Thursday, May 12, 2016

Loneliness in Foster Parenting

I wrote this a couple weeks ago during a particularly difficult spell.  I've hesitated to post it since these feelings are not as intense currently (although they wax and wane).  I offer it up anyway.

I have a little time to write.

I should write about the swarms of bees Jamey caught and the two pigs that did NOT want to go the butcher but did and then about the bacon Jamey smoked himself on his new (and first ever) grill/smoker.  I likely will write those posts sometime soon but instead I find myself needing to write about the loneliness that can come from being a foster parent.

We have GREAT friends and family and an AMAZING support system that includes a WONDERFUL church family and supportive neighbors.  I don't want any of them who might read this to feel the least bit like they're not doing an amazing job of being there for us.  YOU are and I can't imagine how much harder this would be without them.

That said, it's hard to explain how these last few months have really been.  When folks ask how he's doing, we can talk about how he's sleeping. We can talk about what a good baby he is, how he's laughing, loves his doorway jumper, and is starting to roll over.  We can talk about how much he's taking by bottle and the goals for getting him off the tube...but there's so much left unsaid- right under the surface.  And if I opened those gates of thoughts and feelings I wouldn't be able to stop them and I'd likely end up in a pool of tears on the floor.

Okay, that might be a bit dramatic.  I don't feel like that all the time.

But there are times that I do.

There are times that I know I'm the only one out of all our friends who is still changing diapers. Somehow, this sets us apart and seems to undo some of the other things we have in common.  I wonder if many people know what to do with us.  What else to ask us about.  Whether they can invite us over. Whether they can come over to our house.  I feel like we're weird in an accepted but awkward sort-of-way.  Just to be clear- we are actually weird (who isn't?) but this has added a new dimension to our weirdness.

Sometimes I feel like I've gone backwards in the child-rearing progression.  Many others are plowing ahead- beginning to look at what their lives might be like one day when kids move on and out.  And I'm looking at bottles that need washing and birth parents who have so far to go before they're ready to take this precious boy home with them.

This large part of my current world is, in many ways, off limits to others.  It needs to be to preserve confidentiality and the respect due birth parents going through a very difficult time.  This world is full of family visits, home visits, home-health visits, speech therapist visits, pediatrician appointments, specialist appointments and follow-ups...all of which I can't discuss or process in detail- except with the professionals and Jamey.  Oh, how I thank God for Jamey.

{This precious boy just nodded off to sleep by bouncing himself gently in his jumper.  I cannot convey the sweetness that is his little face.}

I hear others plan island vacations, talk about the sports and other activities their kids are involved in, lament about possible presidential candidates, or about redecorating their home (ALL fun and worthy topics of conversation!) and yet they leave me feeling alien because I have no room in my head or heart to really dwell on such things.  But I want to hear about them!  Because I do care about my friends and family and what is going on in their lives.  I seem to be wearing some sort of tinted lenses on my heart- everything is slightly colored by how this foster placement impacts us.

And all this leaves me feeling lonely even at home with my great kids, even surrounded by my congregation, even at the park with other homeschool families, or even sitting in our living room with good friends. Don't get me wrong- foster parents don't have dibs on loneliness.  If you're struggling with depression, health issues, marriage issues, children struggling with emotional issues, or just the demands of the KNOW, likely even better than I, of this loneliness.

I just didn't expect to experience it in foster parenting.

I'm not complaining.  We chose this and we'll likely choose it again.  I just wondered if folks knew about this other challenge that foster parents sometimes face.  And while encouragement is always welcome, if we're praised over-zealously that, too, can make me feel set apart. And we shouldn't be.  We're right here with everyone else just trying to do the best we can.

There are a few things that help.  One, in the midst of loneliness, I know that in reality I am not alone (turn your volume up).  Two, I know that my loneliness ensures that the little baby in our home will not experience loneliness for the however many days he's with us.  Three, occasionally I talk with someone who discloses in whispers that they are considering foster care...and, oh, how my heart soars when I hear this.  Because despite all the challenges, it's worth it all.  And if they choose this path, I look forward to walking beside them- knowing what it feels like and ready to accept their pools of tears and mess when or if they open up.

Time and time again, God answers our loneliness through song, His Word, notes of encouragement, etc...all timed perfectly- lifting us, strengthening us and sustaining us.  If you feel so moved, take time today to write a note or place a phone call to someone you think might be feeling alone.

And if you're a fellow foster parent, I'm right here with you.  We are not alone. Pin It


  1. These are familiar feelings, experienced years ago when we adopted two wee boys from the Wisconsin Special Needs program. We had family members who actually told us that they didn't feel comfortable coming over anymore because, 'Things just aren't the same.' You are doing the right thing and that should be a comfort to you.

