Before I was a foster mom…I find myself starting lots of sentences off like that these days. There’s so much I am learning and seeing and realizing I was wrong about. Before I was a foster mom, foster care and adoption rolled out of my mouth in the same breath. They were like cute little siblings that mirrored this beautiful picture of God’s great redemption and necessary rescuing. I thought they were so similar in their efforts to reveal who Jesus is to a broken world. And they do that. for sure. But that’s where their similarities end for me.
Before you read further and get all crazy about my views, I’ll tell you what I’m NOT saying here. I’m NOT saying foster care is more important or bigger or better or even harder than adoption. It’s just different.
Foster care is not adoption and here’s why.
1. These kids aren’t really ours. They have been abused or neglected or abandoned. Their mothers and fathers still “want” them. Right, I know, many don’t, but some say they do. Words are cheap and their actions reveal their true intentions. We love these kids like our own. And if we can’t genuinely love them…because some are just annoying and difficult to love, we try really hard. We lose sleep and rearrange our lives to fit them in but they aren’t ours to keep. At least not for now.
2. There is no finalization. A highlight of adoption is the day you go to court to finalize your baby joining your family. The judge signs some papers to make it official and tears are shed and huge smiles are plastered to faces because its over. Your baby is yours. He’s home. forever.
But in foster care, I am in court often and its never a joyful occasion. It’s mostly to hear a magistrate talk about failing case plans, who’s your baby’s daddy?, positive drug screens, and the next placement option for the baby in your home.
Foster parents are invisible in this scene unless you end up with a judge that actually cares about your opinion. And even if he does, most concerns fall on deaf ears.
3. Our hellos and homecomings end in goodbye. I have watched our close friends–several of them–bring children into their families through adoption. The sigh of relief that comes when the child they’ve waited on and prayed for enters their home is visible. But when kids arrive in our living room, scared and alone, we know this isn’t the end of their journey. It’s a safe pit stop in their nightmare, but goodbye is coming.
4. We never know when. This week, a sweet foster mama friend of mine hugged her twin boys for the last time. They were in her home for a year. She became their mom when they were barely bigger than an ear of corn fighting for their lives in the NICU. A judge decided it would be best if they were placed with a relative whom they had never met. They had a week’s notice. Bags were packed. Kisses exchanged. Prayers said. Then they were gone.
Adoption means forever. It’s a permanent place to put down roots and grow and thrive. Struggles are real, and attachment is sometimes a painful battle for these kids, too. But they can settle on the dream that is now their reality.
5. It’s hard to know who to cheer for. While adoption is full of heartache for birth parents, at least it’s final. The majority of your energy can be focused on the new kiddo in your home. Many families spend weeks or even months attaching to their child through a method called “cocooning.” Specific boundaries about who can hold, feed, and tend to the needs of these adopted kids are laid out.
In foster care, I WANT to live in a cocoon, but I can’t. This baby I’m supposed to be protecting is shuffled back and forth between birth parents and foster homes by a transporter and complete stranger. I am trying my hardest to do the very thing this baby needs–ATTACH. But I can’t and it’s completely out of my control.
This last point is currently my biggest struggle. Next week my struggle will likely change as change is the heartbeat of this mess. Don’t be fooled by our family’s pretty photos on facebook…life here is hard. We try to keep it real but sometimes words and pictures fail to realistically chronicle this crapshoot.
I find myself at a crossroads. Down one path, I see a birth mom who refuses to even admit her substance abuse issues. On the other path, I see her child, helpless and waiting. Throw siblings into the mix and a pending birth father to make my mind even more confused and my heart pulled tighter in the fight of who is best. Whose rights are more important? Who gets more grace or favor?
Heck if I know the answer to that, but I do know this:
Foster care isn’t God’s plan for families. It’s the church working with broken, messed up lives the best way we can…in our obedience, using his power.
His plan is wholeness. God help my unbelief. I cannot see the hope for this mama and I don’t even want to try to see it.
Sometimes I’m hoped out.
I don’t want to care about her success.
I just want this mess to be over because I’m tired. And so is my baby.
I want things to be final so these little lives can dig deep roots into soil of secure love.
Adoption is beautiful and final.
Foster care is ugly and transient.
Uncertainties abound, and there’s not much left to cling to except the One who doesn’t change with the wind. So for now, in my exhaustion, I’ll simply cling to that. I’ll cry out for grace when the darkness of my heart starts to break through. And I’ll let him hope FOR me.
Because right now, foster care is hard. And hard isn’t easy.
Kristy and Zach are biological parents to 4 beautiful kiddos under the age of 9. They have called 12 other babies their own since starting their journey as a foster family in the summer of 2012. They say yes to the hard and crazy as they follow Jesus on this journey of surrender and obedience. Kristy loves coffee, good conversation, comfy clothes and Anne of Green Gables. She is assertive and loves change as she learns to thrive in the chaos. Follow Kristy on her personal blog – This Hard Calling.