By Sarah Hamaker
Like most families, mine is, well, a bit unusual. True, I have a father and a mother, who have been married for more than fifty years. But I have had more than forty siblings.
When I was child, I had two sisters and a brother who were many years older than me—fifteen, thirteen, and eleven years older, to be exact. So in grade school, I was an only child of sorts, who had older siblings drop by once in a while.
Soon after my twelfth birthday, my parents decided to fill our great, big house with more children in a rather unconventional way: as foster parents. Through the years, my mom and dad showed love to many children of all ages, whom they treated as part of the family. As for me, I gained numerous brothers and sisters—both older and younger.
There was Hope, who joined our family as a 16-year-old and ended up staying for two years. A few years after she left our house, she asked my father to walk her down the aisle at her wedding, a testimony to the special relationship she developed with my parents. Sandy, an eight-year-old with emotional problems, attached herself to me and sometimes would refuse to go to court-ordered counseling sessions unless I accompanied her.
There were newborn babies, like Mark and Stephen, whose smiles and coos are some of my happiest memories of those days. Then there were the twins, a brother and sister who were five months old when they arrived. They, like many foster children before them, ended up staying with us for more than two years and then becoming eligible for adoption. By this time, my parents already had raised four children and were grandparents, but they ended up adopting Jenny and James.
Much has been said about the importance—and necessity—of foster parenting, but being a sibling to foster brothers and sisters brought its own rewards. I reveled in being a big sister to countless children. However, it wasn’t always laughter and lightness. I had to share “my” things and “my” parents with other children, many of whom had no concept of family life.
Yes, there were times when I hated having strange kids in my house playing with my toys and interrupting my schedule. But my parents taught me that these relatively small sacrifices made a big difference in the lives of these neglected and abused kids. I had a real chance to make a difference, to show sisterly love and affection to children whose own families had not shown much love. With my parents’ encouragement, I could play a small role in helping to ease their pain and to show them that someone cared about them.
I also knew the love that my parents showered on these children in no way took away from their love and care for me. I never felt neglected or overlooked, no matter how packed the house became or how often I had to sacrifice my wants to their needs.
My parents raised foster children for three decades. Amazingly, many of those foster children who passed through our house—whether for a few months or a few years—kept in contact with my parents after they left. Some send annual Christmas cards, some call my parents regularly, and a few occasionally even visit—all a testimony to the love and impact my parents had on their lives.
Today, as I raise four young children of my own, I look forward to a time when me and my husband might reach out to other children in need of a temporary haven. I hope one day that I can pass along some of the things learned by watching my parents foster children and teach them about love and life.
This story originally appeared in Chicken Soup for the Soul: All in the Family.