What Not to Say
by Christal Gavin, Clement Care Director
● Which child belongs to you / Is this a new foster child/ Are these all your kids?
● I couldn't do what you do / I would get too attached.
● They sure are lucky to have you / You are a superhero.
● How much do you get paid?
● Don’t you just want to keep them forever?
● What’s the story with their parents?
Our family has been fostering for nearly four years. In that time we’ve had thirteen children in and out of our home for varying lengths of time. With each child comes a new set of questions from usually well meaning people. I’m not typically an “on my feet” thinker. So, when someone asks me a question out of left field - I’m often at a loss for how to appropriately answer them. Needless to say, these questions have been asked time and time again - giving me time to think through my answers.
Which child belongs to you / Is this a new Foster Child / Are these all your kids!?
If you stumble across a family in Walmart who has multiple children following behind them like little ducklings in a row… It’s honestly none of your business if they all belong to that person or not. Some people have large families! Being asked (nearly every time we’re in public) if all these kids are mine gets a little tiring.
Are you going to judge me if they are? Are you going to judge me if they’re not? Let’s just skip this question all together. Instead try saying something like - “Gosh, what a great looking bunch you’ve got there!”
The same goes for, "Which child is yours?" For the foreseeable future they’re all “mine”. If you know a family well enough to know they foster, then you probably don’t need to ask, “Is this a new foster child?” It’s unlikely they’ve given birth to a 7 year old child since the last time you’ve seen them. Just assume it’s a new placement and default back to, “Gosh, what a great looking bunch you’ve got there!”
I couldn't do what you do. I would get too attached.
I’m not a robot. I also have feelings and always get too attached. Whether a child is in my home for 24 hours or 24 months, that child is now a part of my family. I give a little piece of my heart to every child who comes in my front door. And, every time they leave a little piece of my heart gets broken. But, you know what...that’s ok.
We’re supposed to get attached. We’re supposed to love that child with everything in us for as long as we have them. You could do it! You could get your heart broken just a little bit if it means giving a child a safe, loving home for any length of time. Often these children have experienced more heartbreak in their young lifetime than we’ve ever experienced. Get attached. Love them with all you’ve got! Your broken heart may be just what’s needed to mend theirs.
They sure are lucky to have you / You are a superhero.
While I understand the sentiment here, this phrase is always awkward to hear. These children aren’t “lucky to have me.” When they have me that means they don’t have their birth parents. If they’re a part of my family - that means their own family is currently disrupted. I’m grateful I can be here to fill in the gap. But, the reality is there’s nothing “lucky” about having a foster parent.
I’m not a superhero. I’m a person who is stepping into a messy situation and it often feels like I’m failing this child who has been entrusted in my care. Instead of referring to me as a superhero - consider offering alternative words of encouragement: “Thanks for loving this child well!” Or, “How can I help you?” I guarantee you, no foster parent feels like a superhero. In fact, most could use a helping hand!
How much do you get paid?
I was stunned by how often I get asked this question. The answer is, we do not get paid in the traditional sense; this is not a job. We receive a monthly stipend that is meant to go towards assisting the child(ren) with their basic necessities and allowing them to participate in extracurricular activities. Typically it’s not enough to cover both. Our family (and many families) are not “in it for the money”. Regardless of someone's intentions for fostering, this is never a polite question. If you are seriously considering fostering an appropriate alternative would be, “What resources do you receive as a foster parent to help you care for the child(ren)?”
Don’t you just want to keep them forever?
I was standing in a bowling alley. I had 4 of the 6 children standing next to me. A man who knew we were foster parents (but didn’t know me well) said, “So, if you’re asked to adopt them, are you gonna?” There is no easy way to answer this. First of all, this type of question should never be asked in front of children. Secondly, this is not a yes or no question. At this point, we had only had these particular kiddos in our home a few weeks. I was barely remembering all their names! I couldn’t tell you right then if I was equipped to adopt them should the opportunity arise.
In this situation if I say no these children may think they’re unwanted, unloved, etc. If I say, yes, I’m potentially setting them up for false hope. More importantly, the goal of fostering is always reunification. We don’t want to start talking about adoption and "what if’s" while a parent is working to reunify with their children. This is one of those questions best left unasked. If you know the family well, I’m sure they will share any adoption intentions with you when the appropriate time comes.
What’s the story with their parents?
A foster parent legally can not tell you about a biological parent due to privacy concerns. But, beyond that - It’s none of your business. This is not a TV drama. This is not a fictional story. This is a child, their life, their personal story. It’s not meant to be shared or exploited. If a child gets to a place where they feel comfortable enough to invite you into their story, your only response should be, Thank you for sharing that with me.”
Bonus Information | What’s your name?
Often people don’t know how to refer to us - the foster parents. Always refer back to the child. If the child refers to the foster parent as mom or dad, it is appropriate for you to also do so. If you’re unsure, you can always ask a leading question: "Who’s picking you up today?" or "Where’s your grown-up?" If the child is not around, you can simply ask the adult, "How should I reference you when the children are around?" They will let you know.
In general, foster parents are happy to share their personal stories and provide insights on how to be more involved. It’s okay to ask questions. However, consider asking your questions when the children aren’t present and be mindful of the intentions behind your questions. Remember the best question you can ask is, "How can I help?"
Foster and orphan care are a passion for Christal and her family. She and her husband, Mark, have been licensed foster parents since 2016. Christal and Mark, along with their 3 children, are members of Christ Community Church. Christal facilitates a growing network of such foster ministries with Clement Arts as Clement Care Director.
Clement Care is a partnership between Clement Arts, Live the Promise, and local churches who seek to establish foster care ministries within their congregations. Believing that the local church is the best answer to the foster care crisis, we facilitate a growing network of church foster care ministries in Muscogee, Harris, and Russell counties.