Buckner foster father of 31 shares story, offers advice to potential foster parents
This Father’s Day, Sheldon Rice, 43, received perhaps the greatest gift he has ever received — knowing his love, patience and courage has shaped the hearts and minds of his children. All 31 of them.
For nearly 15 years, Sheldon — or “Pop,” as his kids like to call him — and his wife, Precious, have been changing the lives of children from all over Southeast Texas by providing a safe and supportive family environment. Growing up in a loving family, Sheldon is no stranger to caring for children in need. Both he and his wife helped raise family members and wanted to help give foster children a chance to grow up in a loving home as well.
The Rices became Buckner Foster parents after Precious had an epiphany while working as a fast food manager.
"It was really my wife’s idea,” Pop said. “She developed a friendship with a girl she was working with and became like a big sister to her. That’s when we started thinking about fostering.”
After discussing the idea with their son and praying about the life-altering decision, the Rices contacted Buckner Foundation. Pop and Precious are so committed to serving the youth of Southeast Texas that they moved into a family home in the Buckner’s Children Village earlier this year and are are now able to foster 12 children at one time!
Pop and Precious know that it takes an enormous amount of patience and understanding to be foster parents, and it’s not a calling for everybody. Caring for children that are either mad at the world, furious with their parents, or just frustrated at whatever issues they are dealing with can be overwhelming for any caregiver.
“Sometimes you have to take a moment for yourself,” Pop said, “Whenever a child starts acting out and having fits of rage, I just step back and let them have their moment. I pray about it a lot. I know it’s not their fault they are acting that way, but it can take its toll. So I just have to take a step back sometimes.”
Many times being a foster dad comes with unique challenges that a biological parent might not have to endure. For instance, disciplining a foster child can be more difficult because there are special rules that must be obeyed, according to the Buckner program. Spanking is never allowed.
“We understood that when we took on this role it can be a little different, but Buckner’s gives us tools on how to discipline, and we are always going to classes and learning new techniques to handle certain circumstances,” Pop said.
Another major challenge is that a foster parent’s work is never done. After graduation, many parents get to bask in a quiet home after their birdies leave the nest; however, for Pop there is no “break time” from being a foster dad. Pop and his wife enjoy the longevity of raising their children, even fostering the same children for more than 10 years. They have raised three of their foster children from the time they were around 8 until graduation and even keep in contact with them today.
“One of my sons is in the Navy and he will call me up every week and say ‘Pop, I did this’ or ‘Pop, I’m going here’ or just to say hi,” he said. “It’s a wonderful feeling to know that even after all these years, I’m still his Pop.”
Parenting will always have its difficulties and challenges, but being a foster parent can also be rewarding.
“I love watching the kids play sports and really progress on the field,” Pop said. “It really shows how far a child has come when he is able to become part of a team and get better at playing.”
Pop is no stranger to the sidelines either. He can be found out there yelling and cheering on the kids, just like all the other dads.
“I love these kids,” he said. “And I am always encouraging them to succeed.”
Pop loves being a father figure to so many and is always proud to show off his kids when they are in public.
“I get a great response from people,” he said. “I always introduce them as my kids, and people really never know the difference, because I treat them like they are my own.”
Like any parent, the proudest moments for Pop and his wife is when they see their children cross the stage on graduation day. Most of the foster kids that are placed with the Rices have had to overcome several obstacles that children should never have to face, and to witness a child persevere in the face of such obstacles is always moving.
Some of the Rices’ children are aspiring to become social workers and foster parents because of the impact Pop has made in their lives. Shatori Taylor, 20, has been a foster daughter of Pop and Precious for more than five years and has always felt welcome in the Rices’ home.
“They are my mom and my dad, and I wouldn’t change it for anything in the world,” Taylor said. Shatori’s relationship with Pop might be even more special because he played a formative role in her education.
“When I first came into their care, I didn’t really know how to read, and without the help from him and my mom, I wouldn’t be at the place I am now,” she said.
When Shatori grows up, she wants to be a member of CASA and credits her foster parents for setting the wonderful example she hopes to follow.
“They work with different kids, and they never give up on us,” Taylor said.
Taylor also believes that it’s very important to become a foster parent because there aren’t a lot of people who are willing to take in other people’s children, especially if they are troubled.
When people ask Pop about becoming a foster parent, he always tells them to pray about it.
“It’s not something you go into lightly,” Pop advises. “Once you become a foster parent there isn’t any turning back; you are a foster parent for life.”For more information on Buckner or the Buckner Foundation, call (409) 833-1971.