Why I hate being a foster parent (and why we will do it again)

Nothing has broken my heart quite like becoming a foster parent.

This weekend, we said goodbye to a six-year-old little boy who loved chocolate chip pancakes, Spiderman, and cuddling with our dog. I wish you could know him– he brought giggles and smiles into our home, and he had a contagious laugh. Every day when I got home from work, he would fly across the room and leap into my arms. Pound per pound, I’m certain that he gave the biggest hugs on planet earth. For the past six weeks, our world has focused on trying to shower him with unconditional love, and like clouds beginning to clear, we saw glimpses that he was beginning to respond.

But foster care involves heartache and hurt. No child enters into the foster care system without some degree of trauma, and sometimes their stories don’t resolve like you desperately hoped that they would. When my family embarked on our foster care journey, we knew that the stories of the children we would encounter would often begin with wrenching pain. What we didn’t anticipate was that sometimes, those precious stories would end with pain, too. Sometimes, there would be no happily ever after to celebrate—no clear resolution or restoration or healing. Sometimes, we would love a child as deeply and fiercely as we could, and sometimes, it would not be enough.

And I think that’s what I hate about foster care. I hate that even though it’s filled with glimpses of restoration and joy and more beauty than words can articulate, it’s a tangible, searing reminder of the incredible depth of brokenness all around us.

I hate that so many of the precious kids in the foster system have already experienced more hurt, loss, and abandonment than most of us will ever be able to wrap our minds around. The wounds are deep and wide and can seem to swallow them whole—piercing through the bone and marrow of even a six-year-old little boy who loves chocolate chip pancakes.

I hate the maddening injustice of how some kids have been irrevocably wounded by the very people who were supposed to love them best.

I hate that opening your heart and your home to kids in crisis means that you will inevitably feel the weight of their trauma with them.

I hate the mind-numbing complexity of navigating difficult systems and bureaucracies that struggle to identify what is best for the child.

Over the course of my life, I’ve served internationally in places of extreme poverty, and yet, foster care has unquestionably been the most heart-wrenching experience of my life.

As I stand and survey the cost to my own family through trauma-induced outbursts we couldn’t seem to control, there’s a part of me that desperately wants to never do this again. I want to walk away – no, I want to run away. I want to lock the front door of our home and refuse to open it again. I want to insulate my family from the pain we have experienced together by finding “safer” ways of caring for our neighbors.

But I know in my gut that our family will do this again.

I’ve had friends ask why, and candidly, I’ve wondered that myself. Why would we step into fostering again when sometimes it seems so crazy difficult. I have no simple answers, only a small collection of simple things that I know to be true.

We’ll open up our home because there are kids who need a home. God has charged us with loving our neighbors like he loves them, and surely that must include the kids all around us who need a safe place. The list of children languishing in the system still waiting for a home is staggering. The Church should always be known by its open doors and hospitality to anyone who needs a home.

We’ll open up our home because if we turn a blind eye to the needs around us, we don’t understand who God is or what He came to do.

We’ll open up our home because to shut our doors would be an act of defiance against the God who withheld nothing—not even his own Son– to rescue us. He has called our entire family into this unique way of trying to incarnate Love to our neighbors, and unlike anything we’ve done before, this requires us all to be all in every minute of every day.

We’ll open up our home because over the course of the past three years, I’ve seen my wife show herculean strength and compassion to ten children who have stayed with us. I love Laurel more fiercely and deeply as a result of watching her flatten her feet and stand between hurting children and the God she is convinced loves them more than she does. I’ve never been more in love with my wife than as I’ve watched her care for kids in crisis.

We’ll open up our home because sometimes, we get a front row seat to a miracle. There is no family so broken, no child so wounded that God cannot bring healing. Sometimes, the foster system accomplishes the goal of providing a safe place for kids to be until they can be reunited with their families, or leads them to their forever home.

So after a break, we will again throw open our front door and welcome the next child God will give us. We know there will be moments of joy alongside moments of immense pain. We know there are absolutely no promises of happy endings. But we’re committed to walking in obedience, and trying to love like we’ve been loved. And we know that no matter how difficult it might be, it’s the right thing for us to do.

4 Comments

  1. Kathy Nemeth
    February 9, 2018

    I am a trained CASA worker. Never have I seen such brokenness in our homes. It is a result of many issues in society today. Being an advocate for these children brings with it many of the issues noted above. It can also bring hope and recovery for some of the broken homes we work with. So proud of all the people who step up and give these children a better life, even if it is for a short period of time. Hopefully, we all make a difference.

    Reply
  2. Julie
    February 10, 2018

    Peter, you articulate so well what is in my heart and on my mind as well. We walk this road too.

    Reply
  3. Kristi
    February 12, 2018

    I am sitting on my bed hurting, as it was a hard night with two of God’s wonderful children, who have been through more than I can imagine, needing a break wondering if this is really what God wants for me. Your words spoke truth and reminded me of the all of God’s love that I get to share with these children and how much I love sharing my life with these kids. Thank you!

    Reply
  4. Lyn
    February 19, 2018

    I am Julie’s mom. Your blog brought tears to my eyes for you and for her and for all of the others who so sacrifically and courageously do what you do. But most of all my tears are for those dear children who didn’t ask for any of this trauma and brokenness who just want to be loved, safe and accepted. God bless you.

    Reply

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