Why I became a foster parent
A gift I gave myself that keeps on giving: Opening our home and souls to our foster children
BY RICK LEED — Everyone understands the concept of ‘giving’ to a child in need by opening your home as a foster parent and potentially (though not necessarily) proceeding to adopt that child. The most common and simplest way to view this metamorphosis is that you are doing good by helping someone else — by sharing your safe, warm personal, family home with a child who might otherwise live in a ‘group home’ (the word that has replaced the word Dickens made famous, “orphanage”) .
It is true: you are doing good by helping another. But the good you are doing is hardly one-sided. There are many studies, much research, and a long social and spiritual history that shows that the biggest beneficiary is the giver of this gift. You benefit in so many ways even more than the child for whom you are providing foster care.
Many agree that charity and kindness done in secret is somehow the best kind.
A case study from a famous surgeon
Here is one of my favorite examples. It’s from a doctor who is a friend of mine. He is a wellness and fitness expert — and for the past two decades, also has happened to be the world’s most famous cosmetic surgeon:
“I met a young lady, a prospective patient, in my office for a consultation about plastic surgery.
“She was, to my eye, aesthetically perfect. But, I noticed that something was missing, namely, that inner light or radiance that comes from a good soul or a charitable and giving spirit.
“This intangible inner beauty is, in some way, what the woman may be reacting to when she sees herself her in the mirror and isn’t happy with her reflection. But instead, she is thinking that outside tweaks — a slighter thinner bridge on her nose, a minor chin re-shaping, or fuller or larger breasts — may give her the something she senses is missing. But I know it won’t really change the way she sees herself . . .”
“This is what I wish I could prescribe to the young woman: Go quietly, without calling your friends and announcing it, to a homeless shelter or soup kitchen or children’s hospital, and become a volunteer.
“After spending some hours doing something charitable like this, go home, and look in the mirror, just as you are, without makeup, with casual clothes, with your hair loose, unstyled, or in a ponytail. You will see a more beautiful you.
“You will see some kind of smile radiating from your face even if your lips are closed, and you will see a more beautiful person because the beauty you added is more valuable, more potent, than anything a plastic surgeon, a makeup artist, a hairdresser, or fashion stylist could add.”
The sacred contract of parenting
So, what is the relationship between the views of this enlightened plastic surgeon and the concept for the motivation for becoming a foster parent?
Well, certainly, it is absurd to think of so dramatically changing your life by becoming a foster parent in order to look more attractive via ‘inner spiritual beauty.’ Surely, some hours spent at a homeless shelter or hospital as a volunteer are less messy, and less demanding than becoming a foster parent.
But the truth is that we can light up our inner soul, our innermost spiritual beauty, by doing something as special as becoming a foster parent.
No, of course it is not for everyone. And it isn’t for someone who thinks it will make them look prettier on the outside by being a “prettier person on the inside” or for someone who thinks it will make others think of them as a “better person.”
Have you got “the right stuff” to be a foster parent?
There are many steps a person must take before doing this. They demand a bit more than the indignities of, say, flying in America post-9/11. Fingerprints, a criminal background check, foster parent classes and then — a kind of personality test: meeting the child/children to see if there is a ‘match.’
At each stage, one is called to truly question their own motivation: Is the idea that, “I am doing a good deed for a child in need”? That may be valid. But it is essential that you not sit back, awaiting gratitude from the child or from the people in the bureaucracy who entrusted you with the child.
Direct and overt gratitude (however deserving it might be) may be slow in coming, at least in a verbally-articulated way.
Maybe the truth is that the way to proceed is this: Don’t expect or ask for praise or commendation from anyone. Just do it. And just know that the heart that will be overflowing with gratitude will be your own. The life that will be enriched the most is actually your own.
The best way I heard it put was this way: A woman was helping her foster son with homework (not an easy task these days) while an adult friend of hers was present and watching. The friend said to the woman, “Boy, that boy is lucky that you came into his life!” And the parent responded happily, “Actually, I’m the one who is lucky he came into my life.”
Rick Leed is a Soul’s Code director, and successful film and television producer who has also developed international brands via cross-channel platforms. His credits include DR. 90210 for E!; plus content for MTV, Discovery, NBC, ABC, Paramount, Fox and Disney. He and his husband Joe raise David and Katie in a loving Los Angeles home with a swimming pool.