  2. ((((((HUGS))))) I'm glad that you did decided to share your feeling here. Foster parenting is hard work, and to be completely honest, it takes a very strong and special family to take in sick and hurting kids, bond with them and then have to say goodbye as they are returned hopefully to a home where the work has been done for the parents to be stable and loving to their children. It's even worse when you know that the return "home" for those kids is not in their best interest or when they are bounced from foster home to foster home for various reasons. I have intimate knowledge of the challenges of being a foster family because one of my closest friends was a foster parent and I was authorized by the courts to provide respite care for the children and help her and her family since it was a large sibling group that they took in and I also knew the children well and had reported the abuse within their birth parents home for years trying to get those kids help. My cousin also is a foster parent who is now in the process of adopting one of her precious foster kids who cannot return to his birth mother. She, like you, can share the general things he is doing, but she can't share lots of things that I know she longs to be able to share. It has left her feeling rather "isolated" at times, especially because she is in her mid 40's and he came into her life as a baby and is now a toddler. She is also surrounded by friend and family that are very loving and supportive, but she does get lonely at times since she is a single woman taking on this hugely important role in this precious child's life.

    Be blessed and thank you and your family for reaching out and being foster parents. :)

  3. I imagine people who have an unplanned, late in life child, after their older children are well along, often feel the same way.

  4. Your posts on foster parenting have been an encouragement to me. We have two foster babies in our care, one about to be adopted by us and the other is going to go to live with a grandparent after living with us a year. Stay the coarse, and know that you are being Jesus to this sweet precious one.

  5. Very moving account. Being open about this challenge in your calling can be of great help. My wife and I have been caring for our 2.5 year old granddaughter 4 days a week for over two years. She is so precious and such a joy. She also has Spina Bifida and has physical therapy at our home once a week. I work nights and my wife works from home so without the help of our two at home kids (21 and 24) we would not be nearly as sane. Taking a week vacation is a logistical nightmare because so many others are affected. This is not what I thought being a grandparent would be like, but if it means her challenges are surpassed and her days are filled with love and laughter, then it's worth it, and so much more. To be honest, I don't know who is more blessed by this arrangement; she or us. All I can say is press on and love on.

  6. As a former foster parent of babies, I totally understand your feelings.

  7. Jane, so glad you posted. We are 'older' parents, and homeschooling has had its surprises, diagnosis of LD, which carries its own isolation, need for privacy.... I see 'all' my friends planning their daughter's weddings, their retirement (what is that?) cruises, their downsize move, or change to accommodate marrieds and grands. I deal with envy. Real, painful envy. I'm glad for them, but being honest, it is lonely sometimes. And I feel the same way, like I wasn't weird enough. So I curb my contributions to conversations, I limit my 'sharing', I don't like on-line 'relationships' but I have truly survived using on-line social media to connect in some needed ways with folks that share similar circumstances. it's a balancing act. I want to be 'local', present in reality. And like you, the spikes in emotion ebb and flow, some weeks are great, some weeks are painful. prayers for us both that God's peace reigns over the anxiety and lonliness. HE is able. May we see the glass half full, His purposes, and be joyful in all things. ((hugs))

  8. Thank you for sharing. We are three months into a foster placement for two precious little ones. They are a older than babies, but younger than our four bio children. This placement is meant to be permanent and we really want to make it work, but it is just hard at the moment. I agree with feeling lonely because no matter how wonderful your friends and family are, no one is in your place and no one else sees the heartbreaking things you have to. One of our new children has so many behaviours due to previous experiences and many times a day I wonder if we can really take any more. Thankfully the other one is a complete delight and has attached so well. I do feel guilt though that I have been able to attch so easily to one and yet struggle so much with the other. All this to say, these kind of feelings are difficult for others to understand.
    Thank you for writing this post. I will keep you in my prayers.

  9. Thank you for sharing, just sharing the isolationhas helped my thinking I'm not alone in my struggles. I've just taken on two siblings 7&8 few weeks ago which could be long term. I'm already struggling with feeling lonely . I'm single carer, never been married always wired with children and great passion for children in specific needs. I have a lot of experience but last few days I'm having thoughts questioning my decision . I have friends in church who give support I'm sure but at moment right in middle of long holidays many are away, so just counting days to school starts. I pray I was right in decision to foster and this feelings passes at least for a while . L

    1. I think questioning your decision (especially towards the beginning of a placement) is pretty normal- there is so much to get adjusted to. Do you know any other folks that foster? Sometimes just having someone to talk to who has been there is so helpful. If not, here are two websites that I find very encouraging. and Blessings to you on this incredible journey- full of highs and lows. Thank you for being a safe place for those two children be at this point in their dear lives. xo


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