Last Updated on June 20, 2018

My friends tried to explain some things to me- really, they did. But, like many other experiences in parenting, you just don’t understand until you’ve experienced it. Parenting adopted and fostered children is different. Not too difficult, just different. In fact, it’s very rewarding. But there are so many things I wish someone would have told me or what I was told, I wish I would have understood. Such as:

:: Fostering and adopting children has nothing to do with my sacrifice or my heart and everything to do with God adopting me into His family. As soon as it becomes about me, it becomes too difficult to love or to let go. If my purpose is to glorify Him by loving fatherless children, I know that He will help me through the tough times.

:: I expected my new children to grieve for their former families. I did not realize how deeply I would grieve for their former families and for my hurting child. Knowing that there was a mother in China who could not care for her son with a birth defect and had to give him up. Knowing that past mistakes had caught up with the birth parents of my foster children, resulting in them losing their parental rights; regardless of how deeply they loved their children.

::  I was surprised at the anger and disgust I felt for the behavior of parents who abused a helpless child and then the ability to love those same parents. God’s love is the only explanation for my change of heart.

:: I naively pictured a sweet relationship with birth parents who are transformed by Christ’s love and become part of our extended family. I now know that some people are not ready to admit their mistakes and change, even if it results in prison and losing their children. I also know that God isn’t finished with them, yet!

::  I expected the children’s termination hearing (to remove parental rights) to be a relief, the closing of an ugly chapter and beginning of a fresh start. But instead it was horribly heart-breaking. And there are no ‘fresh starts.’ Only picking up pieces and allowing God to transform broken hearts into a new family willing to love brokenness.

:: I have learned that love is not an emotion, but a daily decision to shower a child with affection and nurturing. Some of my children have been easier to feel affection for than others, including biological children. I remember being appalled at the phrase ‘fake it ‘til you make it.’ I couldn’t imagine ever having to ‘fake love’ a child. I have since found it necessary. Some children are just more difficult to cuddle and tolerate. But every child deserves love and I have daily chosen to love my children. God has blessed that decision with affection and bonding over time.

::  I wish someone warned me that I would not remember the first 3 weeks of my son’s life in America. I was lost in a jet-lagged and sleep-deprived fog and do not remember introducing him to family, taking him to church for the first time, or being conscious. Or that it would take a full 6 months to re-set his internal clock and learn to sleep through the night halfway around the globe.

:: Rejection hurts, even if it’s from a person under 3 feet tall. You can’t laugh it off or ignore it. When we were in China, it was humiliating to have my new son start screaming and lunging for anyone Chinese within 6 feet of us. He was scared of us and couldn’t understand a word we were saying. We looked and smelled strange to him. Who could blame him? Another child was very happy in his previous home. He made it clear that he did not need or want a new family.

::  The guilt of gluttony I would experience after visiting my child’s orphanage. And how it would change my life, and lifestyle, for the better.

::  How broken the foster care system is and the depth of grace required to continue. A greater reason for the Church to pick back up the God-given responsibility to care for the fatherless and hurting. The state was not assigned the job of caring for these children, Christians were. We drop the ball and then complain when others fail. Shame on us.

::  I never dreamed my heart would grow enough to love so many children. Nor did I expect to shed tears six months after sending home a little girl who only spent 10 days with us. It does hurt to let go, but I thank God for the opportunity to love a precious and precocious daughter. I still miss hearing “I lub you, Mama” and her quick-tempered scowl. Again, only God could explain such a love.

Every tear shed has led to greater joy. Every crack in my heart has drawn me closer to God’s heart. But I can’t adequately explain it- you just gotta experience it yourself!

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  1. Thank you for sharing this! We need to know these things so we can minister to those who have adopted! (now…go write a book!!!) Big hug!!!!

  2. I wish I had understood that the exhaustion of loving some of these children was an exhaustion on every level — spiritual, in particular! I knew we were “standing in the gap” for them, but I had no idea what an epic spiritual battle entered around them and their birth families. We are not just here for these precious kids, it is very possible and highly likely that we are the only source of Light their birth families will ever see… and so we are attacked on all fronts. Realizing that and praying God’s power over that aspect of fostering made even the broken foster care system a little easier to handle.

    1. You hit the nail on the head, Nancy- it is a spiritual battle! So thankful we don't have to fight alone! Well said, friend.

  3. Julia, again a wonderful article. I feel blessed because while reading it, I can relate to most of it. I know my oldest child is smiling down on her oldest child and is well pleased. There are days when raising only "your" born to you children you would love to run away and hide, that is life. Love you More than you will ever know. Gran

  4. Julia, Every word in this article is well said. Thanks for your first hand insight and encouragement.

  5. Thank you for the thoughts. I have learned a lot.

  6. Our family is in the midst of fostering to adopt and yes, you are right – so much we didn't understand or grasp – but it is a good thing, because if I was left to make the decision as to whether we would do this….well, my answer would have been no. But somehow The Lord carries us through, the pain, the anger, the almost too difficult times……He is with us……I think my need for Him is what His heart was for me in caring for those who are fatherless……. May God Bless you abundantly for stepping out and going beyond yourself to live out for His Glory!!!

