By Susan Ciancio
As Catholics, we know that the month of May is typically devoted to our Blessed Mother. And one of the very special feast days in May comes on the 13th, when we celebrate Our Lady of Fatima.
That feast day commemorates Mary’s appearance to three little children—Lucia, Francisco, and Jacinta—in Fatima, Portugal, in 1917. Mary taught them the importance of praying the Rosary. She showed them visions of hell. She explained the consequences of sin. She guided them as a mother would. She guided them as a mother should.
So as we think about Mary’s appearances to these three very special children, it is fitting to also be aware that May is a month dedicated to an entire group of special children—those in foster care—and to the people who care for them. May is National Foster Care Month. It’s “a time to recognize that we can each play a part in enhancing the lives of children and youth in foster care.”
When, for some reason totally out of their control, children are taken from their homes, they must have someplace to go. They need someone to lovingly care for them. If they cannot be placed with a family member or a friend, the only recourse left is to place them in foster care.
As of 2020, there were 214,421 licensed foster care homes in the US. Currently, there are over 400,000 children in foster care in the US.
That’s a lot of hurting families and a lot of hurting children.
These children have faced so much trauma and suffering in their young lives—and much of it is worse than what you would see in a horror movie. Many of these children have been abused—either physically, sexually, or emotionally—and most have been neglected in some way. These poor little souls come into foster care scared, alone, confused, and often angry.
The caring people who open not just their houses but their hearts are helping build a culture of life that we all so desperately need today. They see a need in our broken society and have taken steps to help children heal, to protect them, and to shower them with the love they should have had all along. They help them understand that they matter, that they are important, and that they have value.
One such amazing foster mother is Kathleen Paydo, author of a new book entitled Fostering Love: A Glimpse into Foster Care. Along with her husband, Kathleen has been a foster parent to 150 children and counting. Her book is full of funny and heartbreaking stories about the kids she has fostered. It offers advice for how to help those in the foster-care system, it offers parenting advice, and it’s full of thought-provoking messages of love for not just the children in her care but for their families.
Throughout the pages of this book, you can feel the compassion she has for these children. You can feel her inner strength. And you can see how her faith manifests in her everyday life and in her parenting techniques.
Foster caregiving is not an easy job. As Kathleen says, “We have experienced hard days, rewarding days, and everything in between,” but her ultimate goal is to help the children heal so that they can make good decisions in their own lives.
One of the recurring themes throughout the book is the fact that so many people say that, for one reason or another, they could never be foster parents. And that’s totally understandable; it’s not for everyone. But did you know that you can build a culture of life by simply helping foster parents in different ways?
For example, you can sign up to be a respite caregiver. That’s someone who goes through a minimal background check so that you can babysit a foster child or take that child for an overnight or a weekend. This gives the foster family a much-needed break.
You can donate gently used (or new!) clothes or toys to local foster families. It’s a huge expense to take on foster children, and the monthly stipend doesn’t cover all expenses. Plus, kids often go into foster care without warning and may be wearing dirty clothes they are anxious to shed once they’ve had a proper shower. Having a range of sizes and choices of clothing options to choose from helps children feel comfortable in their “new” home.
Kathleen mentioned that she even knows a few elderly women who routinely shop at garage sales, clean up their finds, and drop things off at her house. What a gift!
As Kathleen says, “It does take a village to raise a child. . . . This is God’s work, and it is such a blessing when we make time for these children placed in the foster-care system through no fault of their own.”
So don’t let TV or the movies sway your opinion about foster parents. Most do it because they have so much love in their hearts that they cannot help but share it with those who need it the most.
Isn’t that what our Blessed Mother would do? Isn’t that what she does for us—her children—when we are troubled, when we have nowhere else to turn? We call on Mary, our spiritual mother.
So as we enter May, let us show the same love to foster children that Mary showed to the three children at Fatima—the same love she shows to us. Just as our spiritual mother takes care of us, so must we follow her example as we look around our world at the needy, the neglected, and the desperate.
Mary hears our cries, and she is there with open arms. Foster children are crying out every day. How can we open our arms?
The Culture of Life Studies Program has a beautiful lesson on our Blessed Mother for elementary-aged children. Entitled Honoring the Blessed Mother, this lesson teaches about Mary’s “yes” to God and how we can all say “yes” to Him. In honor of the month of Mary, this downloadable lesson is on sale.