“You start out with love.”
Over the years, Karen and her husband, Kent Strachan, have been foster parents to more than 40 kids over 20 years and have adopted 11 of them.
Karen Strachan calls St. Vincent Catholic Charities in Lansing, Michigan, their partners in parenting. St. Vincent’s has helped them with case workers who are therapists. “Their faith-based environment makes a difference in the way that they love, care for and nurture their families. … This isn’t just a job” for the social workers there, Strachan says.
“As soon as I get my children, I hug them right away. And I let them know how happy I am for them to be in our home. And usually the first week we bond and start connecting with them, and let them know, a lot of times, where I come from [she was also in foster care as a child], so we can identify with each other. And I let them know that no matter what is the outcome of their case, that we will always be a part of their history. ... We are there to support them.
“We’ve kept the same phone number for over 30 years. And all my kids know they can call anytime. They are welcome to come. They are always in our hearts, so they know that.”
Sometimes, she tells me, the call may come from jail. They might want the Strachans to break the news to their parents. They know they have unconditional love.
Strachan knows a lot of people don’t think about becoming foster parents because they fear they would become too attached when a child may only be in their home temporarily.
“Well, it’s not like my heart is of stone,” Strachan tells me. “Being a foster parent isn’t easy. You love them so much, and you pour yourself into them.” In fact, she explains, “this is one of the hardest parts.”
Connecting and bonding are essential, after all. Foster parents have to teach children “to connect and attach, because ... one of their main issues is attachment. And ... that attachment’s the foundation for the rest of their life in all their relationships.”
She trains foster parents and emphasizes that this has to come before anything else. “Begin connecting. Connect before you correct.” And she’s honest about how that will tear at their hearts should the children leave them — which they need to be prepared for, because foster care, while it is not always, is meant to be temporary.
She also tries to “broaden their horizons a little bit.” She asks: “Well, if we don’t do it, then who will?” These children “need people who are willing to have their heart broken — that’s the kind of people they need. … Your heart hurts because you’re going to miss them. If it doesn’t miss them then something’s not been right.”
The likes of the Strachans — anyone willing to consider foster care and adoption — are witnesses to us of the love of God. I think of that every time a prayer in the Mass or the Liturgy of the Hours talks about our own adoption. Just the other day there was: “O God, by whom we are redeemed and receive adoption, look graciously upon your beloved sons and daughters, that those who believe in Christ may receive true freedom and an everlasting inheritance.”
At last count, 2016, there were 437,500 children in foster care. The opioid crisis is making that worse. Not everyone is called to be a foster parent, but how many ask, “Lord, is this something you want from me?” And how many of us pour love onto families who foster and adopt around us? They are dealing with levels of emotion that are inconceivable to most of us. Let’s love them, too, as God loves us.
Kathryn Jean Lopez is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review and co-author of “How to Defend the Faith Without Raising Your Voice” (OSV, $17.95).