Birth Parents Are Not the Enemy
The first time I met the biological mother of our two kids, Emma and Bailey, I was very upset. She came rushing to my car at pick-up after school holding the girl’s school picture envelope. She had removed the largest picture for herself and asked if she could keep it.
With a strained grin, I answered, “Of course you can!” But inside I felt a mixture of sadness and resentment. My husband and I have no biological children. These were the first school pictures we’d ever gotten, and it was one of those milestones we had been looking forward to. And she’d helped herself to the biggest and best before I’d even gotten a peek.
When the kids got into the car, Bailey quietly asked, “Do you like my mom?” Boom! My anger toward her mom dissolved when I heard the fear in her voice. It would have been easy for me to be unkind and express my frustrations, but what would this have portrayed to Bailey? Instead, I took a deep breath and said, “Of course I do, sweetheart. She’s your mom.”
A year later, Emma and Bailey were reunified with their biological mom. She and I are even friends on Facebook. Now 16 and 14, the girls are thriving. And because of our relationship with their mom, we get to watch them grow up.
Fostering requires us to open our hearts not only to the children we care for, but their biological families as well. While not an easy process, taking the time to do these four things can help improve your perspective of biological families.
Humble Your Heart
Before fostering, I truly believed that my husband and I would always be the best option for the kids who came into our home. It seemed obvious. Their parents had been the ones who made mistakes and lost them in the first place. My foster license proves I am safe and capable — therefore, I must be better. Not only was I close-minded, but I was making an enemy out of people I didn’t even know.
However, when Emma and Bailey reunited with their biological mother, they flourished. She had gone to rehab, attended every required parenting class and fought hard to heal. It would have been easy to resent the woman who hurt the kids I came to love. But I’m called to love and forgive others as I’ve been loved and forgiven. If God can rescue and redeem my own sinful heart, why not these children’s mother?
She is a child of God and the God-chosen mother of her children. If God is gracious to give her a second chance to be a good parent, I too must show grace.
Pray for the Impossible
The goal of foster care is for the children to be reunified with their biological parents whenever safely possible. Our goal as foster parents is to keep the children safe until they can be reunified. While reunification is not always easy, we are called to root for the family to succeed even when it seems impossible. Thankfully, we have a God who loves to make the impossible possible. “Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.’” Matthew 19:26
In the case of Emma and Bailey, the State was close to giving up on their mom. She was trapped in the grip of addiction and continued making unsafe choices daily. She was mere months away from losing her daughters forever. My husband and I loved those girls. But instead of rejoicing in their mother’s failures and praying for adoption, we began to pray for her healing. We added her name to our prayer board and diligently cried out to God on her behalf. And God answered. She found the strength and will to fight. She recovered and worked to reinvent herself. What seemed impossible was made possible by the God whose power works best in weakness.
Speak with Honor
Children are always listening. How many times have you whispered to your spouse that you want ice cream and the child who never hears you call their name appears within seconds? When speaking about our children’s biological parents, it is important to speak about them with honor. Even if you are unhappy with the choices they are making, your children should know that their parents are still loved.
A strategy I recommend is sharing only the facts and none of the emotions with your kids. Say your child’s parental visit gets cancelled last minute. Instead of saying something like, “Your visit was cancelled again. Your mom couldn’t be bothered to show up,” you could stick to the facts and let your child work out their own feelings. “There will not be a visit today because your mom had to cancel. How are you feeling about that?”
By speaking with honor, you are showing that you can be trusted when they have good and bad feelings about their biological families.
All children feel the need to piece together their own personal identity, to work out who they are and their place in the world. They might do this by asking questions about how they were born, dyeing their hair a fun color and changing their friend groups. While these are all normal stages in development, questions about their origins or biological families can get tricky. Our negativity or rejection of a child’s biological family can often feel like we are rejecting a part of themselves.
For example, when talking about a child whose parent struggles with addiction, avoid blaming language — “They can’t help themselves,” “they just can’t stop,” “they’re choosing drugs over you.” Instead, remain honest but neutral. “Your mom struggles with addiction, which makes it hard to make safe choices.” This shift in language places blame on the addiction, not on the biological parent.
One of my favorite memories from fostering is when we drove our little girl, Nicole, to be reunified with her biological mom. Giggles filled the car as we approached the McDonald’s parking lot. Gloria had done the hard work of recovering at a mental health facility, and now her little girl was finally going home.
I felt nervous about what would Gloria think of us. But the moment I locked eyes with her, my fears melted away. Nicole ran into her arms, and Gloria burst into tears.
As we approached with duffle bags full of Nicole’s belongings, my husband reached out his hand to shake hers. “We’re so proud of you and everything you did to get Nicole back home. We have loved her very much and love you too.”
Gloria’s eyes immediately filled with tears again as she gripped the brand-new stuffed animal she had brought for Nicole. After more tears and lots of hugs, we watched our little girl and her now-healthy mom drive away together.
It’s tempting as foster parents to villainize the biological family and view ourselves as the hero of the story. We answer the call to foster in hopes of keeping children safe, but our care can offer hope to their families as well.
Instead of an “Us vs Them” mentality, I encourage you to see them the way Jesus would. Romans 3:23 states we “…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” and yet “…God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Will there still be times we’re angry with the biological parents? Yes, we’re human.
Will there be times that their healing does not come, and the children need permanency? Yes
Will there be times we will fail and forget to love their parents? Yes!
When you are feeling the struggle to love them, take a moment and pray the following prayer:
Father God, I thank You for bringing me into the lives of the children in our home. I thank You for the gift they bring to our lives. Please help me to care for them, love them and keep them safe as their biological parents try to heal. I pray for their healing from [addiction, mental health, domestic violence relationship] and pray that they would seek You first. Through this healing I pray that you would help to reunify these children. Help me to love their biological parents, even when it’s hard. Your plans are greater than mine and I choose to trust You. Amen
Check out our parenting resources where you’ll find topics like trauma, reunification, tips for new parents and sibling dynamics.