It’s Hard To Love My Foster Son

by Russell L. Meek March 28, 2018

Andrew* came to us when he was six-months-old. He has been in foster care since he was two-weeks-old, and he joined our family of four—me, my wife, our two-year-old son, and our not-quite-two-month-old son. Brittany and I have known we would pursue adoption or foster care since before we got married. We both were convinced that God was serious when he said, “Pure and undefiled religion is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress” (James 1:27), and Britt has a heart the size of Texas (Texas is really big).

We were going to begin the adoption certification process when we found out we were pregnant with Ari. Shortly thereafter I took a job teaching at Louisiana College, and our lives were upended for several months. When things settled down we felt the tug of James 1:27 again, so we started the certification process. A day before our last certification class we found out Britt was pregnant with Abel, our second son. God works in mysterious ways, they say. We continued on and became certified for foster care and adoption, and not quite two months after Abel was born, we got the phone call from our social worker: “Can you take a six-month-old boy?” Yes, of course! He arrived the first day of Christmas break, which is nice because, you know, two babies and a toddler.

I was elated. I can finally follow James 1:27 and demonstrate God’s love to an orphan! Man, this is so cool; I’m going to do for another what God has done for me. That first day, and for lots of days afterward, Andrew was so stiff when I held him. He didn’t fit into my arms like my boys do. And he was utterly silent unless of course, he was screaming. And, boy, could he scream. His first night with us I jolted awake to the terrifying sound of a baby’s scream. I ran into the room and scooped Andrew up. He let me hold him and eventually calmed down, but he was so rigid, not at all like a baby is supposed to respond to comfort.

Andrew eventually became relaxed when I held him, and it was only a week, or maybe two until he started cooing and interacting with us. And he’s a really great kid—he smiles easily, eats well, sleeps (mostly) through the night, and he thinks Ari, the oldest, is the greatest person who ever lived (he’s probably not wrong about that). Based on his demeanor, you wouldn’t know that we are his third family in his short life. But none of that made it easier to love him.

When my first son was born, I was awed by my immediate love for him. I finally understood (I thought) what it meant for God to love us for no other reason than that he’s good. Ari could do nothing good or bad to make me love him more or less. With Andrew, I learned that I’m far, far from understanding the Father’s love. When Andrew cries, I don’t feel the same sort of empathy as when my other boys cry. When Andrew fusses, I get irritated. And sometimes I get frustrated that he is taking time and attention that I could be giving Ari and Abel. I thought I would be this wonderful foster dad who showered love on a kid who needed it, who embraced a stranger as if he were my own son, and who saw no difference between my physical offspring and foster children. But I’m not that.

Ari is fiercely independent. “No, Pop, park bike self.” “No, Pop, do self.” “No, Pop, climb self.” Sometimes when a task is particularly difficult for his two-year-old “self”—like when Britt says, “Remember, let’s try to sit still when we read books and pray”—he’ll say, “It’s hard!” My wife responds by saying, “It is hard, but you know what? You can do hard things.” And she’s right. Ari can do hard things.

So that first day Andrew stayed with us—and for the many days since—I realized it’s hard to love my foster son, and I also realized that, like Ari, I can do hard things. But this thing is far too hard without the Father’s love coursing through me. The truth is that I don’t love like he does. But I’m learning to. And I’m learning how deep and wonderful and supernatural is the Father’s love for us. It’s far beyond what I could ever imagine. And I’m learning more and more how frail I am and how much I need God if I’m going to love this little boy like the Father loves me.

* Name changed to protect privacy.