenges they faced a bit, (which is always, only a symptom of something deeper inside anyways) and saw that regardless of their current home and regardless of their past situation many, many foster and adopted kids struggle with rejection and acceptance.
“But wait,” you might say, “I struggle with acceptance and rejection myself,” why make this about foster and adopted kids? Well it’s simple, while many people do struggle with the same issues, issues of acceptance and rejection are systemic in the foster system.
It makes sense really when you think about, doesn’t it? I’ve heard horror stories about grade 3 students who have been in 20+ different foster homes. Or the endless stories about neglect and abuse in the homes that these kids come from (where so often parents are simply living out their own painful childhood.) The reality is that in most bad or difficult situations children are the greatest victims; the devil doesn’t play fair. And it would seem that the devil hits them in the area of rejection with wounds that time alone will not heal.
So what do we do? I have said and written before that simply because my family is called to foster children in no way do I assume another person or family is called to foster or adopt! However as a Church family we do have a responsibility to love and help one another, and our kids, all our kids, who live in such an entitlement-rich culture need to learn to love and help right along with the adults. So what can you do as a family to reach out to foster and adopted kids?
First, help your children to learn to identify classmates and schoolmates who might need prayer. Teach your kids to walk in the Spirit. I often pray with my kids before their day while I’m driving them to school or waiting for the bus. Sometimes the kids pray and sometimes I pray. When I pray though, I almost always ask Jesus to remind them that He lives in their heart throughout the day. I’ll even say it again when they get out of car. “Don’t forget, Jesus lives in your heart! Live that way!” Galatians 5:25 says, “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” Our kids do have the same Spirit available to them as we have as adults, but they don’t always remember how to keep step with Him. Keeping step with the Spirit means we look around at what God might be doing and join Him in it.
Second, create an atmosphere of relentless acceptance and respect in your home. Be very, very careful about the jokes you tell, the shows you watch and the company you keep as parents! Jesus loves everyone and died for everyone. All people are made in the image of God, and all people therefore have sacred value. I assume (I HOPE!) most of us aren’t racist, but are we dads chauvinists? Do we harbour prejudice in our hearts? Do we gossip? Do we SLANDER? Is the first thing out of your mouth on the way home from church, the things you didn’t like about church? Parents, examine your hearts hard on this one. Your kids will have difficulty accepting anyone different than them if you behave in this way.
Third, have people into your home. And when I say people, I mean all sorts. It’s important that your kids know that they don’t have to be best friends with everyone, but that they need to be friendly at all times. They don’t need to always play with the kid who is hard to love on the playground, but they do need to make and effort from time to time. But do you? Do you reach out to those who need reaching out to? To those adults who need friends?
Fourth, ask your children if they would be willing to have a friendship that might cost them something. There is one thing have heard from parent after parent after. Regardless of whether they foster and adopt, or have a child with special needs (be it mental, physical or behavioural), almost every parent will say that they wish that just one kid would be willing to be their child’s friend. Just one! This is a hard lesson and a hard request. It’s hard because it’s selfless and we are not naturally selfless people. So help your children to empathize. Help them understand how difficult life can be for those kids who can’t live with their mommy’s and daddy’s right now. Help them to cry over that kind of a broken world. Help them understand that we are all adopted kids who look for love and acceptance from a heavenly Father.
As a family, you may not be called to foster or adopt children, at least not in an official capacity, but there are ways to help those whose hearts cry for love and acceptance more than anything else.
Here are some things to keep in mind as you do:
- Foster kids often hate that label, it can be shameful to them.
- It can take time to win the hearts of these kids. We need to be patient while we wait for them to come around and accept our love. Remember that they have broken hearts; it might be easier for them not to love than to risk another broken heart.
- These kids might have some challenges like ADHD or Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. That makes being friends a bit more challenging, but remember we are all the “least of these” at something! There is ALWAYS a way to connect to a child’s heart.
- Finally, talk to the foster and adoptive parents you know! Ask them how you and your kids can help them as their raise their children.
Ask the Lord for a strategy to teach relentless love and acceptance to your kids. Then ask Him if there are children you know of who you have over to your house for some play-time with your own kids.