When my former husband and I got licensed as foster parents in 2010, our license came with big plans. Inspired by women I met in a foster care support group, I planned to love the parents of the children placed with me so much that they couldn’t help but be transformed. I vowed empathy, compassion, grace. I was going to be a foster parent that changes the face of foster care and the hands and feet of Jesus. After my successful mentorship, I was going to place children back into the arms of their completely rehabilitated parents, and start all over again with different children, changing the world one family at a time.
And then it happened.
I fell madly, deeply in love with the very first baby placed with me. He was tiny and very angry, fighting opiate withdrawals, not even completely at home in his body when we met. His withdrawal symptoms made it hard for me to love his mother, but I tried. For a while, stuck to my plan stuck. I found rehabs for the sick and hurting mother of the child I cared for. I took her to dinner, drove her to rehab, made sure she and her family had groceries. I rooted for her successes then sat in the dark with her child in my arms, breathed in his baby smell, and lost myself in dreams of what it would be like to be his mother forever.
The system is not set up for happy endings. My rose colored glasses were quickly discarded and what I began to realize is that in order to protect a child, I had to wound his mother, the person who gave him life. In order to keep a baby I desperately loved, his mother had to fail. The world of his case plan became my life, it consumed me from the inside out. I lost 30 pounds in my first two years of foster parenting, became distant from my biological children, fell short in parenting the other children placed with me at the same time. Our good intentions turned into a court battle that drained our savings and our souls. We won custody through intervening in the case, but what I learned is, there are very few wins in the world of foster care. My new son was safe and promised a good life, but both he and his first mother will walk through their lives with the trauma of their separation written on their hearts. Someday I have to tell my boy I fought his mother for him. The weight of this story is heavy around my neck.
What I tell prospective foster parents now is this. Your job is to protect the children placed with you, not the parents. Have grace and empathy, guide the birth family when you feel called. Focus on service and love, do what you can to insulate yourself from the million details and the drama of the case. The babies that are meant to stay will. Your children are your children and even when it feels like you are having a limb severed by losing one, know that a perfect plan is being implemented that is bigger than what you can see right now. I wish we hadn’t fought in court, wish we allowed ourselves to receive this most precious gift while waiting in faith on perfect timing and Divine grace.
I allowed foster care to break me. I lost touch with my faith and what I knew to be the truth. My years as a foster parent were the most beautiful and heartbreaking years of my life. Bringing home someone else’s baby changed not only who I was, but who we were as a family. So fully in love with the tiny soul who eventually became my son, I rolled eyes when seasoned foster parents told me maybe I should just wait and not fight in court. Now I see maybe they were right. The outcome would have been the same, with perhaps less shrapnel left behind.
Would I do it again? In a heartbeat. Knowing better, I’d do better this time. More faith, less fear. More of God’s will, less of mine. Hard places hold miracles and the world of foster care is no exception. In that world, I found the wisdom of release and surrender. The journey was exquisite and excruciating, but at the end of a long hard road, I found my son.
***Photo by Selah Photography