It takes a community to raise a child. Bearing that and our position of community leadership in mind, we became acutely aware that any decision we took on the issue of fostering would have ramifications above and beyond our immediate family. More than that, we knew that if we did end up caring for children we would need help, advice and support. Everybody in a parenting role needs that; if you take the traditional biological route you tend to get built-in networks of people at a similar stage. We wouldn’t have that; so we’d need to seek it out. So it seemed only fair to include our networks in the decision taking process.
An important distinction to draw is that we didn’t want to remove responsibility for the decision from ourselves. This was and will remain our decision. However it’s clear that God likes to speak in and through relationships – the Biblical prophets proclaimed truth to a people, not individuals; Jesus taught crowds; Paul wrote letters to be read out to gathered congregations. So we invited members of our local community to gather around us and help us listen to God around one specific question: What is God saying to us about fostering? Not should we foster; not what sort of child should we foster; not to get parenting advice … although all of those are important and helpful. No; we wanted to get a sense of what, if anything, God might be saying to us about fostering.
We specifically invited a group of local people who know us and have some specific experience or knowledge in this area; we then flung the invitation open, inviting people not local to pray and support us from a distance. On Saturday we gathered – about 15 of us – over breakfast to listen to God and each other. Bev spent some time with the children present, enabling them to contribute to the process; I spent time with the adults. The children painted a picture of what our family’s future could look like, and the adopted children present wrote down for us what they felt we should know. With the adults I outlined the story so far; we listened to God in silence and through Scripture; we listened to God through each other; and we prayed some more.
It’s a humbling, vulnerable process inviting people – even people you feel you know well – to speak so directly to you. It involves a willing ceding of control, a crucifixion of the desire to be in command. As we did so, we were graced with a few themes of what God might be saying. One was around the importance of children in His purposes; another was of the fact that we are all – children or adult – dependent on God for good things; we would need to continue to depend on others throughout this process. We became aware of issues within ourselves and the process and the culture around us that could make the process of fostering a difficult one. We were pointed in the direction of other people and places we could look for wisdom, insight and support.
Essentially we emerged from a short but intensive morning with no answers, some wisdom and a few more questions to ask of ourselves and others. Which is what we expected, but perhaps we didn’t expect that strange sense of conscious disempowerment that comes from committing to undertaking the process in such a public way. All of which may be strangely apt, giving us maybe a hint of what it feels like to be a child moved from home to home – disempowered, but held.
Which may be the point, after all.
This series will continue as and when there is more to report. For part one, click here.