Here’s where things can get sticky. You’ve got this beautiful foster baby in your home and all you want to do is cuddle, squeeze, and love on this baby till all is made right. You’ve filled out mountains of paperwork, you’ve made it through hours of training, you’ve told complete strangers every detail of your life, and now you are finally getting to do what you actually signed up for- to take care of a child in need.
Then you get a phone call.
It’s time to set up visits. Visits? Oh, that’s right….this baby belongs to someone else.
I don’t know about you, but I think one of the last things I thought about when we signed up to become foster parents was the birth parents. It wasn’t that I felt they didn’t matter, duh, they brought the child into this world. I guess I just didn’t think much about our interactions with them, nor did I realize the major role they would play in our lives. You simply can’t foster well and remove yourselves from the birth parents (unless there are safety concerns, but that’s another story altogether). It just doesn’t work that way. The birth parents are a critical piece of the fostering puzzle.
We’ve had many different scenarios with birth parents through our times of fostering. We’ve had great times…and not so great times. One birth parent became a true friend and remains a friend to this day. I love her. Even though we don’t see each other often she will always be special to us. We shared a very vulnerable time together; she entrusted her baby to us and we loved her baby with the knowledge she would never truly be ours. There was mutual respect there and a real love. That was incredibly special and amazing.
I remember one time I went to the hospital to meet one of our foster babes with extremely high medical needs. He had been hospitalized for several months and was due to be discharged later that week. I had to go up to the hospital to meet with specialists to make sure we were clear on all the different things he would require at home, and to make sure we were up for it. I was also going to meet the mommy. I always feel a little nervous before first meeting the birth parents. I don’t want the mommy to look at me as the bad guy- but how can she not? Here I am, taking away her baby- a stand-in mommy. Ugh. It’s not a good feeling. I remember going to the nurses station and saying who I was, and why I was there. The nurse replied that the mom was waiting in the room and wanted the nurse to accompany me to the room. “She’s very nervous to meet you.”
We entered the room and I saw the mommy cuddling her babe. I saw the fear in her eyes and I melted. Yes, she’d made some poor decisions. Yes, she’d been selfish. Yes, she was at fault. I still melted. We chatted, I asked her questions about her son. I asked her what he liked and disliked. I asked her how he went to sleep best and if he liked to be rocked. Sure, I knew he’d spent most of his life in the hospital with nurses caring for him and not her. Still I asked. She was, after all, his mommy. That meant something.
Some may disagree, but I’m convinced that very few parents actually want to harm their children. Yes, there are some people that abuse with intent to harm. I get that, and I’m not excusing that or talking about that. I choose to believe though, that those are the minority. Many of the birth parents I know of, and have encountered really do love their children, yet they are caught in a cycle that does not allow for them to act on that love in a healthy way. Often that cycle is one of addiction. Addiction is a horrible beast. It takes over everything. It becomes the most important thing. It rules your life. It makes you someone you are not. Sometimes they are caught in a cycle of abuse and/or extreme dysfunction. Their parents, their parents’ parents, and so on and so on have lived in such dysfunction that they honestly don’t know what anything close to “normal” is. They have no clue what healthy relationships look like. They have no idea about true love- true unselfish love that puts others first. They have never had a good role model. Honestly, when a person is raised up in a cycle of generations of abuse and dysfunction, what do we expect?
Most of you know we are nearing the end of the process of adopting our foster son. It’s almost final! We’ve never met his birth parents. I know a lot about his birth mother’s story though, and I tell you what, if I was in her same situation, if I had the life she’s been given, I’m not so sure I would be much different. From the very beginning she was almost doomed to fail. All the odds were against her and she didn’t beat them. She wasn’t that amazing success story of soaring above your situation. She has done exactly what you would expect with the situations she’s been given. Now sure, she’s made some pretty rotten decisions. Sure, she’s responsible for how she’s responded to life. I am not excusing her or saying she deserves to have her children with her. I’m just saying, it’s pretty easy for me to point the finger and judge her for losing her son….but when I step back and think of the cycle she was born into it makes me pause, and I have a bit of a change of heart.
I hope I’m getting my point across here. I’m not excusing poor behavior by any means! We are all responsible for our actions, and all our actions have consequences. It’s just my heart that we show compassion and love to the birth parents we encounter. What an amazing chance we have to impact not just the life of a child, but the life of an entire family. Our care and concern for the birth parents could be a catalyst for them to break out of their unhealthy cycle. What if I am the only one who looks at that birth mom and really sees her. She is loved. She is a cherished creation, perfectly and wonderfully made. She has a heavenly Father just waiting on pins and needles for her to turn to Him. Boy, when I think about it that way it makes me excited about birth parents! I remember months after that nervous hospital meeting I wrote about earlier we were able to go to the first birthday party of that sweet little boy. He had been happily living at home with his parents for several months and we were invited to his party! After we’d been at the party for a while this family member pipes up with “I don’t get it. You guys are just so nice. What’s up with you?” Ha! Now I hadn’t heard that one before! Yet there we were in a room full of people we never would have met if we hadn’t reached out to those birth parents. We didn’t just tolerate them because we had their son, we built a relationship with them. They knew we loved them and we were able to truly impact them with the love of Jesus. It was awesome.
I feel like I rambled tonight. 🙂 If you take one thing away from this post, take this: please see the birth parents. Really and truly see them. Look past the immediate circumstances and see the cycle they are caught in. Then look to see how Jesus sees them, and treat them accordingly. Who knows? You may be impacting an entire family for eternity.