Monday, February 27, 2006

Do you have to be co-dependent to be a foster parent?

Somebody (not my sponser, just a friend) emailed me and asked me the following question:

[I]t gives me great satisfaction to give a hot sandwich to a homeless person outside a 7-11 but I don’t look for homeless people and cruise by 7-11 with money in hand for that purpose. Why the desire to do what you're doing? … I wonder what it is that makes a FP [foster parent] "tick" so to speak. What is it that is missing inside to do what you do? Does that make sense? I'm NOT putting you down; quite the opposite. I'm just wondering WHY you do such a thing. (And God bless you for doing it!) I guess what my mind is asking is has any psychological testing been done on foster parents to see what it is that, to ME, seems "unusual."

I really do think about this a lot. It surprises me that there is not more research on it. I have asked a lot of foster parents how they got started, because that is an easier question to answer. The answers seem to be:

1. It was the easiest way to adopt.
2. I knew this kid and...
3. I knew a foster family/my parents were foster parents and...

In the category of #2 here are some of the stories I know:
1. We knew the kid (student in my class, my kids' babysitter [that's me], he lived next door) and when the foster parents "got out of the business" we took him/her.
2. She came to spend the weekend with my daughter and her mother was arrested.
3. "We knew the father/mother was abusing/neglecting the child and called social services over and over and they didn't do anything. We finally said that if they removed the kid we would take him/her. Maybe they would have acted anyway, but..."
4. The first one was my neice/nephew/second-cousin and when social services called I felt I had to at least try.

When I asked them why they did it again, they don’t give me the sorts of answer that you are looking for. They say something like: we were able and we couldn’t say no. They stopped when they found they could say no.

I do think about this a lot. In my case is my foster parenting a manifestation of my co-dependency issues? Maybe. I think that being a good foster parent can be therapeutic for a co-dependent. As foster parents we are taught not to enable; we take kids we can help (hopefully); and at least some of them get a little better/stronger/more capable because of what we did for them.


So I know there are a couple of foster parents who read this blog. Why did you get into care? Why do you continue to give care? Do you think that foster parents share some sort of psychological characteristic?

I would love to know. If you are willing, put your answers in the comment box…or better yet: write about it on your own blog and let me know. I’ll put a link to it from here.

BTW: this means you too Granny! You don’t have to be a licensed foster parent…if you opened your home to children already born, you are invited to play!


  1. How about if I send you a link to the one I already wrote?

    Briefly, they already lived with me, their dad (my grandson) went to jail, their mother went nuts, and there was no one else except the system.

    The chances of them all being placed together for any length of time was non-existent.

    Basically, I kidnapped them and then called public health and social services to help me make it legal.

    I'm a legal guardian, not a foster parent, which means they can't be arbitrarily moved or sent back to their parents.

    Their mother is now doing quite well and spends time with them but we're not going to fix what isn't broken.

    I'll send you the link so you won't have to dig back through the archives.

    Why do I do it? Yourself excluded, foster care here is the luck of the draw. Elcie is physically handicapped, Rochelle has learning problems, and Rebecca is just this side of ADHD. They'd all be lost - this way they have a fighting chance.

    I don't mean that other foster parents aren't excellent and caring; it's just that social services are overworked here and investigations and followup aren't what they should be.

  2. For me, besides being a nepotism thing, it's part of an undiagnosed compulsive disorder, I think. I have a thing where when I see something that isn't right, IT MUST BE MADE RIGHT. Couple that with a willingness to pick up a project and work on it myself if I don't see anybody else doing the thing, and you've got a recipe for a foster parent. A highly annoying one who WILL NOT QUIT until whatever was wrong is put right.

    Of course, the kids resist this with all their might, and it ends up being a big hissing match.

    Maybe foster parents are those who were gladiators in a previous life and just couldn't give up the challenge.

  3. Granny's link:

  4. My (our) reasons were more selfish at first, but as more and more "reality" is revealed, you find yourself doing anything you can to help heal what is wrong with the world - your little piece at a time. Others are astonished that we can do this, and will keep doing it - likely even after we adopt, until we no longer can. It is a calling - some might call it like unto a religious calling. (I am a liberal feminist politically - but also pretty spiritual and rely on my faith to pull me through). I guess that's what's "unnatural" within me. Sometimes I think the "natural" side of humanity is pretty ugly - it's when we reach for the unnatural, or "supernatural" within us that we fair far better.

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