In this series, we’ve talked about the importance of making strong commitments to our children, and that we have to be willing to make one-way commitments.  However, one-way does not mean unlimited. Each of us has different skill sets, emotional resources, and levels of what we can tolerate. Not all commitments have to be open-ended or permanent. You may not be the person who can promise a child that this will be their home as long as they want it. Early in my service as a foster parent, my job left me limited free time. I could promise only short periods of foster care, so I served as an emergency and short-term placement. Those children needed a safe place to stay while the system found a longer-term place, and I could provide that. I wish that the system and I could have given them a permanent home, but I could offer only the resources that I had.

Even limited commitments can be invaluable. When I shifted to long-term foster care, I sometimes had to go out of town for week-long trial terms. I was able to remain in the long-term program only because other foster homes were available to provide respite care during those weeks. Every family can benefit from a group of people whose individual limited commitments add up to a strong safety net for your children.

Know your limits and be honest about them. I am in awe of foster parents who care for medically fragile children, while some of those parents have wondered aloud how I could be so calm about temper tantrums and runaways. Neither of us would be a good fit for the other’s children. Likewise, I understand older children and teenagers much more than babies or toddlers. Younger children are adorable, but they are a mystery to me. Anyone needing me to care for a baby for any period of time had best leave several how-to manuals with very good indexes.

Far too often, I have seen well-meaning and desperate case workers talk foster parents into accepting a child whose needs were outside their skill set. I rarely have seen those placements work out well, and the resulting disruption caused additional trauma for the child.

Even more often, I have seen stepparents flit into and then out of children’s lives. The divorce rates for second and third marriages is frightening, as high as 60% and 73% respectively in some surveys. I understand that the reasons are complex, but I also understand that the damage to the children caught in those disrupted families is incalculable. If helping to raise children is not in your skill set, then either learn how to do it or end the relationship. Do not commit to a family unless you are willing to make the sacrifices necessary to keep your promises. Know your limits before you add to the trauma that children already have suffered.

There is no shame in having limits.  None of us is a superhero, and each of us has only 24 hours in a day.  Some of us come into a relationship with our own wounds that need healing before we can help anyone else.  Whatever our circumstances, it is vital that we know our limits and do not promise more than we can do.


Debbie Ausburn

Helping foster parents and stepparents learn how to be the person who is not supposed to be there.