5 Relationships to Cultivate As You Foster or Adopt (Part 1)

Recently I have been reflecting on the process of foster care and adoption. My wife and I began the foster-to-adopt journey in August 2014. In November 2017 we adopted two girls out of the Missouri foster care system. Fostering and adopting has opened my eyes to the needs of kids around the globe and the resources of churches like yours and mine. I have shared my story—and those of evangelical leaders like Russell Moore, Kevin Ezell, Paul Chitwood, John Mark Yeats, David Platt, and Rosaria Butterfield—in my forthcoming book Until Every Child Is Home: Why the Church Can and Must Care for Orphans (Moody Publishers, 2019).

In the next five weeks, I will offer FTC readers a series of reflections that have come about while writing my story and the stories of these leaders. As I interviewed these leaders and read about their experiences, I have noticed that five relationships anchor the fostering or adopting parents. Here I begin with the marriage relationship. In weeks to come, we will think about your relationship with your church, children, parents, and the principals in your local school system.

As you foster or adopt, the first relationship to cultivate is with your spouse. If you can develop a parenting ministry partnership with your spouse, you will do well for yourself and your children. Foster care or adoption will stretch your marriage in ways it has never been stretched before. That is why Russel Moore continually speaks about foster care and adoption as acts of spiritual warfare. In the recent comedy (or was it Realty TV?!) Instant Family, characters played by Mark Wahlberg and Rose Byrne attend their first post-placement foster-parent meeting and share that everything is wonderful in their home, their marriage is fulfilled as never before. By the next meeting, Wahlburg and Byrne are at each other’s throats and Byrne is needing shots of liquor to make it through the day. Kids coming into your home will bring you to wits end, too. Because you and your spouse will be emotionally drained, you will be vulnerable to selfishness and the blame game.

Let me suggest four steps to developing a parenting ministry partnership with your spouse. These will prepare you for the new roles you will enjoy together.

1. Spend lots of time with kids the age(s) that you are interested in fostering or adopting. No two kids are the same but if you and your spouse can together get a framework for how kids generally think and act, you will be better equipped for the kid(s) that will come into your home. Babysit friends’ kids. Work in the church nursery. Organize a child-care night for your church. Volunteer on consecutive days at a children’s shelter or at a local school.

2. Read books on parenting and theology. Russell Moore’s Adopted for Life, Jason Johnson’s Reframing Foster Care, and Tedd Trip’s Shepherding a Child’s Heart offer principles that you and your spouse must discuss and come to terms with if you are going to stay married as foster or adoptive parents. And read theology so that you are not just thinking about yourselves and your kids. Books like J.I. Packer’s Knowing God will buoy you for the lonely, reverent road ahead.

3. Try new, challenging experiences together. Do an escape room. Eat Chinese food with chopsticks, left-handed. Run a 10-K. Volunteer to clean the toilets at a local truck stop. Find your physical and emotional service limits and push through them. Kids will push you more, so get ready.

4. Enjoy frequent marital intimacy. When things get tough with kids, marital intimacy will become a spiritual discipline. You will need that time together to maintain an emotional connection. The bedroom will become a place of private worship and recreation, a place just for the two of you to be vulnerable and unashamed before God.