When most women are expecting their fourth child, they don’t decide to start taking in foster children.
But that’s what Michele Bachmann did. For six years, from 1992 to 1998, she opened her home to a total of 23 teenage girls who needed a family. She juggled raising up to nine kids at a time, homeschooling her grade-school-age and younger biological children during the day and bonding with her high-school-age foster children at night. It was a demanding life — to get a taste of the workload, consider that Bachmann was often doing four loads of laundry daily – but one that she loved.
“It was wonderful, probably the most intellectually rewarding time of my life,” says the Minnesota GOP congresswoman.
It was during her pregnancy with her fourth child that Bachmann decided to become a stay-at-home mom. That decision paved the way for her and her husband, Marcus, a clinical therapist, to also consider taking in foster children. Inspired by the example of church friends who were foster parents, the Bachmanns decided to get licensed and give it a try. “We both had broken hearts for at-risk children,” Bachmann recalls.
They never intended to take in 23 of them, but the requests to find room for just one more child kept coming. “We just continued to say yes,” says Bachmann.
It made for an unusual household: Bachmann talks about managing three children five years old and younger, one still a nursing baby, while also doling out care and attention to as many as four teenagers at a time. She admits sometimes struggling to find the energy to keep up.
“It was a challenge to not just let go,” she says. “We had to continually keep the ball rolling between meals and laundry and cleaning and shopping and doctors’ appointments. It was just a very, very busy time.”
The children were expected to help out. Chores were divided up and assigned, plans and schedules formed. “It taught me very good organizational skills,” Bachmann muses. “It taught us how to work together as a family.”
Bachmann refuses to pick a few favorite memories out of those years. It is the “daily-ness,” the ins and outs involved in raising toddlers and teens, that she remembers fondly.
To cope with the hustle and bustle, the Bachmanns emphasized a lighthearted approach to life. “My husband and I are big believers in having a good sense of humor,” Bachmann says. “We’re a family that really loves humor.” That also helped them forge relationships, with shared laughter breaking “a lot of the barriers down” between the new foster children and the Bachmanns.
But they did not downplay the challenges their foster children faced without their biological parents. “There was always a challenge,” she says. “There could be tensions in a family, particularly during the teenage years, so our goal was just to get a family through a rough patch and hopefully reunite the child with one or both parents.”
While it has been over a decade since Bachmann has taken in a foster child, helping those children remains an important issue for her. But now, from her congressional perch, she’s focused on legislative action. She has twice introduced legislation that would give foster children under 16 (older children are already covered) education vouchers, which would allow them to remain in the same school when they switched homes or neighborhoods.
“They can be moved from home to home to home, and when that happens, generally speaking, they have to go to [the local] school,” Bachmann explains. “They don’t have a sense of permanency. They don’t have the same people in their lives.”