Guest blog by Elizabeth Oates
In the world of foster care, it’s easy to want to play the role of the protagonist: the hero of the story. We start believing all the outsiders who say, “She’s so blessed to have you,” instead of clinging to the truth, which says, “We are so blessed to have her.” We start thinking the story is more about us, and less about the child we vowed to love. And if we’re not careful, we adopt the superhero persona while labeling the bio parents the evil villain.
We hope to soon adopt our foster daughter, and as I reflect on the past year, I realize my emotions regarding her bio parents have run the gamut from frustration to patience, from anger to empathy, from disbelief to understanding, from indifference to compassion, from justice to mercy. Can you relate? In the end, I have learned to accept them for who they are. How? By simply accepting that they are people—not a case number. They have a heart, a soul, and a living breath. They deserve forgiveness just as I deserve forgiveness for the wrongs I have committed in my own life.
Second, I choose not to condemn her bio parents because I know they have a history. Theirs is a road I have never walked, nor will I ever be forced to travel. They have lived a difficult life, the details of which I am just beginning to uncover. And my heart aches for them. Also, they are people in pain. At times I have seen glimpses that they recognize their pain and try to work through it. At other times I see them try to numb their pain. Either way, they are wounded individuals longing for empathy and love. And I grieve for them. So when the bio dad asked for pictures, we agreed. We believe this is the compassionate thing to do for him, for us, and for our foster daughter.
Finally, I know that if I don’t extend forgiveness to them, how will our foster daughter forgive them? One day she will have questions and want answers. She will have feelings she needs to process and most likely she will work through grief, loss, anger, and sadness. She will need to forgive. And she will need someone to model forgiveness for her. Now don’t get me wrong, I believe in balancing justice with mercy. I am not all compassion and no justice. But I believe losing one’s daughter is a high enough price to pay. Adding my salty personal judgment to their wound is not justice . . . it is spite. I know that every family is different. Every situation is different. Safety is a factor and so is a child’s emotional health. I know these things must be taken into consideration when evaluating our relationship with bio families. What I am talking about, however, is not a relationship, but a heart condition. It is how we view bio parents, how we teach our foster children to view them, and how we forgive them. We hold the great responsibility of passing on a narrative to our foster children. What will that narrative look like? One of devastation and pain? Or one that brings resolution, peace, and forgiveness? Whatever your situation, I encourage you to take a deep breathe, view your foster child’s parents as people, and respond with both justice and grace. You might be surprised how you are led to respond.