Fostering a Family with Amanda Carpenter"There are a lot of ways to be an advocate for life after birth. Foster care is one of those ways."
“This is a non-negotiable for me. If you’re going to date me, you have to accept that this is a big part of my life.” At a young age, Amanda Carpenter knew that she was going to be a foster parent one day. It was a deep connection for the foster care system that fueled her passion for wanting to be the best mentor and foster parent for children in the system. Amanda shares her experiences, learned lessons and advice with War Cry.
How did your “Space Workshops” begin and what do they consist of?
I wrote a 30-day devotional for women called “Space,” about a year ago. It was born out of a season in my life where I was so stressed out, overwhelmed and exhausted. Maybe on the outside, it looked as though I was perfectly fine, but internally, I was really struggling. As Christian women, we do a lot of things. I serve at my church, I’m a foster mom and I’m a wife. I was being applauded for all of these things I was doing, and of course, they’re good things. But yet, I felt like God was saying, “I want you to quit all of it. I want you to let go of all of it.” Even with God saying this to me, I felt like I had to push through it. I almost started to believe the lie that perhaps we have to experience pain and misery to really be following Jesus, but that’s not the case at all. This was actually the enemy’s way of distracting and beating me down. And so, through a series of self-reflection that I did, came this 30-day devotional where I had totally transformed my life, not on my own, but with the Holy Spirit. I learned how to say “No,” without feeling regret. I learned that we cannot do the work of God to the point where we’re killing the work of God in us. I learned that if I show up to serve at church with a terrible attitude, I’m not serving to my fullest ability. I had to learn these things myself before I could share these lessons with others.
When I created the devotional, it really took off. It began to spread like wildfire. Out of nowhere copies were selling out in a day. Before I knew it, I had people reaching out to me asking if I would speak at churches or women’s events. Then speaking engagements turned into three to five-hour-long workshops. In these workshops, we break down the 30-day devotional and practice the steps to create space in their lives. We work on reflection prompts, have a time of worship and experience slowing down and stillness with God. One of the things I do with the women, that a lot of them find pretty awkward and uncomfortable, is we sit for three minutes with complete silence. They can have their eyes closed or sit however they want to sit, but it has to be absolute silence. We take those three minutes to be still with the Lord. This practice is the most important because people struggle with being still and through these workshops, I’ve learned I’m not the only one who struggles with this.
Once you started to carve out time to be with the Lord, did you have a better understanding of who God wanted you to be?
I think so, but I had to work through a lot of what I’ve been told to believe about God and who I knew God to be. I constantly tried to change myself so that I would be the woman that I thought God needed me to be, which was a soft-spoken, tender, and mild, but that’s not me. I’m just not that woman. And so, for a long time, I had to work through that. I had to spend time in God’s word and prayer. It was a struggle and something I had to work on, but it’s a lot clearer to me now than when I was younger.
Do you share that same outlook with your foster children when introducing them to the Lord?
Yes. I am a big fan of teaching that God loves them for who they are, not who they think they should be. The earlier you can understand that, the better. My husband and I currently have three boys with us, and we go to church as a family, talk about Jesus and pray together all the time. I never try to force something on them, because I know kids rebel when we try to force things, so I try to have them become curious about the topic and open to asking questions. We start engaging conversations with questions such as, “What do you think about God? Do you think God is with you at all times? What do you think?” We also teach them how Jesus lived and how we should try to follow his example to have forgiveness and grace. Our faith is very much a part of our lives and we don’t want to keep it from our kids, but I think we’re cautious about our language and how we approach the topic. We encourage them to ask questions and we love listening to what they have to say.
How did you become a foster parent? Was it something you felt that God was pulling you towards or was it something you always wanted to do?
I was very young when I experienced domestic violence in my home and God made it so clear to me that not every child has a safe and stable environment to grow up in. As I grew older, the connection I had to the foster system grew in my heart. By the time I was in college, I knew that I was going to be a foster parent someday. I fully believe it was a calling from God. When I met my husband, it was non-negotiable, I was honest and told him, “Just so you know, this is going to be a part of my life. So, I’d rather not continue dating if you don’t see yourself as a foster parent.” It was, absolutely going to be the way that I lived my life.
Do you think if you hadn’t met your husband that it was something you were doing to do by yourself?
What is the biggest lesson that you’ve learned from being a foster parent?
The biggest lesson I’ve learned about is racial injustices. My family is multi-racial as are most of the foster children we take in. Too often we enter foster care thinking we’re going to take care of this sweet little baby, but we then start to place judgement on birth parents or creating stories our own that we’ve written about them, instead of loving them the way Jesus would. We should have grace and mercy towards them, and realize that we are sinners just like them, we are no better. We have to foster the whole family, not just the children.
Another part of living in the city of Chicago is that there is a disproportionate number of children of color in the system. This is something that I’m really passionate about and want to see change. One day, I want to see no kids in the system. I also want women of color to receive treatment rather than a sentence. Right now, white women who have a drug problem, for example, receive treatment while their kids are cared for. People of color don’t always receive the same treatment, but instead, receive a sentence and so there is undeniable racism in our system. So, now that I know it, I can’t un-see it. I can’t ignore it. I have to do something. Changing this injustice has now become a part of my work.
