When our family was still in the certification process, I had a chance encounter with a foster mom. As I excitedly shared we were close to receiving our license, she skeptically asked me who our licensing agency was. When I told her she shook her head,
“That’s a big mistake. You won’t make anything.”
She went on to describe what agencies paid the most, what ages and types of children garner the biggest checks. The feeling that came over me as she spoke felt like a hopeless dread. Before me was a living, breathing stereotype of a foster parent that in my optimism I had secretly hoped didn’t exist. I felt guilty by association and part of me wanted to rush home, call up our worker and tell her to forget the whole thing. Of course I didn’t end up doing that. Instead, my resolve to steward well the money provided for the children in our care solidified—every penny would be used to meet their needs and improve their lives.
And while we have stuck to that commitment, occasionally I see a glimpse of that For-Profit Foster Mom in myself. It comes when something in our house is broken or destroyed, which is an almost everyday occasion with one of our loves. Most recently, it was a screen ripped out of its door frame and bent into a tangled mess of cheap metal. Things like this tempt my heart to resent the loss of “stuff” and to put possessions before the [little] people God has entrusted to me.
It’s an ugly reflection I see in these moments. And not the only one.
The Always-Angry Foster Mom
Sometimes she shows up, fangs and all. You’ve probably met this foster mom before. She sits behind you in the foster care meetings, and makes all the biting, sarcastic comments under her breath during the presentation. It’s hard to tell she likes being a foster parent at all, because she doesn’t have a good thing to say about anyone. Not the workers, judge, bio family or even the kids. I don’t think she became angry and bitter overnight. It’s been the years she’s carried the weight of injustice done to her foster children. It’s the hours she’s advocated, only to be ignored or labeled a problem. It put the chip firmly onto her shoulder. I’m so glad the Bible teaches Jesus’ “yoke is easy” and fully able to bear my burdens (Matt. 11:30). Because sometimes the always-angry-foster-mom chip shows up on my shoulder too. When it does, I know I can take it off and lay it at Jesus’ feet.
The “My Identity is Being a Foster Mom” Mom
This foster mom can be harder to recognize, because self-worth and identity are issues of the heart. But there are some tell-tale signs. If you have ever been around a foster mom who acts as if you are in a competition for who has it the hardest, she probably struggles with this. If she wants to painstakingly describe every medical and behavioral issue she has to contend with while simultaneously showing no interest in anything to do with other people? She probably got some identity issues. But what I see in my own reflection are the more hidden identity struggles. I see this mom when I begin to define my worth by my children. If they aren’t progressing past delays, or connecting well with others, or making great strides in therapy, then I feel like a failure. To them and to God.
This struggle terrifies me. Because more than anything, I want my children to realize their value is firmly rooted in Jesus. How will I teach them they are not defined by where they came from or what they do, but by who they are in Christ, if I’m not living it? How will they know they are loved and accepted by God if they see their mother vainly work and strive to earn His approval?
The Everyday Mom in the Mirror
If motherhood is a mirror, then I think foster motherhood is one of those close-up ones that shows how big your pores are and deep your wrinkles. It shows you all kinds of ugly. Yet I am grateful for these revelations. The work it has done in me is deep and profound. It has changed me in ways I never expected or imagined. Don’t we work hard to draw out our kids’ pain and hurts so they can heal and grow? If we expect them to do the hard work of healing, we can do the same ourselves.
It is this knowledge that causes me to take long, hard looks at myself. By the grace of God, I will not become any of the moms listed above. Our hope is knowing none of us have to! We can lovingly walk alongside each other as we learn and grow, rooting and cheering each other on to be the moms we’ve been called to be. None of us perfect, we know that’s just an illusion. Just moms who can look in the mirror and like the woman who looks back.
Corrie and her family live in South Carolina, where she spends her time raising kids (foster and bio) and doing diy on their old cape cod home. She is a staff writer for Respite Redefined and you can follow her on Instagram.