I hear people talk sometimes about what a blessing being a foster parent is. I know many devoted advocates who encourage their friends and their relatives to sign up to become foster parents because it’s so needed and it’s such a wonderful ministry.
I don’t want to damage their work, but I need to be honest. I can’t tell people, “You should foster!” and I will never (again) try to persuade someone to foster who doesn’t feel led to do so.
Sometimes I think we foster parents are too self-righteous in our role, and become almost arrogant in our calling to foster and assume that God has already called everyone to foster, but everyone else is disobedient. I’ve been guilty of that attitude before. I am so sorry for that.
Foster Parenting Can Be Frightening and Heartbreaking
As I look back over the past three years and I am overwhelmed with such horrifying memories, I can’t help but think this really isn’t for everyone. This really isn’t even for me.
I think about the time my son was punched in the face by his foster brother. I remember the screaming and the blood and the ER trip that cost me over $1,000.
I remember my husband being attacked by another child. I remember that child kicking him and biting him repeatedly while I ushered my children out of the room. I remember a computer being thrown in the bathtub and destroyed, my van scratched up with the key, and so many of our things broken and ruined by children who were, for a lack of better word, untamed. I remember finding a little boy drinking water out of the toilet like a puppy and pulling down his pants in the middle of the store to pee on the floor. (He was five.)
There were the moments of insane desperation when I called our caseworker begging for help and was simply told, “If you want him removed, then I will need a few weeks.” I wasn’t asking for removal, I was asking for help.
I remember overhearing a conversation when one of our foster children told his biological brother to kill my son. Of course he didn’t kill my son, but just remembering hearing those words still makes me shudder.
I think about how my son was told terribly inaccurate things about sex and relationships by a foster child whose father had numerous affairs with family members. My son hadn’t even heard the word “sex” before. I was forced to explain things to him that he was really too young to know. I also recall this same child trying to touch my other son inappropriately.
I have cleaned feces off the wall and off my children’s pillows when a foster child liked to act out her emotions with her poop.
I think about the dozens of lewd pornographic images a biological mother sent me of herself “by accident” and my husband’s face when he saw them on my phone. I remember the time a biological father asked me to text him a picture of myself in a swimsuit. Then there was the father with the swastika on his forearm who didn’t have the decency to talk to me, but did have a knack for staring me down. I remember his piercing glare.
There is the absurd amount of money I have spent on resources for our foster children that the state was supposed to pay for, but didn’t: daycare, therapy, and counseling. I know those things are supposed to be covered. I know. Don’t tell me about how those things are covered. But somehow I have still paid an absurd amount of money for them.
Then there is the time two little boys that had my heart were removed from our home to go back with their biological family, and three months later a story was all over the news about the same boys being found naked in the middle of the road late one night throwing rocks at cars. We weren’t allowed to take them back because we already had new placements and were at capacity. I think about other children we spent so much time and energy pouring our hearts into, who went back home and within weeks returned to their old ways.
Now there is this precious little girl, that after two years of loving I must send back to a home that allowed terrible things to happen to her sister.
Foster Parenting Brings Brokenness
Sure, foster parents can put restrictions on what they will accept, and we didn’t insist on such limits. Foster parents can only take babies. They can refuse children from certain backgrounds. They can just take one child at a time. They can demand the removal of a child the second something bad happens. I have known foster parents who literally dropped a child off at the state building with a trash bag full of clothes. I can’t judge anyone. It really is sometimes that hard, especially when you are begging for help that never comes and your own children are suffering.
People talk about the blessings that come with fostering. Yes, we have been blessed. We have been blessed to survive for this long. I know there are blessings that I can’t see, and there will be good that comes from this that I never know.
But, right now, from my vantage point, all I see is crazy brokenness. I see families getting ripped apart and tremendous pain for everyone. I see ordinary people like myself trying to help kids from such difficult backgrounds, but being totally unequipped to do so and being provided with almost no support. I see the brokenness I have exposed my children to and the heartache we all feel from every side of this. At this moment I see the pain, the hurt, the loss.
So, why do I do it? I do it because God asked me to. I do it because in his word he told me there would be a cost to following him. I do it because God is greater than the broken foster care system and God commands the seas in ways I can’t possibly imagine. I do it because I trust in God with all my heart, and although my understanding in this moment is that this path is not worth it for anyone, God tells me not to lean on my understanding, but to trust him. I do it because someone has to, and he has asked me to, and I surrendered my heart to Jesus and his will, not my will.
Becoming a Foster Parent Is a Calling
But I can’t tell my friends to foster. I can’t advocate for fostering like some awesome people I know do. All I can say is if you are considering fostering, “Ask God.” If he tells you to do it, then do it, because if it is his plan, then it is worth it. I know some families are hearing the call now and will embark on their personal journey. But, I’m not going to dress it up and make it sound pretty. It’s ugly. It’s really ugly.
You will fall in love with kids who will go back to hard places, and you will struggle to show love to children who have downright awful behaviors. (Foster parents don’t like to talk about that one, but yes, some children are hard to love, and yes, it’s usually the ones that need that love the most.) But if God calls you to it, then do it. Not because of who you are, but because of who he is. You might see the blessings. You might not. But it’s not about you. It’s not about me. It’s about him.
If you never decide to foster, then I trust that God hasn’t called you to that specific work. I’m sorry if I ever made you feel like I think less of you because you don’t. There’s a lot of brokenness out there: brokenness that leads to these situations where kids come into foster care in the first place. I pray that God uses you somewhere to shine his light into the darkness. There’s plenty of darkness in many more places than foster care. Go be his light, wherever that may be!
As for me, I will keep trudging along in my little patch of darkness in this world of foster care, keeping my eyes on him, because, I can tell you, I have absolutely no clue what I am doing anymore.
This article was originally published on Medium.