Reflection: Foster parent shares her experience
In honor of May’s Foster Care Month, our friend Mandy Gratton shares her experience fostering seven children under the age of five over the last 3 years. Read on for her reflection:
Foster care has been something I knew I wanted to pursue since I was in college. When I look at the scriptures, I so clearly see the call for involvement in foster care found everywhere in the gospel — through the redemption, reconciliation, and hope Jesus brings in the midst of brokenness, grief, and loss. It’s woven throughout so many stories in the Word. James 1:27 says, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” This verse made it clear to me where I should be spending my time and resources back in my early 20s. But in my mind, my timeline looked completely different. I thought I would get married, have kids of my own and one day, hopefully, welcome foster children into our home as a family.
It’s funny how we often think we can have our lives all planned out — and we’re proven wrong, time and time again.
My 20s came and went. By the age 30, I started asking myself some really hard questions about why I was waiting to follow my passion to open my home up for foster care. But the only answer I could come up with was centered around fear. I started working through that fear, the inadequacies I placed on myself as a single person, and whether or not I would be able to parent by myself. Within a year, I took the biggest leap of faith to date. I quit my full-time job to pursue foster care full-time and learned about faith through provision and trust in a way I could have never predicted.
I had my first placement of twin baby boys within a couple of months of being licensed. The babies were leveled as a medical placement and both came home from the NICU drug-exposed and on oxygen. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was in that moment — the first time I held my first baby boy in the NICU — that my life would be forever changed.
I hear so many people say, “I could never do foster care. I would get too attached.” And the truth is, I am not immune. No one is.
The reality about foster care is that if you truly embrace the brokenness and grief of it all, it will change you to your core. If you allow yourself to fully attach to each child, even though you know it will lead to your own heartbreak when the inevitable goodbye takes place, you know that you loved wholeheartedly.
And that’s the kind of love these little ones need the most. They need someone who will keep them safe and nurture them — which, in turn, will allow their bodies and minds to heal. They need someone who will love them unconditionally — in a way that will cause ugly tears when you pack up their belongings — because that kind of love is what shows them how to feel safe and known. They need someone who will hold them a little bit longer while you rock them to sleep and pray a few more extra prayers over their family. Someone willing to fight for reunification alongside the biological family, even if you don’t fully understand or agree with the case plan because it truly is what’s best for these little lives in many cases.
For every person that tells me how “lucky the kids are to have me,” the real truth is that I am the lucky one. These littles change me so much more than I could ever help them. They may never even recognize me if we were to run into one another years down the road. But their bodies will hold the memories of the love they felt. And as a foster parent, we can never discredit ourselves and the impact we have to help change the trajectory of a life forever through our love.
So, I will continue to let foster care wreck my life in the most beautifully redemptive ways because it matters — and so should you. Even on the hard behavioral days. Even on the days where your heart is broken into tiny little pieces and you feel like you can’t possibly take another placement after yet another heartbreak of a goodbye. You are brave and strong and each child’s handprint is forever imprinted on your life to make a difference in you, just as much as you are leaving a lasting legacy for them. There is nothing more beautiful than watching the story of redemption and restoration take place right before our eyes. I know that the Lord is using these little ones to write a redemptive story in me just as much as He is using me to help them heal. It’s what draws us closer and reminds us of the Kingdom work in front of us and how much we need Him.
Serve foster children and at-risk families in your own community.