Yes, Being A Foster Parent Will Break Your Heart, But You Can't Let That Stop You

by Stacey Gagnon
Originally Published: 
A foster mother holding a small shoes and a toddler on a couch in black and white
Jeshoots / Pexels

If you choose the road of foster care and adoption, you are choosing pain, brokenness, and sorrow. You are choosing sleepless nights and exhausting days. You are truly loving the least of these, but with it comes pain. You are willingly unpacking baggage filled with loss, shame, and fear with every child that enters your home, and it will spread all over your dining room table, your living room floor, and your bedroom.

It will seep into your life and expose every crevice of weakness you have spackled over with material pursuits and daily busyness. The child will not be grateful, and you will find yourself pouring into a well with no bottom. But with all this pain comes possibility, with brokenness comes beauty, and from sorrow comes joy. Foster care and adoption will wreck you, and I am lucky for it because who I was before this journey is not who I am now.

I have lived the life of foster care and adoption for over 10 years now. I have had my heart ripped out, stomped on, and broken more times than I can count. I have heard the “I could never do that,” “I could never give them back,” and “My heart couldn’t handle the pain.” And I dare say that I cannot handle the pain either.

I have broke into a million pieces every single time I had to pack up a suitcase with their tiny shoes, favorite books, or that yellow blanket they couldn’t sleep without and I never dared to wash no matter how funky it got. It killed me and rocked my world every single time I had to put their pictures into an envelope for the next stop in their journey, because I could never quite file those pictures away into the recesses of my mind. Nope, they walked before me every day when I ran across their T-shirt lost in the bottom of the laundry or woke up scared because the baby hadn’t cried all night — before realizing the sweet baby was gone. And still years later, I worry about these children and wonder if they are safe, loved, and warm. And I could still tell you about every single child who lived in my home. Little pictures in my mind, I can still look back upon and see the first gummy grin, first steps, sleepless nights, and exactly how they looked when I picked them up in that dirty onesie with a diaper bag that reeked of smoke and was filled with nothing that actually fit or pertained to a baby.

Yesterday, a dear friend had her first placement; her first foster child moved to a new home. There was minimal warning, no communication, and no transition. They had only had him three months. Only three months. What is “only” three months? It’s only 541 diaper changes, hundreds of bottle feeds, hours walking the floor with a drug-exposed newborn, doctor’s visits, and gummy grins. Only three months is actually a lifetime to a 3-month-old. And I cried over the phone with this mama and encouraged her to trust in God’s plan. I said this even though it was never something I wanted to hear in that moment. I wanted to hear justice, fairness. I wanted the world to be fair. I wanted the happily ever after, and after all this time, I can tell you that it’s never fair. I can also tell you that there is never a happily ever after and no one can do this and not be ripped to the core.

It’s not fair to see their tiny smile and realize the huge losses they already know.

It’s not fair to hold the hand of a child who has whip marks across their back and hearing impairment from blows to the head. A child who knows the name of street drugs, swears like a sailor, and knows the rough hands of a father. A little girl who uses her body to garner affection because that’s how she’s always been loved by a man. It’s not fair to see innocence tainted by evil.

Its not fair that they are moved from home to home with a trash bag of belongings.

It’s not fair that they will visit every week the person who has abused and failed them. And it’s harder still to encourage that relationship because they still love their parents and reunification is the goal.

It’s not fair that you are the first to wipe a tear when they skin their knee, the first to respond to their chattering questions, the first to cheer when they finish their green beans, and the very last to know what the case plan is.

It’s not fair that we have an overburdened system with overworked caseworkers and overlooked children. The system is broken.

It’s not fair to hear the unnatural cry of a newborn experiencing drug withdrawal.

It’s not fair when you adopt your foster child and weep because you know the tremendous loss that your child will forever endure. This new baggage they now carry is filled with fear of rejection, fear of abandonment, and feelings of unworthiness. And you will work every day to help your child hand you that bag to carry, because it is filled with hurt and pain.

It’s never fair. And you sit there after they leave, holding that T-shirt that still smells of them, and you cry ugly tears. But you aren’t supposed to be sad because you signed up for this. You aren’t supposed to grieve because it’s not like you have lost your child, but deep inside you feel like you have. And you think that perhaps there is something wrong with you, that you aren’t tough enough.

And I am here to tell you that no one is tough enough. Most choose not to walk this path because truly we all know that it is going to hurt. So listen to my words: It matters. You have chosen a journey that truly matters, and you have done this in spite of the heartbreak. And yes, God is in control, but I have learned something even deeper than this. What I should have said to you was that God has this incredible ability to bring great beauty out of horrible tragedy and brokenness. And when we are in the midst of it, it is so terribly hard to see. But when we have moved a distance from it, we see we were never alone, He knows the story of every tear. And in this brokenness is where we can hand Him our burned up dreams and trade them for beauty.

And the phone will ring and they will need a bed for a child, and you’ll be tempted to say, “I could never do that.”

It’s for a 2 year old, abandoned child…and you’ll think, “I could never give her back.”

They will want to know if you can leave now for the hospital to pick her up, and you want to say, “My heart can’t handle the pain.”

But you will hear yourself quietly say “yes” because you know that the 2-year-old needs you to shoulder the burden, swallow the pain, and hold her hand until the next spot on the journey. Your heart can’t handle it, but you know living with a broken heart is possible. You have learned that even though it is shattered, it still can love. But biggest of all, you know that your shoulders can handle the load that no child should ever carry. You know that because your heart has already been shattered into pieces it has made it easier to share. I know you mama, and I know you can do this. And I know that one day you will see the beauty in the tragedy and find strength from the fractures.

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