Mary Slager will challenge your thinking about getting involved in foster care. You’re never too old to get involved somehow…and it may be that you’re called to foster children even after your own children are grown and gone. Listening to Mary’s experiences erases some of the age constraints you might be feeling!
I’ve heard that people who help people live longer—and there’s probably some truth to that. The more you give and help people, the more it brings life to you.
Mary and her husband, Stan, have been married 51 years, and according to Mary’s estimation, about 30 of those years have involved fostering children in their home. Wanting to start their family soon after they married, they realized it wasn’t going to be as easy for them to have the large family they had planned.
Difficulties in conceiving and then experiencing Rh factor differences brought the unwelcome news that they shouldn’t have any more children. At this point, they had a son and a daughter—five years apart. The Slagers chose to trust in God’s plan—but they did not conceive another child.
They began fostering a nine-month-old baby whom they later adopted. This experience added another “grandma” for their children, as the baby’s grandmother became a grandma to all the Slager children.
Soon after, they considered adopting internationally from Viet Nam, however an article in their local newspaper share the need for foster parents. “We decided to go that route,” says Mary. “We felt it was what God had put before us.”
Soon they bought a bigger house, which was beneficial as they often had up to five children in care at a time—often teens. At that time, people accepted their choice to provide foster care, but Mary remembers not having a lot of hands-on support. “Now we have friends who also do it, and it’s more supported.”
As Mary reflected on the various children they’ve fostered in their home, she feels that, even when the children have left their home, whether they stay in touch or not, she and her family are simply faithfully serving. “God takes care of the rest.”
Fostering in the Early Years
Early in their fostering experience, the Slagers were asked by their church to run a retreat center in upstate New York. They continued to foster, and being in the retreat center was beneficial as kids with family issues could come to the retreat center and participate while they were there.
Later, Stan was asked to pastor a church, which they did. During this time, their daughter, Laura, had attended a Twila Paris concert and felt the call to serve at an orphanage with Youth With A Mission (YWAM) in Ukraine. At this point, their three children were almost out of the house. At this point is where many foster parents would hang up their foster “hat” and move into the next phase of their lives.
Not so for the Slagers.
When Mary was 50 years old, they more-or-less started over by adopting a sibling group of four from Ukraine—a nine-year-old, seven-year-old twins and a five-year-old. “My husband said, ‘If we’re going to adopt, we might as well take as many as we can,” Mary says. “Even our daughter thought we were wacko!”
Later, their daughter shared information about a boy with medical needs—he had craniofacial problems that would need significant medical care. “We were asked to just spread the word about this five-year-old boy,” says Mary. “But at one point, we just had to ask, ‘Is it us’?” They adopted him and have seen him through many surgeries, speech difficulties and other problems.
They also decided to do foster care again, so when they got the call to care for Henry, a five-year-old who had already been in five different homes, they (and he) decided to work together. The Slagers adopted Henry in October 2016.
Following Their Hearts
What is the typical reaction from other people? “Overall, people think we’re a little off track,” laughs Mary. She often hears statements such as “I could never do it” or “I’d get too attached,” but Mary looks at it differently. “That’s okay to get attached. They need us and we’re here to provide safety and love for whatever time it is.”
This attitude is powerful and life-changing, so much so that the Slagers’ oldest son now has four of his own children and is fostering four children. Their daughter is also in the process of becoming a foster parent, in addition to caring for her own five children. “I think it’s for the best, growing up, sharing what you have,” says Mary.
Wisdom from Experience
When asked what she had learned over the years from her fostering and adoption experiences, Mary doesn’t hesitate, “I’ve learned so much about trust in God and that it’s not about me. I don’t see it as an optional thing—our lives are not our own—they belong to Jesus. I’ve been blessed.”
Mary’s experience has also given her a good deal of wisdom for others who are thinking about fostering, especially if one spouse isn’t quite ready. Her advice? Pray. Her daughter’s husband was not totally on board at first, but they’ve prayed it through and now have a new vision as a team. “You can’t force it—it takes time, patience and a lot of prayer. You have to be a team.”
Excellent advice from someone who has fostered probably 70 or more children, two of whom they adopted (plus five international adoptions)!
“I’m too old to foster”
Mary’s response to the statement “I’m too old to foster” is simple. “I’ve heard that people who help people live longer—and there’s probably some truth to that. The more you give and help people, the more it brings life to you.”
She’s also quick to point out that there are other options if you don’t want to do foster care. “For someone to call up and say, ‘I want to bring dinner’ is awesome! It makes a huge difference to the one who receives it—even if it seems like a small thing to the giver.”
Regardless of whether you feel you’re being called to foster, you can always do something to support someone else who is!
Meet Our Guest | Mary Slager
Mary and her husband, Stan, are parents of nine children and are currently fostering a fourteen-year-old girl. They have fostered more than 70 children during their 51 years of marriage. Mary is happy to share their experience with others to encourage them and challenge the idea that there is a certain “age limit” to being a foster parent. She and Stan are proof that you can never be too old to care for children who need love and stability in their lives. Contact Mary through her Facebook page.
Meet Our Host | Jami Kaeb
Jami Kaeb is a dreamer and a coffee lover! She is married to Clint and the mother of seven–five through adoption. It was through a difficult season of waiting, that Clint and Jami’s eyes were opened to the foster care community. They became foster parents to three siblings who they eventually adopted, and in April of 2011, Jami founded The Forgotten Initiative. Jami views life as a great adventure with Jesus and desires simply to know Him more and share His love with those who feel forgotten. Follow Jami’s personal blog for real life perspective on parenting seven children!
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