Love ‘Em and Leave ‘Em: Confessions from a First-Time Foster Mom

Whether we’re cruising the grocery store with three toddlers piled inside the cart and a Kindergartener hanging off each side or pushing multiple strollers down the sidewalk while the six and seven year old circle us on their scooters, we have a way of making an impression. Identifying ourselves as foster parents seems to open the floodgates for some pretty personal questions, and I’ll be the first to admit I’m still learning how to answer them well. The top question that still makes me squirm no matter how often I hear it is: “What happens when they go home?”

As a first-time foster mom my typical response was simply that we hadn’t crossed that bridge yet. It’s hard to explain the reality of parenting in a realm in which we often must become the love ‘em and leave ‘em type. We open our hearts and our homes knowing the day may come when we have to say goodbye. Any agency will tell you the goal of fostering is to love and care for the children while their parents work on creating a safe and healthy home for them to go back to. Goodbye is supposed to be the best-case outcome. When the parents aren’t in a position to make the choices or changes necessary to provide children with security and stability, however, adoption may become the best plan. That’s where foster families like us come into the picture. While some cases are more quickly processed through the courts and the children can begin settling in as forever members of the family, we still operate under the reality that until the judge’s papers are signed, sealed, and delivered, they’re not yours.

Telling that to your heart while you wait is not so simple. I’m grateful for the truths of God that remind me our efforts are not in vain, even if the time comes when we must cross that bridge I am so often questioned about.

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To be honest, deep-down I didn’t think we’d ever have to cross the bridge of saying goodbye. I guess I rather arrogantly assumed that adoption would end up being God’s plan for our four because it made so much sense to me. I want to see these siblings work through their histories hand-in-hand with a God whose powerful love can bring healing to their bodies, souls, and spirits. I want to wake up every morning and be the one to love them and care for them. I don’t want to think about goodbye, because I don’t want to miss a moment of investing in them right here and now. That bridge was for other foster parents to figure out. Not us. Not our family.

Not until yesterday.

Yesterday morning I felt that niggling-need to spend a special moment praying over our day together, so I gathered my somewhat confused kiddos and explained that we weren’t eating a second breakfast, we were just going to talk to God about whatever the day might bring. I asked God to protect the hearts of each one of us, to cover us with His peace, and to guide the day’s events according to His plan.

That may sound like an ultra-spiritual mommy moment, but the truth is it just made me worry! The whole morning I walked through our routines bracing myself for whatever was heading our way that God knew I would need extra help handling. When my husband came home at lunch and disclosed the unexpected details of a phone conversation with our caseworker, the possibility of goodbyes hit home and hit home hard.

I did two things.

First, I picked up the nearest toddler and held on for dear life. (There’s always at least one dancing around my ankles!) Second, I picked up my phone and called in a few reinforcement prayers from those I knew wouldn’t need the details. For the first time I felt the full weight of what it means to be a love em’ and leave ‘em parent, and it felt as ugly as it sounds.

I’m not sure this is a reality you can fully prepare for. When you have a little one who spoke her first words in your house, a special needs diva who learned her first attempts at communication through signing in your house, and two ‘big’ kids who are learning what childhood is supposed to be like for the first time in your house, you fall in love with them. When their wounds come out as weapons you choose to continue loving them. Trust me when I say there’s not a fool-proof way to prepare for the day your phone rings and suddenly the children you love are about to leave. It’s a hard, hard, hard reality.

I am still working through my perspective on yesterday. I have rewritten sections of this post several times in the past twenty-four hours, but putting my thoughts to paper has always been helpful. Today I can write with the comfort of three toddlers napping in their cribs under my own roof. I can write with my Kindergarteners here too. We are re-learning that there is very little certainty in the realm of foster parenting. In the same way our four were originally on their way to us, then not, then headed here again, then not…they may be headed away one moment and not the next.

For now they are here.

For now here is home.

So what do foster parents do when they have to say goodbye? How do they cope in a love ‘em and leave ‘em line of work? I still don’t know. I may never have to know, or I may have to live it and relive it time and time again.

What I do know is this:  Sometimes you don’t know what you can or can’t handle until the moment is standing on your doorstep and staring you in the face. Our moment came in the beautiful brown eyes of four small children who needed a refuge of safety and the reassurance that they mattered. Their predicament tugged at our heart-strings, but we quickly learned compassion will only take you so far.

As a foster mom, I need more than a big heart, I need a big God. I need a God who can create peace in the midst of chaos and confusion, a God who can prompt what my husband and I never would have known to plan, a God whose goodness can break through even the darkest of evils.

My God is all of that and more.

He is the God whose promises ring true regardless of how precarious it looks from our point of view. He is the God who carries us through today when tomorrow means goodbye, and carries us through tomorrow when goodbye becomes hello again. He is the grace that is sufficient. He is the strength made perfect in weakness. He is the security that soothes the fears of being a love ‘em and leave ‘em first-time-foster-mom.

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I woke up this morning with one certainty in mind: He is still God, and He is still good. If the day comes when this home ceases to be their home, or if we have to bear the weight of choosing who gets to stay and who has to go, He is still God. His work in their lives is not limited to my love and my house. He is bigger than that, but for as long as He keeps them with us, I want to stop worrying about what happens when the goodbyes come. If and when we face that bridge, I rest in the comfort that He will carry our family across.

Whatever your yesterday was, whatever your today is, and whatever your tomorrow may bring, I pray this post will remind you of the truth God so graciously spoke to my heart in my hour of need.

HE IS A BIG GOD!! His love is big. His peace is big. His grace is big.

May we rest in that reality and move forward in the confidence of our faith!

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7 thoughts on “Love ‘Em and Leave ‘Em: Confessions from a First-Time Foster Mom

  1. stultsmamaof4 says:

    Oh, Sarah, my heart breaks for you right now! Praying peace over your family and your days to come. He IS good, even when it doesn’t feel like it. I’m proud to see you clinging to those truths.

  2. Alecia says:

    Being foster parents is such a noble calling. The love you are showing these precious children is not in vain, whether they stay or have to go. God bless you.

  3. Teresa Igo says:

    I couldn’t imagine how you feel right now. We brought our daughter home from the hospital 11 years and 1 week ago. Your comment “until the judge’s papers are signed, sealed, and delivered, they’re not yours.” is so true. While we didn’t really have to worry about any minds being changed really in the back of my mind I still knew they could. Just remember you are a blessing to those children and the Godly love you show them now will not be forgotten. I will add your family to my prayer list and keep you in my thoughts. God bless your family.

    • Sarah.Jo.Fairchild says:

      Would love to hear your adoption story sometime! We adopted our son and were blessed to be at every ultrasound for the second half of his brave bio mom pregnancy. Deciding whether or not to decorate his nursery knowing she could choose a different plan taught us many of these lessons, but fostering has a new take and we are learning and learning and learning…!

  4. Sarah says:

    Okay … just plum needed to read this today. Friend, I too am a first time foster mama. Thank you for sharing. for being real. for encouraging me to keep going.

    Kinda of liking our momma notes. I do hope you’ll join us again and link up. Wanna join us? Slip your fave recipe, notes of encouragement, birthday pics, all things gloriously mom, into the link up. Just moms. Sharing our notes. Creating a melody.

    http://justsarahdawn.blogspot.com/2013/06/the-new-to-do.html

    Be blessed bunches,
    Sarah

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