*It has been one year since I wrote this post and it ran on The Gospel Coalition and CBMW blog. At the time, we were preparing to say goodbye to our son. Now, one year later, we are finalizing his adoption into our family. We are grateful to God and amazed by his faithfulness, provision and working on our son’s behalf! I pray our story would encourage you and cause you to ask whether you too could risk getting “too attached” for the sake of a child in need. “Part 2” of this post coming soon!
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It has been almost one year since my husband and I brought our sweet baby boy home from the hospital. Memories of life before his arrival are faint. We can’t imagine our day-to-day without his crinkled-nose smiles or excited shrieks of delight. Life with him is our new normal, and while being a mommy is more exhausting than I thought possible, it’s also more joy-filled than I ever imagined. This deep joy of motherhood, however, is mingled with sadness; the time is soon approaching when our days will no longer be filled with this little one’s sweet shrieks of delight. My heart aches knowing that while we have been able to enthusiastically cheer on his first attempts to crawl, it is unlikely we will be able to experience his first steps, first words, or first day of school.
Our son is not terminally ill. This sweet baby we took home from the hospital nearly twelve months ago is our foster son. In the next month or two he will likely leave our home and be adopted by his extended family members. We are grateful that our foster son has family members who want to raise him as their own. Still, deep grief fills our hearts knowing we won’t be able to make this son we love a permanent part of our family. It is overwhelming to think of the day we will have to strap him in his car seat for the last time, kiss his big, soft cheeks, and say our goodbyes.
At times I wonder if we were crazy to get ourselves into this situation. Foster care is a messy, complicated process, filled with messy, complicated emotions. When we tell people he is our foster son, they usually commend us then quickly add, “I could never do foster care—I would get too attached.”
But that’s the point. We are “too attached”.
Worth the Risk
My husband and I don’t have any special ability to be foster parents. Our hearts are not unbreakable and detachment is neither feasible, nor desirable. Attachment was our aim. Parents willing to get “too attached” are precisely what children in foster care need. And the need is enormous:
- There are more than 510,000 children in the foster care system in the United States. Of those kids, more than 100,000 are waiting to be adopted (1). Nearly 19,000 will age out of the system every year before they have the chance to be adopted (2).
- The kids who leave foster care without being linked to “forever families” are highly likely to experience homelessness, unemployment, and incarceration as adults (3). Thirty percent of homeless people in the United States were formerly in the foster care system (4).
- The issue of attachment looms large. Having never learned how to attach to people or places, they struggle to find healthy relationships, stay in school, and hold down a job later in life (5).
Though our hearts will never be the same, by God’s grace, we will survive the grief of giving up our foster son. The pain will be great but we have the coping skills and resources to deal with loss. If our foster son, on the other hand, were to go without the love and attachment he needs at this point in his development, he couldn’t simply catch up later in life (6). It is critical at each stage of development—infants, toddlers, young children—to learn how to attach (7). Even if children don’t get to stay with the person they are attaching to, it’s better for them to go through the pain of loss than to never attach to anyone at all (8). It is crucial therefore, for our son’s sake that we risk the pain of getting “too attached”.
Jesus says, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt. 10:39). We want to lose our lives for the sake of our foster son—not only because he needs us to, but because Christ met our even more desperate need. Every dirty diaper, every nighttime feeding, every heart-wrenching visit with his birth parents, and every court date and call from his social worker remind us that we are losing our lives. We are giving our hearts away to this little boy we have no promise of keeping. Still, no matter the sacrifices we make, they pale compared to all that Christ sacrificed to save us.
Giver of Life and God over Foster Care
Children are a gift. They are never ours to possess. That seems obvious with foster care but it is no less true with biological children. The Lord numbers the days we have with our children whether biological, adopted or fostered. We are never promised to keep any of the children entrusted to us. Whether I become a mother biologically or through foster care, my children belong to God, not me. After suffering a miscarriage in the fall of 2013, we were delighted to find out we were expecting again four months later. A week after the positive pregnancy test, we received the phone call for our foster son. It has been a crazy season caring for the two children the Lord has given us within eight months, but I am beyond grateful and seek to remember daily that they are gifts given to me for as long as he sees best.
Contrary to what people may think (and have even expressed to us), the arrival of a new baby, a biological baby, doesn’t make the loss of our foster son easier. We love are son and our daughter with the same intensity—they are ours regardless of how they came into our home. The thrill of a new baby and the sorrow of anticipating the loss of the other don’t cancel each other out. Deep joy and profound grief mingle together in our hearts. In the midst of these muddled emotions, my husband and I have found much instruction and comfort in the book of Job. Though the giving and taking did not happen at the same time for Job, he blessed the Lord for both. He recognized that the same God who had given him everything was the same God taking it away and in all of his suffering, he “did not sin or charge God with wrong” (Job 1:22). He continued to acknowledge the goodness of God both in the joyful blessings and in the painful takings. We too must join Job in blessing God for who he is and acknowledge that whether he gives or takes, he is a good God who can do all things and whose purposes cannot be thwarted (Job 42:2). He is not only the Creator and Sustainer of life but he is also God over the foster care system.
I don’t claim to understand the why in his doings and every fiber in my being would do anything to be my foster son’s mommy forever, but the same God who gave and took our first child through miscarriage is the same God who brought our precious foster son to our home a few months later. The same God who gave us our precious daughter in the fall of 2014, is the same God directing the number of days our foster son will spend in our home. Daily we are trusting that God is good in all of it. “He gives and he takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).
Opening your heart and home to a foster child may seem risky but in reality, opening your heart to love any child is risky and requires a loss of self. But in losing ourselves, we gain. We grow in understanding how Jesus loved us and gave himself up for us. In seeking to love sacrificially, a picture of the Gospel is painted for all to see. We pray many would see and put their faith in Christ. We pray too that our love, though imperfect, will lead our foster son to one day trust in Jesus, who gave him far more than we ever could. Lastly, our prayer and hope is that many would join us and risk becoming “too attached” for the sake of the children in need and the glory of the One who alone makes such risk possible.
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- “Foster Care Statistics.” FosterClub. The Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System, 2014. Accessed online, October 8, 2014. https://www.fosterclub.com/article/foster-care-statistics.
- Tim and Wendy (last names not provided). Foster Parenting Podcast-Episode 50: “Forty Reasons We’re Adopting Through Foster Care,” http://www.fosterpodcast.com/2008/11/05/episode-50-forty-reasons-were-adopting-through-foster-care/
- “The Hard Facts About Foster Care.” Alameda County CASA. Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children, 2014. Accessed online, October 8, 2014. http://www.casaofalamedacounty.org/District/1226-The-Hard-Facts-About-Foster-Care.html.
- Tim and Wendy, Foster Parenting Podcast, Episode 109: “All the Dirt on Foster Care and Why You Should Still Do It,” http://www.fosterpodcast.com/2011/10/26/episode-109-dirt-foster-care/