One of the questions I am most often asked is: “Why?” Family members, friends, neighbors and new acquaintances all want to know why.
“Why did you become a foster parent?”
Maybe one reason I get asked this so often is because in my circle of middle class suburban friends and family, becoming a foster parent is not particularly typical. I can understand the curiosity. Why would someone who grew up with no connection to the child welfare system, who didn’t have a single friend who entered care, who never personally knew anyone who’d been a foster parent … what makes that person arrive at this choice?
I feel the expectation in the moment after the question is asked. As a writer, I spend my life examining the meaning of words, arranging them just so to tell stories in a way that connects us and our experiences to each other. So, I should have a really good answer to this question. But even now, almost four years since my husband and I first began the licensing process, I stumble my way through this conversation.
Sometimes I say it’s because we moved across the country when our biological son was a toddler; by the time we were finally settled in new jobs and a new home, we felt we were past the “baby stage,” but we still wanted to parent more children.
Sometimes I say we always knew we wanted to adopt, but private newborn adoption and international adoption weren’t the right fit for us. So, we decided to foster with the idea that we might be a permanent option for a child who couldn’t be reunified with biological family.
Sometimes I say we saw a need, we knew we had the ability to help fill that need, and it’s not much more complicated than that.
All of those answers have truth in them, but none of them are the full picture. Maybe I don’t really know why. And maybe I don’t need to. I don’t know why I despise running but crave hiking. I just do. I don’t know why the ocean gives me peace or why I can’t stomach the smell of peanut butter. I can’t pinpoint a specific reason, a one-liner, to explain why my husband is the person I was supposed to marry. I’m not even sure I could define my desire to become a mother in the first place.
Some things are innately within us, and other things develop over time from experience and conversation and reflection. It’s impossible for me to pinpoint the exact intersection of all of it to land at a satisfying why.
Maybe the problem is that it’s not the right question. Maybe the how of it is more productive, more helpful, more easily understood.
“How did you become foster parents?”
Oh, well, I did a little research. I contacted the statewide adoption network, which sent me a list of approved agencies in my county. I called a couple of them and found one that felt like a good fit. We met with a caseworker, began attending trainings, submitted paperwork for background checks. The process is time-intensive but fairly straightforward.
Or another how: “How can I help? How can I help you or other foster parents or children in care?”
You don’t have to be a foster parent to make a difference in the lives of kids in care. You can volunteer at a local agency. You can donate coats in the winter and tickets to a baseball game in the summer. You can become a Court-Appointed Special Advocate or you could grant a child’s wish. Any one of those things make a difference, make a child feel special, make a foster parent feel less isolated.
Over time, my answer to how is becoming more refined, more specific, more powerful. My answer to why is becoming a footnote.
Why? Well, because.
Meghan Moravcik Walbert is a former journalist, a freelance writer and essayist, and a foster parent. Her writing on foster parenthood has been featured in a variety of publications and websites, including The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Today’s Parent, Lifehacker and Brain, Child. She was named a BlogHer 2015 and 2016 Voice of the Year and was a cast member of the 2015 Listen To Your Mother: Lehigh Valley show. She lives in Eastern Pennsylvania with her husband and son. You can follow her work here.
connect with Meghan