I wish we could keep him.
His cries turn instantly to smiles and sweet coos of gratefulness the moment I begin to change his soggy diaper. My heart swells with love for this sweet little baby who fills our home with so much joy. But my heart aches deeply, also, knowing he does not belong to us.
Our foster baby IS ours to care for, ours to love, ours to feed and clothe and wake up with in the night. In the day to day routines, we can forget an important fact as he becomes more and more a part of our family: When it comes down to it, he is NOT ours to keep.
But, oooohhh, baby, I wish you were mine.
This ache catches in my throat and pools in the corners of my eyes for my own babies I have lost, and this one in my arms I cannot keep.
Embracing the Uncertainty of Foster Parenting
When we say “yes” to a baby (or any child) needing a foster home, no matter the probability of their becoming available for adoption, we can never count on anything.
So many things we have been told about a child or assured about a case have changed, time and again. We have learned to count on nothing, living in uncertainty until the child moves home with his parents or another relative, or the case is officially staffed for adoption.
As foster parents, we have to live in the moment, one day at a time, never knowing if the child will still be with us next month or not.
In the meantime, we treat this child as our own, providing as much stability and normalcy as possible until the tediously slow legal system makes up its mind what permanent placement is in the child’s best interest. (And often, “in the child’s best interest” is with biological family, not us.)
They are not our own. None of them.
Biological Parenting Has Its Own Uncertainties
The babies born to us weren’t ours to keep, either.
Though we never dreamed this for our story, we had to give all our babies, all the babies from my own womb, back to their Creator, too.
No baby who has ever entered our home or our lives has ever been able to stay. (Yes, we finally have one child whom we will soon get to call daughter, but she did not come to us in infancy.)
This makes me think of spiritual truths.
Children Are Temporary, Just Like Everything Else in Life
Nothing in this world is truly, completely ours.
What do you have that you did not receive?1 Corinthians 4:7
The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it….Psalm 24:1
We know our money, cars, houses, possessions, and investments are just on loan from God. We know we can take nothing with us when we die. They are His possessions, and we are simply His stewards on this earth.
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.2 Corinthians 4:18
Our families are also only gifts to enjoy for a season. Our parents and grandparents will die. Children will grow up, move away, get married, make choices we may or may not approve of…or possibly die before we do. They are never ours to keep.
They are gifts to enjoy—investments to steward—for a time.
So many people have asked how we can parent foster children who leave. And many have grieved with us over the loss of Josiah and Portia. Maybe our experiences of infant loss and foster parenting are not so unique or strange.
Maybe our losses are just another form (albeit less common and more traumatic) of the truth ALL of us live with: NO child is ours forever.
This plays out in different ways for different people.
The Uncertainty of Foster Parenting
Just because you are told that a birth mother’s rights have already been terminated for previous children doesn’t mean you will get to adopt this infant.
Just because you are told the children will be with you a long time doesn’t doesn’t prevent them from suddenly being whisked away to live with a newfound relative.
Just because a child has made a stronger attachment to you and your family than to anyone else doesn’t mean that child will get to stay.
The Uncertainty of Biological Parenting
Just because you get pregnant doesn’t mean you won’t miscarry.
Just because your pregnancy is healthy and makes it to the third trimester does not mean you will have a live baby to take home.
Just because your baby is born healthy doesn’t mean you won’t lose her later to an accident or disease.
Just because your child makes it past infancy doesn’t mean he will grow to adulthood.
Uncertainties True for All Parents
Just because you do all in your power to raise your children with healthy diet, habits, and lifestyle doesn’t mean they will live a long, disease-free life.
Just because you train your children diligently doesn’t mean they will grow up to love God and make good choices.
Just because you pour your heart and soul into loving, teaching, and providing for your children doesn’t mean they will love, respect, and appreciate you in return.
Then Why Parent?
If all parenting is rife with uncertainty and potential for misery, why bother at all?
Parenting, does, in fact, bring great joy! We do not regret taking in the foster children who later left. We do not regret becoming pregnant with the babies who died. Each one left his or her mark on us; each one has created memories that enrich our lives.
Perhaps more importantly, each one was given to us by God for a season. Perhaps these children needed our love. Or perhaps we needed the lessons only learned by caring for children who couldn’t stay.
Welcoming and loving these children on loan from God was our way of faithfully stewarding the gifts entrusted to us.
Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.Mark 9:37
Maybe my never getting to keep a single baby, biological or otherwise, just points me to the truth that “only what is done for Christ will last.” This physical world is only a training ground for our eternal home.
Whether a parent or not, may you embrace the gifts given you for a time, holding them with an open hand, offering them willingly back to God.
Lord, help us not cling so tightly to what is not ours.
Help us release into your hand what is rightfully yours.
And help us focus on the things that truly matter.