The Gift We Are Given

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Did you ever stop to think about the gift you're given as a foster parent? We all know the gift you give to a child is invaluable. We are aware of the struggles, sacrifices, and trials one endures when they become a foster parent. But, what about the gifts?

God has given foster parents the gift of skill in parenting. He has taught us through experience what is good parenting. We have seen up close what is bad parenting when we visit with some birth parents. Foster parents have discovered the differences through this guidance and now we have become the experts. This career of child rearing should be numbered among the most important and we are the professionals. This is a gift. Our knowledge and experience are treasures we and others should value.

Another gift, is the chance to do over whatever you did wrong with your own children. The gift of a second chance to be an even better parent is one foster parents rarely think of or recognize. Most foster parents were excellent parents the first time around, but the few mistakes these folks made still haunt them. They are conscientious people who wish to perfect their parenting. This is a gift which enables them to do just that.

The gift most of us do recognize is the chance to mother or father a child again. This is a rare event only a few special chosen people get to enjoy. When our kids are raised successfully and then move into their own lives, some of us experience the empty nest syndrome. Foster kids can fill the void, even though technically they are not our own kids, most foster parents wish to do for them as though they are their own. We treat them in the same way and have the same hopes for them as our natural kids. The gift we receive is being able once again to take part in a child's growing and learning. We are able to give of ourselves and in so doing, produce a functional adult.

The gifts a foster parent receives include the ability to stay young. Kids have a tendency to keep people young by their very nature. They are active, busy beings who require constant attention. This is healthy for any parents of any age since it means inactivity will not set in. We all know work doesn't kill people, but it is the lack of meaningful activity, which does. Kids add a dimension to your life that keeps you vibrant and lively.

A gift you may not have thought about is that children are guides to the future. They sweep you up in their enthusiasm as they show you what they've learned about life, the world, and the upcoming millenium. We watch in amazement at the technological advances our youth understands that we are still trying to grasp. The kids are hearing about future ideas and products that will result in a changed world. They keep us abreast of this phenomenon even when they don't intend to share their learning.

Older folks without young people around seem to sometimes be out of it meaning they do not know what is happening in the world today. Kids keep us also informed of what is happening around us whether it is an obscure fact they learn at school or the fact that Jamie got her belly button pierced. We are party to the world as it is today. Without kids, it is easy to focus on only folks our own age.

When I was a full time day care mom, it seemed I was starting to forget how to communicate with adults. I suddenly did not remember what real conversation was like. It came from too many cartoons and too much Kool-Aid, I'm sure. I often found my hand would fly out automatically in front of an adult riding in my car protecting him from hitting the windshield. I once did this to a very startled real estate agent. When I started to be a foster parent with teens, once again my language suffered. This time it was not that I could not speak to adults, but it slipped into street talk and became shall we say a bit too colorful at times. You live what you're around. With adults who live alone, they tend to focus too much on themselves. Their health, their needs, their upcoming events are all they have. It is their whole world. With a house full of foster kids, you have your own and each of theirs to focus on. It gives you the gift of being able to step outside yourself. You become others centered rather than self-centered. This is a good thing since most self-centered people tend to be very unhappy.

As you become less self-centered, your interests expand. This is doubly the case with a bunch of foster kids. Every one of these children will have their own special interests, hobbies, sports likes and dislikes, music, clothing, books, or art. One day, you may be learning about Tai Kwon Do and the next about a not so famous baseball player. You will find yourself at the music store helping to look for the newest album known only by its all blue cover with a streak of red on it or hunting for some new, just -starting- to -catch on, fashion statement accessory that your foster daughter must wear tomorrow.

You will become an expert in many things so among your gifts is that of learning. I have learned a great deal about diabetes when an occasion to parent a kid with that disease arose. Many of you can recite all the side effects of certain medicines and which meds are better for specific conditions. I think many foster parents are as knowledgeable on these topics as any nurse. You know what signs to look for to determine the use of illegal chemicals and you are well versed on the newest illicit drugs on the schoolyard. We become those in the know with so many subjects simply because we need that knowledge to better parent these kids. Learning is another gift.

On the flip side of learning is the gift of being a teacher. We teach lessons and life skills that can turn young folks lives around. What an awesome responsibility to change a life, but what a gift. To be a part of forming young minds is a wonderful thing. To be the one who gave them the look at their future career is a very important first step. You might have taught them a value, an ethic, or a moral, which has made them an outstanding citizen. Teachers are revered and every parent is a teacher.

You have the gift of being the first person to watch a child enjoy a certain activity. Some kids who come to foster care have led sheltered lives. They may have never caught a fish, or attended a stock car race, or even planted a garden. You can teach them a new card game or take them to a restaurant where they never ate before. Watching them experience new things is such a gift since if not for you, it may have never happened.

To see how excited a kid, who does appreciate things, gets when he finally has them is wonderful. To see laughter on faces that only have known pain is a blessing. When you are responsible for these things, you feel good about yourself.

Then, there is that special gift of love. A chance to receive love is always a gift. A chance to give love is as well. No one has too much love. Have you ever heard anyone complain, they don't have room for any more love? Did you notice love fits all sizes and shapes and types of human beings? Are you aware of love being always the just right emotion for every occasion? Both giving and receiving love is a gift.

Sharing your beliefs and faith is a gift. Sharing your hopes and dreams with someone is a gift. Some foster kids become members of the family and that is a gift. Others become a valued friend, another gift. Occasionally, one foster kid who has driven you crazy, pushed all your buttons, and tried your patience-goes home. See, another gift.

But seriously folks, the gifts to the foster parent are too numerous to list. There are those candid moments when you get to look into another human beings soul. There are flashes of brilliance when you come up with the solution to solve a problem after lots of failures. There is the light of awakening in a child's life as an important decision is made. There are those times when you are the one to whom the real child is revealed. There are those inexplicable silly moments, of uncontrollable laughter when relief is experienced or the solemn quiet moment of peace in a crowded house. These are all gifts and only fully appreciated by those who give their hearts and homes to at- risk kids.

So the next time, when the newest kid has broken the same rule for the twelfth time, or the maintenance check is late and the cupboards are bare, or you are exhausted and wish you could clone yourself; don't dwell on these things. Remember why you foster. Remember your gifts.

To all you foster parents; give yourself time to receive the gifts that are your right and thank you for being there for those who truly need you.

Credits: Jo Ann Wentzel

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