A friend of mine who is just starting out as a foster parent texted me yesterday:

Any advice on how to respond to people who say things like “you’re such an inspiration” “you’re such a blessing to her”?  I feel like I want to answer/correct with paragraphs which is rarely appropriate the situation so I end up just keeping my mouth shut?! 

Whether this equips another foster parent with a helpful answer or to reminds someone else not to say this, let’s answer this question. Is it wrong to tell a foster parent they’re ‘a good person’ or ‘an inspiration’?

First, thank you, stranger, for meaning something good. Sometimes people say unkind things on purpose, so I’m always going to give you the benefit of the doubt for trying to be positive.

Unfortunately, the implication behind your statement is: That child is an unwanted burden. Even if you didn’t think that when you said it, you don’t look at someone with a delicious chocolate ice cream cone and tell them they’re a good person for eating it. You don’t tell the average person he’s an inspiration; you say that to the person facing cancer. Saying I’m a good person means I’m handling an undesired task so the rest of you don’t have to. And that’s not what I’m doing.

“But, wait!” you argue, “You are!” Nope. She is not a cause. He is not a task. Go tell the executive director of our agency that he’s a good person. Go tell the caseworker she’s an inspiration. Go tell the CASA he’s going to heaven. They are involved in a cause. I am parenting a child. And children are a precious gift, made in the image of God. I’m honored to have whoever God sends me to care for in this home. That’s why my good answer is:

Actually, she’s an awesome kid, so we think we’re the lucky ones!

This gives the speaker a moment to realize they just implied that a child (who is often standing right in front of them) was some form of hardship, a burden. Something society needs cleaned up. From experience, I’ve seen this response can change their perspective without correcting them, and sometimes they actually offer a follow-up that’s more appropriate.

Please, be impressed when people fight for kids in foster care. In fact, become a CASA! Raise money for a foster care agency! Be that good person! But if you’re talking to me, I consider what I’m doing a privilege. You don’t need to thank me, be impressed by me, be inspired by me, or think I’m a good person. In fact, foster parenting is great! Let me talk to you about why you should pray about being a foster parent, too.

Kelley Rose Waller and her husband Matt are foster parents and have two biological sons.  She is the Vice President of Masterpiece Marketing in Lancaster, PA. Her second novel, Going Back Cold, was released in 2019. Read more at www.kelleyrosewaller.com.

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