What If I Get Too Attached?


min read

“I could never do foster care. I would get too attached.”  

As a foster parent, this statement makes me cringe. What I hear is an assumption that I somehow avoid getting attached to the children who come through my home. Do they honestly think we can guard our hearts in such a way that we dodge the pain of letting go of a child? Probably not. But these likely well-meaning people are missing a huge point.  

Do we get attached? Of course! And that’s the goal, to love these kids like our own. Our job as foster parents is to provide the crucial attachment our children so desperately need. Still, the fear of getting too attached is real. And it’s good to name it and talk with God about those fears.  

So how do we prepare our hearts to hurt for the good of the children we love? We must be willing to set aside what we think we know to allow God to teach our hearts to mend as we care for His special kids.

Here are four important truths that will keep you focused in your mission:  

Reunification Means Success

Some new foster parents grimace when told the goal of foster care is to reunify the child with her birth family. However, this is the way God designed families. These children were given to their parents for a reason and vice versa. Our job as foster parents is simply to stand in the gap while God works to heal what is broken.

The truth is no bond can replace that between a child and their parent. Children almost always long to be with their birth parents, no matter how hurtful they may have been or how loving their foster/adoptive parents are. When children lose everything and are placed in a completely new situation, it only makes sense that they will have an uphill climb to a sense of belonging.  

Keeping our focus on the potential restoration of a family will help counter the pain of letting go when reunification happens. We can view this reunion as a success and use it as an opportunity to bless the birth family with our words, attitudes and actions. We are on the same team, working together for the best interest of the child.  

God’s Grace Is Sufficient

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:9

We are not strong enough to release the children we grow to love on our own. But God is for us. Only by leaning into Him for strength and peace can we love so deeply and then let go.

I remember bringing a sweet baby girl home from the hospital, knowing she would eventually transition to an adoptive family out of state. Out-of-state adoptions can take time. In this case, over three months. In that time, the little girl captured my heart completely. She was dependent on me for everything, including the middle of the night feedings which led to quiet cuddles. The day I packed her things into two suitcases and placed her in her adoptive mother’s arms, I went home, locked myself in my bathroom and fell on the floor weeping. I cried aloud, “God, your grace is sufficient.” And it was.

Over the next few months, God reminded me of the good work He’d accomplished through me and the good plans He had for that precious child. He renewed and strengthened my heart enough for me to open the doors of my home and heart once more to the next child who needed me.

You’re Changing a Life

God created each one of us to be in healthy relationship and form lasting attachments. It is His design. In their book “The Power of Showing Up,” Dr. Dan Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson explain that “when children are offered a secure attachment with their primary caregiver, these predictable, and therefore reliable, experiences reduce their levels of stress and allow them to develop confidence and, ultimately, self-reliance. They learn how to manage their own feelings and behaviors, enabling them to flourish and thrive.”  

By giving the children in our care our whole hearts, we give them not just one attachment but the ability to attach to others. We are teaching them to trust, modeling good communication and setting them up for success in future relationships.    

God is Sovereign

Remember that each child that comes into your home and steal your hearts is God’s child first. Psalm 139:13 says “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” As fiercely as we love the children entrusted to us, His love is even greater. God created each child and has a plan for them that we may never fully realize this side of heaven. By trusting in God’s sovereignty, we relinquish all fear and doubt. We trust that the seeds we plant will bear much fruit in their lives, and we place them in His loving hands.

So what is more important – our own comfort or a child’s need to be safe and loved?  Johnston Moore aptly names the challenge before us: "to care for that child day in and day out, feeding her, holding her, praying with her, encouraging her, supporting her – in short, parenting her - and then watching, waiting and wondering if her birth mother will get her life on track in time for the courts to return her child to her. As we grow more and more attached to that child, we may even find ourselves silently, and sometimes vocally, hoping that her birth mother fails."

Yet, if we truly believe in the biblical principles of restoration and reconciliation, we must commit ourselves to supporting (and even encouraging) a parent-child reunification (if, of course it is in the child's best interests).

Another great read

How to Deal with the Grief of Reunification

Learn how to process feelings of grief that can accompany the reunification of a child in foster care and get helpful resources for your whole family.