By Zach DeLoach
This was originally posted on December 7, 2017 at zacharydeloach.wordpress.com.
On Labor Day this year, our lives changed dramatically. After nine months of appointments, stomach aches, sleepless nights, answering questions we didn’t really know the answers to, keeping secrets, going to classes, reading books, and filling out paperwork, my wife and I finally became parents. And you might be thinking, “yay, babies”…but our baby is five-foot-nine, sleeps through the night, and already talks and walks as well as you and me. Oh, also, he’s thirteen years old.
It’s now been over three months since we became foster parents, and, without trying to overstate my case, it’s already been the most amazing and the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. Each day brings something new. Some days it’s new joy, and some days it’s new hardship or even sorrow. However, every single day has been completely worthwhile.
My short time as a foster parent has not only been an emotional experience, but also an educational experience as well. I’ve learned three (and probably more) little lessons that I’ve conveniently expounded upon below, each with its own concise aphorism for simplicity’s sake. If you’re looking for a little life lesson, or perhaps you’re in need of a pithy phrase for a new tattoo, then, by all means, read on.
Normal is boring.
Foster parenting is not a particularly normative way of building a family. While it may frequently be viewed as an admirable endeavor, I often hear people say things such as: Don’t you want kids of your own? I could never be a foster parent because I would get too attached. Aren’t you just practicing for your real kids someday? It’s great that you’re doing that, but it’s just not right for our family. Can you not conceive biologically?
These questions and statements are not only ignorant and offensive, but they also serve to ostracize those who choose to build their families through foster care and adoption. They make it clear that what we are doing as foster parents is just not normal.
To compound this, I’m twenty-five and my kid is thirteen, meaning that I’m not even old enough to be his biological father (unless I was a particularly precocious twelve-year-old). When I go to my kid’s football games or wrestling tournaments, I’m far more likely to be mistaken for a competitor’s brother than his parent. That is certainly not normal.
Normal twenty-five year-olds aren’t parents to teenagers. Normal twenty-five-year-olds are out exploring the world, finding themselves, or at least trying to have as good a time as possible as they settle into a career. And if a normal twenty-five-year-old is a parent, the child certainly isn’t going to be older than two or three years old.
At times, I feel like a fraud because I’m not old enough to be a parent to a teenager. At other times, I feel like an idiot for not doing the things a guy my age should be doing. Basically, I feel like I’m somehow wrong for not being normal.
Thankfully, in my more sensible moments, I’m able to recognize a truth that is greater than what I feel, and that is this: normal is boring.
(I’m pretty sure I stole that maxim from a children’s book, but whatever.)
It’d be possible for me to just fall in line and do the things that are expected of a normal twenty-five-year-old millennial (“ugh, millennials”), but there’s no adventure, no risk, no excitement in that. Frankly, it’s just boring. Plus, in my experience, very little difference in the world is made by those who are trying to be normal.
I’m not Superman–and I shouldn’t try to be.
When my wife and I first decided that we wanted to build our family through foster care and adoption, it became my objective to adopt all the kids in foster care–at least within the state of Kansas. After all, there are literally thousands of children who are waiting to be adopted, so why shouldn’t I foster and adopt as many as a child placing agency would allow?
In effect, I wanted to be the Superman for kids in foster care. That’s why, before our kid was placed with us, we very nearly were chosen to adopt a sibling set of five (yes, five) children. That would certainly have been a Superman undertaking.
But here’s the problem: I’m not Superman. Having raised a single child for the past three-plus months, the thought that I was that close to having five children placed with me is terrifying and overwhelming. Because I’m not Superman–and I shouldn’t try to be.
Currently, my kid is thriving from the individual attention he gets from having two parents all to himself. If we had another child living with us (or, God forbid, four…), then we wouldn’t be able to give him the love and quality time that he craves. I could certainly insist on being Superman and fill my house with as many kids as possible, but this could end up being detrimental to my child’s emotional needs. If I’m trying to be Superman to everyone, then I’m not being Superman to anyone.
This isn’t to say that I should be the Superman to the one child I do have, because I can’t be that either. I can’t fill every single role and every single need he has. After all, he has another parent, he has friends, he has teammates, he has extended family, he has teachers, he has coaches, and he has mentors. If I’m trying to be Superman for him, then it’s only for my own emotional satisfaction and not for his benefit.
My goal shouldn’t be to be Superman to my child or any other child. My goal should be to be the best parent I can be to the child in my care. And while there’s a lot of pressure in that, there’s certainly a lot less pressure in that than in being Superman.
During the first few weeks of being a foster parent, I often found myself feeling very unqualified for the job: not old enough, not experienced enough, not masculine enough. I’m a terrible cook, I’m horrible with tools, and I’d be completely hopeless in a survival situation. As silly as it may sound, I couldn’t help but wonder what I really had to offer him as a parent. What life skills can I impart to him that he doesn’t already have? Why is he better off living with me than he is living somewhere else?
As much as I loved being his parent, I couldn’t help but feel inadequate and unqualified, like I was an impostor.
But one day I came to a realization while feeling sorry for myself. Yes, it’s true: I wasn’t able to fix my air conditioning or washing machine when they simultaneously malfunctioned, and I have no interest in riding dirt bikes or learning to fix a car. However, when my child needed a place to call home and a family to love him, I said yes.
Willingness matters. I may not be the most experienced, the most handy, or the most manly guy out there, but every day I renew my willingness to love and care for this boy as if he were biologically mine, and that matters. Of course, qualifications and experience are important as well, but they don’t mean anything without the willingness to take a leap of faith and do something meaningful.
There’s a clever Christian platitude I heard once that is somewhat relevant to this point: “God doesn’t call the qualified; God qualifies the called.” As much as I cringed while typing that, it’s true. Qualifications matter, but I’m going to argue that willingness to do what it takes to fulfill a need matters more.