Sitting down with Sheila
Fostering is a calling that is best understood by those who have become foster parents themselves. Hear from one of our teen foster parents, Sheila Wagler-Mills, as she shares a piece of her fostering journey.
What led you to specifically foster teenagers?
Sheila: I originally felt it would be most helpful for me to foster older children because I know many others prefer younger children, so there would be more available older children needing homes. I have already raised teens and knew I could do it. However, now that I have done it a few times, I really just enjoy it and prefer it.
What do you think some myths are about fostering teens?
Sheila: One myth is that teens are too old to make a difference in their lives, and this just isn't true. Many of them simply haven't had an opportunity to be in a loving supportive home. They are often grateful for the opportunity to have someone to pour into them and help them grow and find their way in life. It takes time at any age to recover from trauma and broken attachments, but the teens I have had in my home have been as responsive to love as the younger children I have raised. We don't ever quit responding to love.
I also believe there is a frequent myth that teens will be much more difficult to control. The reality is that kids from hard places of any age can struggle behaviorally. That is a reality of foster parenting. But for me the behaviors of younger children are often more challenging. I love that I can sit and talk with teens and share common interests. They usually have not had a lot of one-on-one attention or the love of a family and are happy to spend time together. They often want someone in their lives who can provide guidance and help them consider options for their future. For me that is so meaningful.
What do teens specifically need from their foster parents?
Sheila: I think they need meaningful time together more than anything, but handled with sensitivity to recognize that they will not likely be able to trust quickly. They have probably had years of broken promises and mistreatment and we need to recognize they are most likely expecting more of the same. When I asked my now adopted daughter what foster youth need from new families, she said "We need time." She was referencing the time and space needed to learn to trust and to tell their stories and to be open to guidance. It's hard to trust when no one has been trustworthy, but being part of a family where they can learn to trust is a game changer.
What have you learned from the teens you have fostered?
Sheila: I could write a book on this. They have taught me so much. They have taught me the value of trust and connections. They have shown me the beauty of forgiveness and resilience after adversity. That you can overcome almost anything and become a story of redemption. That you can turn what Satan meant for harm into good. They have taught me that God, who is the author of adoption, puts something in us that allows for a connection that is not dependent on blood to be as strong as any biological bond.
Anything else you want to share about your story of fostering teenagers?
Sheila: I just want to say that fostering teens has been one of the greatest joys of my life. Seeing them respond to loving connections and learn to trust and become who they were created to be is indescribable. It's hard work for sure. But so worth it.
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