Give Teens a Chance

In December, our foster son, who had been with us for over eight months, reunified with his birth family and moved across the country. After he left, we declared our family on a “break from foster care,” anticipating at least a few months off while we regrouped and reestablished ourselves as a family of five.

Six weeks later, I got a Monday morning text from his case manager that went something like this: “I know you’re on a break from foster parenting, but I have this really wonderful teenage girl I need a home for. She’s had to move a lot while we look for a placement for her, and I wondered if she could stay with you for a week or so while we find her a long-term home.”

A very brief conversation and a few hours later, she showed up in our driveway. (One of those conversations was with our licensor, who had to get permission from her supervisor to give us a temporary amendment to our license, as we were only licensed for children ages birth-twelve.) We were dressed alike (camouflage cargo pants and black hoodies) and she was holding a guitar, which I play as well. A few days later, she moved the rest of her stuff in and we all told the case worker to stop looking—she found the family for this girl.

No one is more surprised than I am that we have a teenager living in our house. I have been terrified of the prospect of having a teenager. I have dreaded our own kids’ teen years, which are still a long ways off, let alone bringing an unknown adolescent into the mix. I’ve heard the horror stories. I feared the worst.

I could not have been more wrong. When we opened our home to a teenager—this teenager—we didn’t just give her the gift of family and home; she gave us the gift of herself. She is respectful, funny, and wise beyond her years. She loves the music I listened to in high school, plays guitar and writes songs, and is wonderful with our kids, who adore her. We talk easily, laugh together and when things are hard (we do have to “parent” her sometimes, we do have to say “no” sometimes, and we do have to find the delicate balance between “giving her space” and “making sure she doesn’t throw her life away by not getting her schoolwork done”), we discuss it and work through it, usually over mugs at a local coffee shop or bowls of popcorn after the little ones have gone to bed or riding in the car.

I don’t know what the future holds for our teenager and our family. It’s still early, of course, and I’m aware that she might decide our family is not where she wants to plant herself forever. We are open to all sorts of possibilities, including permanency (adoption) if that’s what she wants if/when the time comes, but only time will tell.

But I do know this: she has redefined my expectations. Our license is amended—we can now care for children from birth to eighteen. While I know that not all teens are like her, I’m not afraid of them anymore. I realize now that welcoming a teenager into your home can add tremendous blessing and value.

To riff off John Lennon, all I am saying is, give teens a chance.

I’m sure glad we did.