Letting Go: When Foster Care Hurts

Granting yourself permission to love and grieve

The journey of foster care is not free of pain, nor deep hurt, in the least bit. But allowing yourself to feel the emotions that come from loving a child from a difficult place may fill you up more than you realize.


20 years ago.

“Let go!” the camp counselor shouted encouragingly from 100 feet below. With one hand gripping the zip line tightly and the other hand securely fastened to the tower, I stared at the tops of the trees below. Adrenaline coursed through me and my senses were completely on alert. The warm July breeze on my face, the creek of the wooden stairs I had just climbed. I had a choice to make. Let go or hold tighter. My muscles ached with the thought and my knuckles had turned white with fear. Boldly jump or slink back down 10 stories to admit defeat to my fellow campers. “Let go,” I heard the trees whisper. “Let go,” the wind whistled. “Let go,” my heart thumped, and I did.

I raced down the zipline, catching my breath in the wind. I had never felt more alive.

7 years ago.

“I know your home is already full. I wouldn’t ask you, but it’s just that…I have no other foster parents to call right now. I promise, it will only be a short while. Well, what do you think?” the caseworker implored. I fell silent on the other end of the phone. “I, um, let me think.” I mentally counted the amount of beds already set up in my home. I had two extra car seats in the basement. I could borrow a crib from the neighbor. I did a quick head count. I had seven children already living at home. Two more would make nine. Nine children. In my home. I doubted I could do it. How was I going to keep up with five in diapers?

I worried that my other children would be frustrated with me. I worried that I would fail. I worried that a little while might actually mean a long while. My anxiety was mounting and I clung to my fear. Then I pictured the two small children who had nowhere to go. “Kristin?” she asked with concern. I had forgotten I was still on the phone. “Um, just a second.” I stuttered. “Let go,” said the whimper of the newborn child I held tightly my arms. “Let go.” I felt that still, small, voice. “Ok, I’ll grab the car seats and be right there,” I affirmed. “Let go,” my heart pounded, and I did.

My husband and I changed five diapers that night. We fixed three bottles. We soothed many, many tears. We prayed over nine children as we climbed between the sheets. Love filled my heart so full I thought it might burst. I had never felt more alive.

Last week.

My daughter’s biological sister had been living with us for six months. We gained temporary custody while her mom healed from a stroke. We’ve always called her our niece and she has always called us her family. For six months her laughter filled our home. Her hugs had become the highlight of the after school routine. We watched as she flourished in our local elementary school. I couldn’t help but grin at the sight of her toothless, first grade, smile. “Why are you so beautiful?” I would ask her with utmost seriousness. “Oh Auntie, you know why, It’s because God made me!”

Each day, as we packed one extra lunch, she blended into the routine. Each day as we buckled one more car seat, our hearts grew more full with love for her. Each afternoon as we checked one more homework paper, we swelled with pride. Each evening as we set one more plate at the table, we became family. We dreamed of her future and sometimes dared to see ourselves in it. Each night we tucked her in, holding her hands between ours in prayer. That’s when she reminded us, that she was not ours to keep. With tears streaming she would sob. “Auntie, don’t forget to pray for my mommy. When will I go home with her?” Each night I scooped her into my arms, “I don’t know baby, soon I think. Of course I’ll pray for her.” Squeezing tightly, I would plead silently with God to let her stay. “Let go,” I heard her tears beseech.

The call came last week, “I’m out of the hospital, we have a place to stay. I can take her back tonight.” I choked back tears, “Tonight?” I did my best happy voice, “That’s so great. Just in time for Thanksgiving. She’ll be so happy!” I meant it, so why was it so hard? “Let go,” the zipper of her suitcase breathed. “God, please help me let go,” my heart pleaded. I folded her into my arms and with her toothless smile she said, “Auntie, it’s ok to let go.” And I did.

In my grief, I feel her joy. I let go, and I have never felt more alive.

Foster parenting is about providing a home to a child who does not have one. It is about parenting in the gap when a birth parent can’t. Fostering is about healing broken hearts. Sometimes the healing happens through adoption. Sometimes the healing happens through reunification. I am so thankful that on the journey of foster parenting, I have been able to feel the fullness of a love that is willing to hold tightly and deep ache of a love that is willing to let go.

Question: How has foster parenting caused you to hurt deeply, or love extravagantly? Share with us in the comments. You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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  • Jenn

    I am at a loss, to make a complicated story simple our oldest daughter is not ours biologically, we had custody of her from parents who were addicts. We have always loved & treated her as our own. When she turned 18 she walked out of our live to be with her biological parent who was still struggling. She left with a lot of hurt in her wake, hurt she has not tried to mend, hurt her 3 bothers can’t forgive yet. After a couple of years she married, she had children; I never cut off contact with her & begged all of our family to forgive her. I have always made excuses for her behavior, mended fences for her & turned the other cheek without ever expecting anything in return. My thought process has always been she will only know the right way to treat people if I do my very best to be that example by simply loving her unconditionally, no strings. This is a nice thought, but it leaves for a lot of hurt. Never having her take responsibility for her actions, letting her tell lies & never defending myself in anyway; keeping silent is hard. This weekend she & her husband stayed @ our home, they left in the middle of the night without telling us. Once I checked on them, I found out my son-in-law told a very hurtful lie. He obviously knows our relationship is strained & I am sure my unconditional love & kindness may seem fake at times bc it is so difficult to love them without being used. The lie was from what I gathered by asking him directly, occurred during an argument between them, he had expressed since arriving his desire to go home, she wanted to stay the weekend, while arguing he told her he overheard my husband & I having a conversation saying terrible things about her. It upset her so much, she packed her family & left, giving him exactly what he wanted when telling such a lie. Maybe he didn’t think I would ask, or maybe bc I never say anything cross he didn’t think I would confront him. But this time I did, the lie was so outrageous bc I am the only person repeatedly defending her, mending rifts in our family & always making our family accept her openly; had he said he heard anyone else say something terrible about her, there may be a grain of truth in it but bc I know negativity is infectious I promptly stop anyone from saying anything about her. I have now made a huge mistake, I issued an ultimatum – he had to own up to the lie & they both apologize for their actions; him for the lie, her for believing it & for them using our grandchildren as pawns snatching them from our home in the middle of the night. This is not the 1st time she has used the children to hurt or reward us & I know it will not be the last. For all of the drama, I am so tired, I can’t control how they will act, I only have 2 choices allow them access into our lives by turning the other cheek again & love them unconditionally or let them & our granddaughters go. I don’t know if I have been enabling her abusive actions all this time or setting a good example. I know I can handle the drama, the hurt of their actions but I don’t know if it is right for me to ask the rest of my family to & for our granddaughters, i can’t stop their parents from using them as pawns but I can step away so they do not have to be hurt having us snatched away from them again & again. I just don’t know what to do.