All children are carried in the womb but not all whom they will call “mom” carried them.
Our third child was certainly a labor of love. His was a paperwork birthing, which followed hours of government mandated training and multiple home visits to uncover every caveat of our lives. Yet, just as with our first two biological children leaving the hospital, we walked out of the foster home with our son after a few signatures and a quick Xerox copy of our licenses. We asked ourselves, “Is that all it takes to bring a child home with you?”
That “aha” moment seems to erase from memory the birth pains of red tape, blood, sweat, and tears that the previous months had warranted.
The MAPP classes (Model Approach to Partnership and Parenting) warned us that we should be prepared to take in children either emotionally, physically, and/or mentally ill. Yes, we had the opportunity to limit the variety of situations we were willing to embrace as a family. However, even with the stipulations that we communicated best fit our family makeup, we knew it would not be an easy adjustment.
Reflecting on our first night as foster parents I imagine our story differs in the details of the condition in which our son came to us; however, it is a situation par for the course. We went to the group home where he had been in custody for one month. He was adorable, frail, knew no boundaries, and, in short, his neediness melted our hearts. The paternal instinct to protect came naturally. We left the group home with only the clothes on his back and the diaper on his bottom, and an undiagnosed case of pink eye.
Sickness is par for the course.
The first three months of foster care, our children were in and out of the doctor’s offices with one diagnosis after another. At one point, we were administering breathing treatments to all three children totaling nine treatments a day. I began to think that I had gone into respiratory therapy instead of foster care!
As the months passed and our son began to morph into a healthy child, he came to add to his vocabulary, his attention span, his manners, and his knowledge of Jesus. It is remarkable to look back on his journey with us and see how much he has grown in wisdom and stature.
This October, we will celebrate one year as a foster family. Here is a recap of our experiences and recommendations as first time foster parents:
1. Go all in on love. I remember that first night so well. After I gave our son his bath and dressed him in pajamas, it was time to read. We selected the same books that are my biological son’s favorite. I felt a twinge of betrayal, as if I loved my son less because I was opening my heart up to love another child. I wasn’t sure that I could love someone that at any minute could be taken away from me. By day three I decided that I would love with reckless abandon no matter the ultimate outcome of the case or the time frame of his placement in our home. This little boy was going to be loved like we would love Jesus.
“And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me.’” (Matthew 25:40)
2. Be Christ’s ambassador for your son or daughter. While state workers and volunteers will be involved and may seek to do the best for the child, it is ultimately up to you to be their advocate. If you do not speak up on their behalf then theirs are the cries that go unheard. We must have their best interest at heart and promote that to all parties or no one else will. You are indeed caring for orphans when you foster a child. (James 1:27)
3. Enlist the prayer support of your faith family and community. The prayers of our friends, the sympathetic ear of family, faith in God’s will, and gifts of encouragement from brothers and sisters in Christ enabled us to come this far. Foster care is a roller coaster ride of emotions replete with love, fear, guilt, and inadequacies. However, with each new day, the Lord Jesus offers us His grace and provides strength and rest when it is needed most.
4. Work as a team with your mate and support system. My husband, Ron, and I often remind our children we are on the same team. Ron has been incredible about providing breaks away for times of refreshment, reading, and…coffee! Singles can foster and adopt; however, before you jump into foster-care develop a support system. This is not a venture for someone to go alone.
5. Hold each foster child with an open hand. Love them like they’re your own, but realize they are God’s and you have been entrusted with this child for such a time as this. Whether your foster journey with a given child is one weekend, one year, or the situation presents itself for adoption, you have been given the responsibility of caring for this child made in the image of God for a purpose and a season. All of our children have a timestamp of days within our home; we raise them to leave us within 18 short years; foster children leave sooner.
6. Realize that medical processes take much longer. The red tape involved in gaining permission for necessary medical treatments is astounding. Our foster son waited 11 months to have a procedure, which we had previously undergone with our own son within three days of his diagnosis.
7. Nothing happens in the time-frame you expect. Reunification (the foster child returning to their family) or TPR (termination of parental rights) comes after all parties either agree that it is safe to return or have exhausted every possible chance for the parents to remedy the defective behavior which resulted in foster care. Our case is a rather simple one, yet we have had our foster son for a year.
Often times people will say, “I could never love a child and then give them back.” My response is twofold: First, the body of Christ is to be known by our love for one another. Second, if you desire to change the world for Christ, change the world for one child. Your prayers and example can be the saving grace factor for an entire family tree. Together, as the body of Christ, we can provide homes for the fatherless and arms of comfort and love for those without a mom and dad. Together, we can change the world one orphan at a time.
Motherhood As An Act of Worship
Brooke Cooney is a pastor's wife, mother of two, and foster-mom of one. To capture the eternal in the everyday, she blogs about family, faith, and lessons along the journey at ThisTemporaryHome.com.