This is for the parents who are in over their heads. The ones who are convinced they’re not making a difference anymore. The ones who aren’t sleeping much. The ones who don’t always understand the children they’re raising. The parents who didn’t realize defiance could be this strong. This is for the parents who are trying to understand where their child’s behavior is coming from. This is for the parent who is pretty certain they’re dealing with some special challenges, but don’t have a diagnosis yet. This is especially for the parents who are raising foster kids. That’s me. I’m a foster dad. My wife and I have both been there. And we’ve found a way through the days when we feel like we’re not making a difference.
Don’t get me wrong—my biological kids are far from perfect. They’ve decorated my expensive acoustic guitar with blue sharpie and played “What happens if I microwave this?” with explosive results. My son posted a video of himself in a sleeping bag, jumping off a roof onto a trampoline. Most recently, my daughter tried to smuggle a kitten into our home via her purse. At this point, you’re likely wondering how people with our level of parenting “skill” were ever approved to become foster parents. Us too. Regardless, we are approved and have been truly blessed (and straight-up challenged) by welcoming 12 children into our home at different times over the last 5 years.
Despite my experience with my own crazy kids, it didn’t take long for my wife and me to realize that we were in over our heads with the behaviors we were experiencing with our first two foster placements. Have you seen or read Lord of the Flies? It was like that. But then our training kicked in, and we realized that we weren’t dealing with misbehavior. It was trauma displayed through behavior. This was a game-changer. When you think a foster child is willfully breaking every single household rule you have simply to spite you, resentment can build quickly. But when you realize that there’s a hurt so big and so deep that it’s causing the behavior, you’re able to empathize and love the child right where they are.
Building empathy for the pain your child may be experiencing will take a depth of love that we won’t experience otherwise—and that is so far beyond what a typical, overwhelmed, workaday human is capable of grasping. Luckily for us, Paul laid it out pretty plainly in 1 Corinthians 13. Here are six ways to love biblically that we found helpful. Maybe you will too.
6 Ways Love Will Make a Difference When You’re Overwhelmed by Parenting
1. Love is patient. Your life may get flipped on its head and stay that way when you begin parenting. It’s not a guarantee, but it’s close. And it’s even closer for foster parenting. Foster parenting is messy, emotional, and full of uncertainty. However, the child and the family you’re opening your home and your heart to are already living in that emotional mess. As followers of Christ, we’re called to share each other’s burdens—and not just the quick and easy ones. Sharing real burdens isn’t easy or quick. But things that really make a difference are often hard and take time.
2. Love is kind. This was our motto for the longest time: “Respond, don’t react.” When something was going off the rails at our home, we had to resist the urge to react. Our reactions are usually emotional and rarely helpful in stressful situations. However, choosing to bite our tongues and respond with a kind tone allowed us to connect with our kids, ensure they knew they were loved, and then calmly correct the undesired behavior.
3. Love believes. After your 44th “kind” response, you will be discouraged and again wondering if you’re making a difference at all in the life of this child, or if you’re simply driving yourself crazy and to an early grave. Remember, just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it’s not happening. The love of Jesus changes people. You can believe in the power of His love even when you can’t see its effects yet. (Refer to point one and pray for more patience as needed.)
4. Love hopes. When you take in a foster child, you take in their family in some ways as well. In time, you will begin to meet and interact with their parents. Remember, you were God’s back-up plan. His first plan is for that family to thrive together. Hope for reunification. Hope for a better life for the entire family, and not just the child in your care. Hope to be a voice in their life in the future. It’s often a lack of hope that places families in these situations. You can be the one God uses to infuse a dose of hope back into their family.
5. Love endures. If everything goes according to plan, your foster child be reunited with their family. And it will hurt. You will miss them. Know that the love you gave them will endure the distance. It will be part of the foundation that they build their life on.
6. Love never fails. There were countless times when we thought, “This is enough. We’re done.” As much joy as there is in watching children grow, there are equal amounts of frustration when the rhythms of your family simply can’t get back in step due to your new additions. It sounds like a no-brainer now, but there will be a time when you’ll need to be reminded that loving a child trumps having a clean bathroom, a trip to the store without a temper-tantrum, or your perfect bedtime routine. If you keep after it long enough, you may very well change the life of that child forever, but I can’t guarantee that. What I can promise is that the kind of love that develops through obedience to your calling will change you. It will change your family. And you will experience a spiritual intimacy that simply can’t be attained through anything other than following God’s plan for your life. That kind of love is so much more real than I can describe—and it never fails.
Dr. Karyn Purvis, an expert in child development, said of foster children, “Our children were harmed in relationship and they will experience healing through nurturing relationships.” You don’t need a degree to make a difference in a child’s life. You simply need to model, as best you can, the love of Jesus to that child, especially when the effects of trauma rear their ugly head. Remember, love never fails. It takes patience, kindness, belief, hope, and endurance—but it never fails. It’s how Jesus loves you and me. We are walking evidence that it works. Love like Jesus loves you, and you will make a difference in the life of a child.