“What’s his mom’s deal?”
I am shocked at how many times I have been asked this question. Talk of biological parents often brings strong emotional reactions from people. The news is filled with stories of abuse and neglect, so when we talk about being foster parents, a lot of the comments or questions are influenced by perceptions of the bio parents.
“How could someone do/allow that?”
“Why would someone like that get visits?”
“If they did ____, then they don’t deserve to be parents”
I fully believe that most foster parents don’t enter into this ministry with a deep and abiding hatred for bio parents. I also believe that many times, it’s easy to get lost in the details of a child’s case and forget that it is possible to treat the birth parents with love and respect, even as we struggle with the pain of their past actions (or inaction) and how that affected their families.
Early on in the process, I read a quote on Pinterest from Jason Johnson (who writes a fabulous foster care blog) that said, “The birth parents that we struggle to show grace to today were likely the kids 20-30 years ago we would have considered it a joy to foster.”
Woah. Reading that simultaneously freed me and also placed an incredible burden on me. As a foster parent, I have literally signed up to love, advocate for, and provide a safe space for children who have been exposed to deep trauma in one way or another. The missing piece of this puzzle, for me, was recognizing that these parents have usually had complex trauma in their own background, and have either lacked the opportunity or the resources to make the changes they need to make to create a safe space for their children.
As an intern, I once encountered a parent being investigated for allegations of physical abuse who was being asked about why he disciplined his children the way he did. He offered his explanation, ready to be judged, but the worker didn’t stop the conversation there. Instead, she asked him how he was disciplined as a child, and he proceeded to explain how he was physically abused and then emphatically stated, “I would NEVER do that to my child.”
Regardless of how I might have viewed his ability to parent, he was actively seeking to be a better parent than what he was exposed to growing up. I think it’s easy to assume that a lot of these parents “know better”, but choose poor coping and behavior over their children in a deliberate way. And if that’s what I think about these little ones’ parents, I’m not exactly encouraged to be kind. If I think that they don’t deserve their children, and I am somehow more deserving, I will be closed, bitter and unwilling to recognize their successes or love for their children. Viewing them in this way puts me in a competition with the birth parents, in which there can only be one winner (Hint: it isn’t the child).
Instead, I believe it is my duty to love the birth parents. My goal is to be able to come alongside them, meet them where they are and say “We are on the same team, your child’s team. We are rooting for you, praying for you. We want to see your family healed.” Do I condone dangerous behavior? No. Do I hurt when I see the effects of their actions in the eyes of their children? Absolutely. Every day. But you know what also makes me hurt? Thinking of the children that these parents used to be. Thinking of the deep trauma that occurred, the lack of safe caregivers, and all of the sin and brokenness that led them to where they are right now.
Is there a selfish part of me that wants to be the forever parent to these babies? Of course! I love them with my whole heart. I pray over them. I get attached. But I refuse to put my love and their parents’ love at opposition with each other. We hope to adopt one day, but I want to be standing in that courtroom knowing that I didn’t contribute to the brokenness of his first family, but instead, extended grace and open arms. Maybe it won’t make a difference to the parent, but it will always make a difference for the child.