What I Learned From Being a Foster Parent

After seven years of being a licensed foster family we are not renewing our foster care license this year. Fostering was something we kind of fell into.  It’s not something we worked toward for a long time or talked about extensively.  It felt absolutely right from the first moment we began to discuss it.  And, as Jason and I are both apt to do, we dove right in.  (I’ve noticed a trend in my life: anything that “falls into my lap” like that is to be taken seriously. That generally means it has been orchestrated just for me). By the time we came up for air we had finished all the paperwork, taken all the classes and were halfway through our home studies.

If we had not begun to foster when we did and where we did, Ethan would not be a part of our family. This blows my mind.  I have no words to express what this experience has meant to us.  How it’s strengthened our relationships and given us a glimpse of how blessed we truly are.  

We have talked about the possibility of not renewing our license each year.  But every year it felt important, needed.  We haven’t cared for foster children regularly since we moved over three years ago. Only 4 of our 15 kiddos have joined us in this home, and only for short periods of time.  The little place in which we live just doesn’t have the need like our previous area did.

While I have been frustrated and our family has been hurt by “The System”, it is still so difficult for me to be officially done.  Part of me wants to be an amazing, organized Mama of 13. I want to be that woman who can bring in a sibling group of 7 and provide each of them with the individual attention and developmental help they require.  I still long to provide a home for children in need.  My heart is big enough and I have more love to share, not only for the children who need care, but for the parents who need help.  I am so drawn to this work.

However, I feel at peace with the decision we’ve made, despite the tears I’m shedding as I type.

One of the biggest surprises of this period in our lives has been how we have been affected by interacting with the birth parents.  We have been present in the courtroom when heartbreaking verdicts have been read.  Heartbreaking for us, yes, but also for birth parents.  I will never forget the faces of some of the parents we’ve worked with.  I have never seen a more jubilant face than when Cutie’s Dad learned he would be able to parent Cutie.  I have never seen a mother more stricken, more beaten down by life and loss and heartbreak than when Baby’s birth mother lost her parental rights.

We’ve witnessed both ends of the spectrum and nearly everything in between.  

A few things I’ve learned from being a foster mom:

Love makes all the difference.  We saw children blossom and bloom when their physical and emotional needs were met. Lives were changed because we had the opportunity to show love to little ones who desperately needed it.  Mostly our lives.

Love is the solution to life’s most difficult problems.  It is a powerful motivator and lack of love has an equally powerful effect.

People are people.  You and I are not that different from the parents we worked with.  In our culture we have a tendency to look down on those who struggle with addiction (drug addiction was by far the most common reason children were placed in our home), but throughout our foster care journey our eyes were opened to the fact that just a few small steps separate any one of us from being in their shoes.  

We often heard hurtful comments about the parents we worked with; attacks on their character, harsh words about their worth.  But people are people.  Just like you they are loved by a gracious Father in Heaven.  Just like you they need love and acceptance.  It is not my place, or yours, to judge them.

“Perhaps some have created their own difficulties, but don’t the rest of us do exactly the same thing? Isn’t that why this compassionate ruler asks, “Are we not all beggars?” Don’t we all cry out for help and hope and answers to prayers? Don’t we all beg for forgiveness for mistakes we have made and troubles we have caused? Don’t we all implore that grace will compensate for our weaknesses, that mercy will triumph over justice at least in our case?”   Jeffrey R Holland

Be compassionate. We learned compassion for children, those helpless victims in horrible situations.  We learned compassion for overworked caseworkers who were doing all they could to keep their heads above water.  We learned compassion for judges who make heart-wrenching decisions every single day.  We learned compassion for those who have made horrible mistakes and who will never have the life they envision. I believe the world is in need of compassion more than almost anything else.

My heart has been forever changed by this work; it has been broken and rebuilt many times.  Part of me wonders how I will identify myself now that Foster Mom is not part of my title.  Who does that make me?  It’s been years since a little one was with us long term, so I’m surprised at how emotional this decision has made me.  It’s hard to let go, even though I am certain it’s time.  I didn’t expect to need to grieve this decision, but just like with any period of life that we leave behind, grieving is necessary.

I am forever grateful for the opportunity to fill this role, when it was our work to do.  Our time in this capacity is finished now, but maybe it’s your turn to start.


I’d love to talk to you about Fostering, if you’re interested.