Every child is unique. Every foster parent is unique. Their journeys together will be unique as well. When discussing becoming a foster parent with experienced families, you’ll find common themes of love and growth– and each story has its own heart-wrenching moments of joy and struggle.
Today, we’re talking with foster parenting veterans Jonathan Stahl and Kelly Patterson about their roles as foster parents. These families opened their hearts to children in need of a place to call home. When asked about the most rewarding part of becoming a foster parent, their answers are strikingly similar: Jonathan says, “seeing the successes of our sons,” and Kelly, “watching them soar.”
They’ve woven different stories as foster families, with different children coming into their lives with unique needs and dreams. Yet both the Stahl and Patterson families have found enrichment in their own lives through the successes of the children they helped to raise.
If you’re curious about what it really means to be a foster parent — the behind-the-scenes stories that you might not have heard before — read on to see what these families have to say about their experiences!
A Matter of the Heart
Jonathan and Kelly demonstrate that being a foster parent is a matter of the heart. When considering becoming a foster parent, you might question if that desire comes from within, and these parents can attest to the fact that often, you know deep down whether this is for you.
Kelly shares experience in caregiving from a very young age: consistently babysitting or nannying, and later serving as a youth pastor. She describes her foster parenting journey as one that requires significant passion but that offers deep fulfillment. Having previous caregiving experiences or desires may be good indicators that your desire to nurture and raise children as a foster parent has a solid foundation.
Jonathan and his wife share that they had always wanted to adopt and realized their calling to be foster parents along the way. While the journey hasn’t always been easy, it is in many ways the fulfillment of a shared dream.
Never Say Never
Just as life throws curveballs, becoming a foster parent entails plot twists that require creativity and adaptability. When first training to become foster parents, Jonathan and his wife fully believed they only wanted to follow the foster-to-adoption path and foster young boys between the ages of 0 and 6. Despite fears of heartbreak at sending a child home to their biological parents and fears of the challenges caring for older children bring, they ended up doing both.
“We knew we wanted to foster boys 0-6 and soon had our first placement of two awesome boys,” Jonathan recalls. “I immediately fell in love with them and the fear of having to send them home came right back. I reluctantly went to their case plan and met their parents. When I met their dad I saw someone who loves his kids deeply and who was trying to change his life for them. A year later we did exactly what we said we wouldn’t be able to… We successfully sent two kids home to their dad, who we had become friends with along the way.”
Jonathan and his wife also fostered older children; their only regret being that they hadn’t taken that leap sooner.
Support for Mind, Body, and Spirit
Foster parenting includes the daily, practical efforts that go into caregiving of children, but also requires tireless emotional support.
When becoming a foster parent, Kelly shares that her biggest challenge was adjusting to the whirlwind to-do list that came with the new child in her home. “You have so many things that have to be done so fast,” she said. “You must go to the doctor, dentist, eye doctor, new school, new clothes, meet bio-family, learn a new social worker’s way of doing things. The first month is really hard but after that you and the kiddo will find your routine and it will become easier.”
“I love watching the process of a kiddo finding out they are worth being fought for,” Kelly reflects.
Aside from the practical needs, foster parents take on much more than extra errands or tasks. “I don’t think anyone can fully describe the joy or the pain that is involved in fostering,” Jonathan says. He goes on to talk about some of the most rewarding moments, citing a few: “the 3 am conversations through tears where they allow you to comfort them and open up. Seeing them grow, change, fail, get back up and keep going.”
Expect to Need Help
Whether it’s seeing a therapist, taking advantage of the trauma training for foster parents, or leaning on other foster parents, Jonathan and Kelly both emphasize how vital various resources are for foster parenting.
“Listen to the trauma training,” Jonathan advises. “It works. Teenage boys aren’t scary, they are children that need love, hugs, ‘I love yous’… even the ones who seem really tough.”
Kelly echoes similar advice, and suggests finding a therapist to handle your own challenges as a foster parent, as well as consulting multiple people with questions. “Do your research when you have a question and don’t ask just one person,” she offers. “Make sure you have a community of foster parents who are on the same journey as you.”
Prepare to Never Be the Same Again
Kelly jokes, “My husband, well, he still loves me,” when describing the number of children she’s brought into their home to care for.
“It is addictive. Once it gets in your heart you will never be the same.” Kelly says.
Jonathan has similar sentiments. “I’ve become a lot tougher than I thought I’d be,” he says. “I’ve had to deal with parenting situations that I never dreamed I’d be in. [My wife] and I have had to be a well-oiled machine and it’s definitely stretched us.”
As Jonathan and Kelly reveal, foster parenting is not for the faint of heart. It challenges, changes and inspires those who take it on. But for those lucky enough to do it, the rewards are immeasurable.
Foster parents are needed in every community so children can remain close to what is familiar to them, especially their families and schools. They provide a safe and caring environment, and help ensure that a child continues to receive the education, medical care and support they need to thrive. They also play an important role in helping children recover from the trauma and/or neglect they have experienced. KVC is here to help you along your foster parenting journey. Learn more about becoming a foster parent here.