  7. We became foster parents in October of last year and you have stated everything that I have been feeling/thinking/pondering. Thank you for letting me know that it is NORMAL! Sometimes I feel as though I am alone while fighting for these children, however, it is not at my own strength or prodding that I fight but yielding to God's lead. Sometimes it produces the result I am thinking it should and sometimes not. Where I can find rest in is that I obeyed despite the results and allow God to take care of the results. Thank you!

    1. Bless you, Theresa! It is very normal! Warm fuzzies can be few and far between but every victory is so precious because of how hard we fight to attain them. I'm frequently reminded that Christ did not call us to an easy life but an obedient one. Feel free to email me if you have any more questions about 'normal!'

  8. Love this article… wish I would've had someone to tell me these things when we adopted our first.

    1. Thanks, Tonya! Sometimes I believe ignorance is bliss, though I know I still would have walked this path. It's so worth it!

  9. specialmom says:

    So well said. I'm right there with you! The thing that constantly comes to mind is that God's mercy is new every morning, so no matter how yesterday went, we start fresh today and try again. And again. And again. Because He loves this child, I choose love, too.

    1. So true! Today is one of those days when I'm glad it's over and I get another dose of grace and love to share tomorrow!

    2. Faith De La Cour says:

      That is the same verse I use as I start each day with our 17 year old twin sons adopted from Russia. It keeps me from looking at the “deficit” side in their responses to us as parents.

  10. Hey from Eureka! Great article. -Rose

  11. Thank you for writing. It is a rainy Sunday and I am enjoying exploring MomLife Today for the first time.
    Loving it!

  12. Michelle Cappella says:

    Thanks so much! You are so right about it all:) Even if I had known half of what I know now, I don’t know if I could have wrapped my mind around it all then. Adopting my daughter is the best thing on earth to happen to me, and being her mom is the hardest thing I have ever done, and I could not fathom doing any of it without our heavenly Father! Thanks again.

  13. Kimberly Harris says:

    This speaks to my heart. We are nine days from the termination date of the parents rights for the two little girls we are going to adopt….wow what a roller coaster ride this has been. And I know that God has us exactly where he wants us to rebuid the lives of these broken children.

  14. March 7th a teenage boy I had in my home went back to shelter, He is so broken and does not know what to do when some cares for him. I cried everyday for the rest of the week. I visited him today he is talking to me again. I am praying God shows me how to stay in his life. And God heals his brokeness and mine.

  15. Our family is just starting the foster journey,we are havent even finished classes yet. What a great love love it!

  16. Thank you for your honesty. We were called to foster adopt over five years ago. Wow what a ride it was.. Is. We have seen God’s riches and grace through all of this. This is a journey that has taken Christ love and strength. Many time I didn’t have it in at times but, through Christ, I did. So I’m learning to relay on Him alone and not my self. Our family grew from three to four then five. Then in between our two adoptions, we found we were pregnant, makes a family of six. Jer. 29:11 is all I can say. We are bless to have four beautiful children 11 to 1.

  17. Jan Martin says:

    This so hits home…we had tried foster to adopt but realized this program wasn’t for us. …however, we were blessed beyond measure when God chose us to be CJ’s parents. Currently I work as a mental health counselor as a local children’s shelter. This has been such a blessing and currently I am praying that God will open my husband’s heart to the idea of fostering or adopting a 16 yo that feels like mine….So thankful another counselor is working with her….and just praying that God’s plan is revealed! Thanks for speaking honestly and candidly!

  18. Thank you for your honesty. Your heart is shining for His glory, just where HE wants you! I try to tell people that ask: This is the hardest thing you will ever do, but the most rewarding. Being foster parents for 6 years now has tugged at our hearts and pulled us here and there. Still waiting for God to grow our family through adoption. Looking forward to the journey!

  19. Shirlee Imes says:

    We started fostering 17 years ago. We were homeschooling our three biological children, ages 9, 12, and 15. We chose fostering because it was something we could do as a family to make a difference. Over the years we have had 48 children as part of our family. We have learned MUCH on our journey. At times it has been very difficult. The hardest part is breaching the barriers they build around themselves to protect themselves from hurt. All of them were wounded spirits, looking for someone to accept them as they were. Only a few were able to return to their families. Over the past 12 years we have adopted 7 of ‘our children.’ Two are special needs, but all are very special to us. God has chosen them for us and us for them. What an honor to be given this responsibility. We have a good support system through friends and family. I wouldn’t change a thing. God is allowing us to minister to other families who are following the same path we chose. To God be the glory……………

  20. Sheri Lewis says:

    WOW!!! You said it! We fostered for 10 years over 50 kids, stopped fostering and adopted 4 of those children. I have roller coastered each of those emotions, hit my knees and begged God for understanding. We could not have done all we have without our Father in heaven. I don’t even have words to follow up with other Han you said everything I have felt for years. Blessings to you

  21. I took my son to see his birth mother and siblings today. In three and half years I have had no regrets about taking him into our home, hearts and lives. But today I felt a strange panicky feeling as I came to a confronting realization that whether the visit goes well (it did today) or bad (as it sometimes does), we will be left with a hurting child after each one. When it goes well, he pines for them. When they don’t show up, or behave in a hurtful or disinterested way, he is angry and questions his worth. Maybe I wish I’d known that, before we went into foster caring. I’m not sure you can grasp it until you’re in it. It breaks my heart some days, but the truth is, I love him and I would still do it even if I knew.

  22. Thank you so much for this! Very helpful 🙂