When we started foster care all those years ago, we had no idea what we were walking into. The questions seemed overwhelming, with one of the biggest ones being, “What is it like to be a foster parent?” But we knew we were called to open our home.
So even though it felt really scary in the moment, we took one small step of obedience at a time until our home was open and ready for placement.
Five years, 26 kids, two states, and two adoptions later, if you had told me what those five years would hold, I can tell you this: We probably would have hesitated.
But I can also tell you this: We would do it all over again.
Here are five things we’ve learned about what it’s like to be a foster parent (though this list could include way more!).
What Is It Like to Be a Foster Parent? Here Are Five Things We’ve Learned:
1. It’s okay not to have any of the answers.
I like some sense of control. I have always been okay with not having all of the answers, but foster care shoves you into a season of life where you may not have any of the answers, and that is tough.
There are a lot of unknowns: “Why did the judge make that decision?” “I don’t understand this behavior.” “I don’t know how to fix this for them.” The questions are constant.
The most tangible way this happened in our experience was with my daughter, Mila.
Mila came to us on a Saturday morning at 1:30am when she was only nine days old. I remember waking up to the call and welcoming her into our home in a matter of minutes. She was dropped off with a small bag, enough diapers and formula to get us through the night, and a piece of paper that had her name on it.
Every day that following week, I reached out to the social worker who dropped her off, seeking answers with no response. By that next Saturday morning, we found ourselves in the E.R. waiting to be seen when Mila stopped breathing, was suddenly ripped out of my arms, and whisked away.
I won’t leave you in suspense—Mila is a healthy 18-month-old toddler now.
Every single question I asked, with tears streaming down my face (“Was there prenatal care?” “Was Mila full term?” “What hospital was she born in?”), was answered with, “I don’t know.”
I was completely helpless, but here’s the thing: Through all of the unknown, we’ve learned there is a faithful Father who isn’t surprised by anything. We’ve had the opportunity to grow in our faith and relationship with Him through our journey because we’ve had to lean in and trust that He is ever-loving and ever-faithful.
2. It’s a calling to live out as a family.
I think a question every parent asks before they start foster care is, “How will this affect my children?” We had the same question. We wondered if opening their world to such brokenness would wipe away their innocence.
Could we protect them from all the things? No. As hard as we try, we can’t hide all the pain, and what we learned is that it does hurt them.
Their hearts ache for what breaks our Father’s heart. They long, just as we do, for restoration for these kids, learning that they can’t provide it. It has changed our daughters. It has brought needs right into their world that they’re able to see and meet. It has matured them and taught them lessons that we could never teach.
But what better way to live out the gospel than as a family, every day in the trenches, in our home?
Without hesitation, I would tell you that it’s worth it. The girls know the cost is high. They know the journey has no clear answers, and they’re still all in—which is a pretty cool thing to have a front-row seat for, if you ask me.
3. Grieving the loss of someone who is still alive is very real.
If you’ve ever experienced the loss of a family member, you know the grief is overwhelming, and you know the pain is always there. You learn to live with the pain in the background, and there’s a part of you that doesn’t want it to go away.
When kids come into your home, you step into their brokenness, and you step into a battle that neither of you asked for, yet something special happens.
You advocate and fight for what is best for that child, and as a foster parent, you hope that what is best for the child is for them to return home.
It makes me think of a sibling set who joined us for just about a year. They were 19 months and 3 months when they came. The 3-month-old baby was so medically fragile that she came with monitors attached to her. We had oxygen tanks installed in the house, she had multiple weekly appointments, and she went through one surgery while she was in our care.
We loved these sweet little ones, and we were so proud of their mom when they were able to return home. When the social worker arrived to pick them up, I turned to my daughters to have them say their goodbyes, and my 8-year-old broke right before our eyes. She was grieving the loss of these siblings whom she adored.
I haven’t ever seen such brokenness, and it still brings tears to my eyes writing it all these years later. We constantly find ourselves in this space of such joy and deep sadness, and it’s okay to talk about both.
4. We get to do hard things.
I’ve recently decided we should replace the phrase “We can do hard things” with “We get to do hard things.”
It’s this idea that says, “I can do the hard thing, I will do the hard thing, and I’ll be stronger because I did the hard thing.”
If my 20-year-old, freshly married self had to endure the hard things I’ve done as a foster parent, she wouldn’t have survived. The things I hold, the weight I carry, the life I’ve lived; I’ll tell you right now—she would buckle under the pressure of five kids. But it’s because I’ve grown, stretched, failed, and tried again that I am able to do hard things.
And you can, too.
And if you think you can’t, remember this:
… “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 2 Corinthians 12:9 NIV
Foster care is hard—we hear about the hard every day—but we get to do something that has the potential to change the trajectory of families. And God’s strength will be with us every step of the way.
5. It’s an honor to write the pages.
If you have some time, I want you to sit and think about what it may look like to be in foster care. Think about what an 8-year-old or a 2-year-old might experience on the day they’re taken from their birth parents. Think about the trauma.
Of course, children are removed from homes for many reasons, but rarely reasons kids can understand.
Foster care is only a part of the story for every kid we open the door to, and while they’re here, we have the honor to write some pages of that story—a story we may never read the ending of.
We do our best as foster parents to create highlights during potentially the hardest part of their story. Foster care is inherently broken and dark. But what an opportunity to decide that you are going to play an active role in lightening the heavy load these kids are carrying.
We work hard to celebrate the victories—the big ones and the little ones—and we intentionally create moments of laughter and fun.
When I think about this, I’m reminded that I want to love like Jesus loves. When I reflect on the darkest moments of my life, I’m so thankful for the highlights that intersected with those times—those little moments when I felt loved, secure, and heard. The moments when I felt like I could take a deep breath.
I know Jesus gave me those moments through others. And I’m so thankful that He wants to use us to create those moments for these kids.
It’s a big deal when someone hands you the pen to write a few chapters of someone else’s story, and I want to make sure it honors the main character and the primary Author.
So, what is it like to be a foster parent? It’s an indescribable journey of unanswered questions, grief, and hard things. But it’s also an opportunity to love like Jesus and change the stories for kids we would never know otherwise.