Monday, March 10, 2014

Foster Parenting: The Birth Parent Challenge

I've had something on my chest for a long time.  A really long time.  And I was once guilty of it too.

Judgment of people whose kids are in foster care.

I used to think, "Seriously?  How could you let stuff get that bad that someone had to come take your kids for their safety?  Don't you even care?"

I was wrong.  They do care.  They care tremendously and most of the time are deeply ashamed to be in this situation.  Most birth parents of foster kids love their kids intensely and want them back.

The problem is that we tend to look at the situation as an outsider; we see it at face value and don't look deeper.  It is easier to think they are radically different than accept that we might be in the same situation if our circumstances were different.

Most of us come from good, stable homes.  Imagine what life would have been like if we didn't:  maybe abuse, alcoholism, drugs, or neglect were the norm.  Those things radically shape personalities and influence our trajectory in life.  I'm not saying that everyone who came from a difficult background is a bad parent nor does every birth parent of a foster child come from such a dark place.  But, it is more common than not.  And a lot easier to understand.

For the most part, these are just profoundly hurting people themselves who let life get out of control.  They often don't have the resources that most of us do that gives us a safety net to prevent a spiral.  Most of them don't have family that is willing or even capable of stepping in and helping out.  They can't pay babysitters to give them the breathing room that would allow them to take care of their own challenges. 

These challenges aren't small either.  Mental illness, addiction, selfishness, poverty, ignorance and their own histories aren't easy to beat, but they must not just for their children, but for their own selves.  They are literally fighting a battle for their lives.

I love how Jesus cared for everybody so much that He died for them.  You, me, and these birth parents.  Jesus broke all sorts of social taboos by eating with the undesirable people of his day.  It was a huge deal to sit and eat with someone who wasn't "good".  What's more, Jesus called those who acted in a "holier than thou" way towards them "whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people's bones and all uncleanness." (Matthew 23:27). 

I see no where in scripture that gives me permission to think I am better than they are.  I might have my life together in comparison, but I am just as human and just as sinful.  It bothers me profoundly that we have decided that some sins are worse than others; usually it is the sins that we commit are the ones that we don't think are as bad or are at least justifiable.  Truthfully, all sin is the same and has the same affect on our hearts.  It is a wedge between us and God and keeps us from being the people that He designed us to be.  The people who Jesus called out were the elite of His day, the supposed spiritual good guys:  the Pharisees.  If I do the same thing, what does that make me?

I'm still pretty new at this; we've only had two placements and it has been 9 months.  I still cry when I walk out of meetings because the things I've learned are so heartbreaking.  You can't really shock me anymore, but if I get to the point where I don't cry I probably shouldn't be doing this because I've become jaded.  I need to care to be able to do this right.

Birth parents desperately need this compassion.  We might be the only place where they get it.  I am absolutely not giving them a pass on what they have done because actions have consequences, but we need to learn to separate that from their worth as people.  If we can't come alongside them and help them, love them, respect their personhood, and give them the support that they need to learn from these mistakes they might never be able to break the cycle that they are so mired in. 

I don't think that all kids should go back to their birth parents.  Sometimes things have just been too horrific and these poor kids will be dealing with those demons for the rest of their lives.  We owe it to them to be there for them and give them some stability in a crazy world.  I think most people can agree on that; if a society isn't willing to help it's most vulnerable we have lost something that matters dearly.

But, in our willingness to help the kids, we balk at the adults.  Ironically, some of these same birth parents were in foster care themselves as kids and these challenges they are facing originated from the same trauma.  Their hearts are still broken and they haven't found the life changing grace that they so need.  But, somehow because they are all grown up now, it is perfectly acceptable for us to judge them. 

I know, I've been guilty of it too in the past though I hope that God has changed my heart enough that all my interactions with the birth parents of our foster kids don't seem condescending or forced.  I want them to know that I still care about them too regardless of what happens with their kids' legal limbo in foster care.  At the end of this process, they still have to live their lives and I hope that they can do better for themselves just as much as for their kids.  I still have massive boundaries though in dealing with birth parents both for my sake and theirs!  Loving them doesn't mean enabling because truth is required for real growth.

This is what grace is and if we can't give it, it makes me worry that we don't understand the gravity of grace at best or haven't really received it at worst.  That is why it profoundly bothers me when random people who know nothing about the situation (which is very private, privileged information that is not mine to share) start hating on my foster daughter's parents.  In front of her.  Luckily she is a baby still, but it needs to stop.  We're all broken and we shouldn't have the luxury of ignoring our brokenness while being indignant about theirs.

Please come check out more on this topic at my new site, Uncommon Grace!


  1. Thankyou Sara! I'd say amen & amen to ALL that you've written.

    Having had our foster son since 12 weeks of age (he's now 23 & still lives with us) has taught me much. We consider him as our youngest son, but as also his birth parents eldest son. His parents both have intellectual disabilities & simply couldn't care for a child.

    He has 2 younger siblings with another foster family, whom we now consider to be part of our family too. It's a blessing to have all 3 families together for outings. Now that they're all older it consists of going to a cafe for a drink or meal together. There's one this coming Saturday.

    May God really help you through the emotional, mental & physical roller coaster, as you deal with the blessings & challenges of young children & fostering. God bless & welcome to the RM devotional writers team. Will see you there! Gentle hugs. ♥ Lotsoluv Kerryn

    1. Thank you so much, Kerryn! Your story sounds absolutely incredible! Thank you for all you do! We are still fairly new at this, but hope to one day be able to make the kind of difference you have; I think it is wonderful how you get together with all the families. That is so special and a huge gift especially to all the kids involved to be able to have those relationships.

      Thank you too for your welcome to the writers team for RM! I'm so excited and honored to be able serve in this way! Will definitely see you there!