What would you like to see improve in the foster care system?
The biggest thing I want to see change is for the whole system to become more holistic. I would like to see children being cared for while their parents get the help they need. There is time for it, but in general I think it would be great to see how we could partner with parents more. How we could do more preventative work and how we can take a more holistic approach to all of this instead of creating a huge trauma by removing a kid. I’ve seen parents get really depressed, and then it looks like they don’t want their child because they’re not actually taking any steps towards progress. But in reality, they’re just so depressed that they’ve just lost their child. They’re just, they’re done for.
I’ve actually read on studies that women who have to go through drug rehab, actually complete the program and tend to succeed and come out and stay sober and clean, by being able to do that program while keeping their child. Versus a woman who’s addicted to drugs, her child being taken away, and then she’s supposed to complete rehab. I mean, the success rate of a woman whose child is removed is insanely different. It’s drastically decreased from a mother who’s able to keep her child with her. It’s made me see the system in a different way and I know it’s easier said than done and it’s something that would require a complete overhaul of the system, but I would love to see it happen someday.
How did you become a foster parent?
My husband and I received our license through the state of Illinois, and we found an agency that we felt would be good to work with. The agency is called Kaleidoscope, here in Chicago. They are a specialized agency that only takes in children who have severe medical or behavioral challenges. There is already a need for foster parents, but there’s kind of a tier within that. The most vulnerable kids tend to not be placed in homes, but rather left to sit in psych wards waiting.
Have you ever had a foster fail–a child that you wanted to officially adopt?
Yeah, it was actually our first placement–twin little girls. For a variety of reasons, it didn’t happen. The girls were wonderful, and we loved them, but we felt that we weren’t doing the best job possible. Or as good of a job that we could have been doing if we had partnered with their mother. Even though it was one of the most painful experiences to go through, they needed to return home at some point. Now, the beautiful thing is, we continue to see our girls and have a very close relationship with their biological mother. We plan their birthday parties together, make arrangements to spend time with them and even help out if they need rides to and from school. Their mom is thriving, and it’s beautiful to see all of the redemption because there are so many layers to it. It has been truly life-changing. But yes, I would say that’s been a fail turned most beautiful thing ever, because it’s a success story.
Foster parents often struggle with behavior problems that are formed early on in childhood. How do you cope with that?
Trauma is real, and we have to remember that their behavior is not a child being “bad,” but rather a child who is hurting. Trauma manifests itself in crazy ways. I go to counseling to cope. Our boys all have therapists that come to our home. That’s one of the perks of our agency; they provide therapy for all their kids. I also go to trauma trainings and read a lot of books that talk about trauma and behavior. The first thing we have to do, howeber, is work on ourselves. We can’t control anyone else. Instead of getting angry at a child for misbehaving, we practice patience and understanding. Although I sometimes feel like I’m being too easy on them, I see results that I want, which are the desired behavior and a healthy attachment.
Was there ever a point where you felt like you couldn’t do this? If so, how did God help you change your mind?
Absolutely! I have felt so incapable, so inadequate, so frustrated and wanted to quit numerous times. And we have taken breaks between placements to refocus on ourselves. That’s a good time of healing for us, to prepare for the next trial. But also, in that time is when I feel that my relationship with God is essential. It’s about finding time, even a moment, to sit and read the Bible, journal, pray and just re-center myself. I have to focus on letting go of things that happened, things that the kids said or did and have to prepare my heart for what’s coming. I have found that time with God is a proactive measure that I can take when it comes to fighting against the enemy, or just my selfish desires and my sin.
What type of support system do you have and how has the church helped you in being a foster parent?
My husband and I have a phenomenal community here in Chicago because of our church. Unlike the rest of society that doesn’t view foster parenting as equivalent to traditional parenting, our church did. And in fact, they rallied around us. We had never been parents before which is unique because a lot of foster parents foster after they’re done having biological children. Our church supported and rallied around us when we were moving into this new phase of our lives.
What have you seen God do in your foster children?
So many amazing things! I would say it’s no linear journey, but I think we have witnessed transformation happening right before our eyes. We watch healing happen and it’s so beautiful. We stay in touch with almost all of our kids who have reunited with their biological parents or relatives, and that’s a rewarding role to play in their lives.
What is your biggest piece of advice for other people who are considering becoming foster parents?
My biggest advice would be to make sure you’re fully informed. Make sure you know what you’re stepping into because I would hate for someone to jump inunaware and then end up hurting, rather than helping the child or family more in the process. I also think that if you have a partner going into this, make sure that you are united. There is nothing worse than having a child enter a home that’s not united. Lastly, pray about it. There are a lot of ways to be an advocate for life after birth. Foster care is one of those ways.
Connect with Amanda
Purchase her 30-devotional, “Space,” where she helps you create space in your life and grow closer to God.