Unless you hate your… children… you cannot be my disciple!
I find myself parenting differently as a foster parent than as a biological parent. This might seem obvious, but then again, it might not. In fact, it might seem either counterintuitive or even wrong. But if you look at the various pressures of each kind of parenting, I think you will notice it is unavoidable.
I don’t mean to dwell on the personal touch here. Each foster parent is a bit different from all the others, just like biological parenting differs in various households. The personal touch will be different for all of us; but they don’t make you take a test to be a biological parent (unless you are a delinquent father taking a paternity test!).
Foster parents have to be certified. You have to take classes and be ready for state inspections of various kinds. Foster parenting misses out on the first nine months of life at least – and often a lot more. Foster parenting has kids coming and going. In our case, we have had kids stay as short as one night or as long as high school graduation – and everything in between.
When it comes to mortality, everyone knows (though we tend to live in a measure of denial) that we are not guaranteed the next day of life. Foster parents learn to apply that notion to kids too. Temporary is not necessarily built in, but is more often likely.
And yet we love these kids as much as our own! How do you do that? It’s a paradox. And I have known the utterly grueling task of giving a beautiful child (more than one) back to parents who were deemed fit simply because they passed enough drug tests! That is a low bar, in my estimation. The state makes me pass tests waaaaaaaaaaay beyond that just to keep a kid for a night! (But that too is actually beside my point).
So, here is my point:
I make a different kind of investment in these kids. But saying that requires I distinguish one investment from another. Allow me to do that.
It is typical for biological parents (good ones, anyway) to invest everything they have in their children. The investment goes way beyond food, shelter, education and diaper changes. Biological parents pour their very selves into their children. Not just genetics, but emotional investment of their own soul. In fact, they can be a bit overbearing about it quite frequently! And I must say, if you gotta make mistakes parenting (I can hear you laughing), I really hope you overbear rather than under! Please, PLEASE, PLEASE! Be involved!
But that does not mean you can’t over do it a bit. My dad LET me try out for football. He did not drive me to it. And once I was in, he came and watched a game, but purposely did NOT shout at me from the sidelines. When I grew up, he told me that he could plainly see many of the other parents desperately living vicariously through their own children in a pathological way. The sideline parenting he saw looked painful to him, and he determined not to do that to me. And sure enough, when I decided football was not for me, he let me find something else (a painful reality waiting for everyone who does not eventually go pro!).
My dad’s example provides an illustration that, though it does not fully embody my point, at least points in the general direction. I put all my love into these children, but I know many of them will not grow up under my influence. There are limitations both on what I can do and on my own heart (after all, once you give back a child who has your heart, it becomes very hard to invest like that again).
Well, okay. That offers a glimpse of the biological kind of investment. What is the other?
Let me state at the top that I am not withholding even once ounce of love from my foster kids. But there is a sense in which it is not ME I give to them. They are not mine! (And this is a corrective even biological parents should really sit with.) I have these kids on loan, after a fashion. I have them for a day. I will give them the blessings God gives me to give to them for THIS day. I cannot fix their problems. That is beyond my scope of influence. I merely give them raw love, all the blood, sweat, and tears I have to give but no sense of my ownership.
I can, will, and do offer discipline (within the prescribed limits! of course) to the best of my ability, but we only have today. If we can build on it tomorrow, great, but it is not guaranteed. I cannot invest a lifetime each day, only a day, but I give them every ounce of celebration God would want them to have. (I am blessed to live in the HOUSE of God; I pray daily that God prepare this servant for the Master’s return.)
This actually raises another deeply hidden concern. Is it better to have lost at love than never to have been loved at all??? I mean, when I give an infant back to lousy parents after a few months of laughing and loving, the level of love that child has been exposed to goes right out the window. Just when that child gets used to being celebrated day and night, his little world turns upside down. Just when that little child gets used to loving hands that wake up in the night to change him, he finds himself languishing in cigarette smoke instead. This is a raw reality that kids who leave my home likely/often face, and frequently do not have the capacity to understand. And the only part of that I can control is whether I set them up for that jarring change OR NOT. (But again, this is beside my point.)
To reiterate my point, I make a different kind of investment. And though all the same love is there, the ownership of the child is not. I do not own that kid. He is not mine. And the only way I can cope is to give him to God – of course realizing that the act of that kind of giving is done in, and through, love! It means I RISK IT ALL in God’s hands every day – like Miriam placing baby Moses in the crocodile infested Nile, like Hannah leaving Samuel with the Priest – God gives me a kid that I then give right back and have no more claim on after that.
Loving God is a risky investment. Painful too.