All Parents Are Foster Parents
My heart drops and stomach aches as I recall the judge’s pronouncement that she was granting custody of our youngest foster daughter to a birth parent. The decision stunned everyone in the courtroom, as it went against the recommendations of the social workers and child advocates. The shock – which allowed me to hold it together as I received instructions to pack her things before they came to take her from our home later that day – wore off as I shakily buckled my seatbelt. I wept as I drove home, and I weep now as I type. For nine months I’d loved that little girl like she was mine, and just like that she’d be gone, so soon and so suddenly.
You may be thinking, isn’t that what foster parents sign up for? The answer is both yes – as any (good) foster parent desires for biological families to heal – and no – as timelines are often unclear and what we believe is best for the children doesn’t always align with how the system functions. So while we didn’t think she would stay with us forever, we just thought we’d have a little more time before she left. In the days that followed I questioned God’s plan, which certainly didn’t match mine, a struggle to which most any parent can relate at some point in time.
In my sadness and confusion I was comforted by the words of Jesus, spoken through my father who stopped by the day our little one left. In the midst of my tears and ramblings, he chose his words carefully: “I seem to recall that someone once said, ‘Take heart! I have overcome the world’” (John 16:33). That someone was Jesus, speaking to his disciples the night before he was arrested and then crucified. He knew how sad and confused they would feel. This is the God who knows and takes on our burdens – and the burdens of our children – because He alone can truly handle it all.
Take heart. Be comforted. I’ve got it.
I was forced to decide if I really believed that this was true of our God. Either God loved that precious little girl more than I did, and held her securely in His hands even as weeks passed and I heard less and less news of her… or He didn’t.
At some point, all parents must dig deep to decide what we believe to be true about God and our children. Tragically, we often think that it’s all up to us, that we’ve got to “got it.” If parents believe the lie that we have the power to mold our children and make sure they are always okay, we carry a burden which is utterly unnecessary and unhealthy.
Perhaps what we truly need is a strong shift in perspective regarding the role we play in our children’s lives. We need to remember that our capital-F Father in heaven actually loves our children more than we could ever imagine! He has good plans for them, “plans to give [them] hope and a future,” (Jer.29:11) plans that our limited understanding could never devise. He gives us children as gifts for a time, and then (in most cases) they are to leave our care to live their own lives.
The greatest gift parents can offer their children is living by faith in God’s goodness and kindness without fear of revealing our weakness, in order that His strength be made known. In this, we pray they come to understand their own reliance on God’s mercy and love. We pray that God becomes the central figure in the lives of our children, not us.
My roles as a stepparent and foster parent have made these realities all the more vivid. In God’s mysterious (and ultimately good) plan, I’ve not had children of “my own” but have been given the gift of parenting the biological children of other people. Rarely do people comment that my stepchildren resemble me in appearance, and no one ever assumes I birthed my foster children, as their skin is a beautifully different hue than mine. None of my children are physical reflections of me, and this serves as a reminder that they are not meant to mirror my image, but to bear a unique image of their heavenly Father. This is a difficult truth I’m not sure I’d understand quite so clearly if I was solely parenting biological children.
I have imperfectly loved all of my children, and the years have been filled with both face-breaking smiles and heartbroken tears. I’m learning daily about the depths of my sin and my need for a grace-filled God. My notions of what God owed me for living “right” dismantled as my expectations for a conventional family and biological children failed to materialize. God’s refusal to adhere to my small-minded plans points to the crazy grace offered in His upside-down kingdom. It’s taking time, but I’m learning that all that He’s given me – stepchildren and foster children included – are good gifts, and I’ve merited none of it.
I’ve also been forced to re-think my general framework of parenting. In many ways, I believe that ALL parents who know Christ actually function as foster parents.
Being a foster parent has not allowed me any sense of entitlement to these children. Instead, I live with the stark recognition that they’ve been placed in my care for a particular period of time (be it a few months or many years). I exist in a daily reality that children can be both added to and removed from our home with little warning. As I’ve sought to gently remind people who say they could never do what we do, that reality is actually the same for them with their biological children. Each day is a gift, and they are guaranteed no amount of time as parents.
Fostering has provided the gift of living more fully in the present with my children. I find that I laugh more heartily, cry more freely, and dance more often in the kitchen, savoring the value of each moment without worrying so much about what tomorrow holds. The recognition that I have so little control over the future – because other people maintain authority to make life-changing decisions for my foster children – is actually a picture of the truth for all Christ-following parents. As God promised through the prophet Isaiah: “Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bring your children from the east and gather you from the west” (43:5).
After our foster daughter left, the only thing I could do for her was pray. Over two years later, that remains the only power I have in her life. Thankfully, prayer is the greatest power that we have as parents. We are invited to constantly commune with the true Father of our children and ask for the grace to faithfully foster His precious children, whether we have received them biologically or not.
Parents who claim Jesus as their only saving Hope understand that their children are ultimately the Lord’s. For a period of time, we are given the gift of fostering these beloved children of the covenant – a covenant we know only God is fully faithful to keep. At some point our kids will leave, but we have a God who promises never to leave them. With the help of the Spirit, we raise our children with surety that it’s not up to us to save our kids from all heartache and struggle; rather we are freed to love and entrust them to the care of their true heavenly Father.