“People tell me all the time that I’m doing a great thing by being a foster dad. I love what I’m doing, but honestly, sometimes I feel guilty. I knew being a foster parent might be hard and rewarding, and even have joyous moments…but guilt? I didn’t know I’d have such feelings of guilt. I feel guilty in three ways, but first, let me tell you about one boy I had in my house for a while.
This particular ten year old and his siblings had been in the system for around three years by the time I met him. The younger ones missed their mom, sure, but they didn’t have the same kind of feelings the older brother had. He had much stronger memories of being with his Mom and really wanted to please her, or at least have her see his achievements. Kids often want to speak to their parents, and sometimes it’s possible and sometimes not. This boy asked for phone calls all the time.
On one occasion we were at his football game and an amazing thing happened…he scored! He was so excited! He had those first victorious moments of celebration on the field with his team and then looked to the sidelines to see me cheering him on. I was so proud of him! But then I could see it in his eyes that his feelings of happiness did not go that deeply because his mom was not there to see what he’d just done. She was told the time and place of the game, but for one reason or another, she just couldn’t get there.
As his foster dad, I can give him love and support and cheer him on in his pursuits like schoolwork, making new friends, or football, but I can’t give him what he really needs, which is the love and support of his own mother. Foster kids will live in hope of the day they will be reunited with their family, or they will have to go through the deep grieving process over losing something that should be a right of every child who is born, a solid family foundation.
As for the three ways in which I feel guilty as a foster parent, the first one is about milestones. I feel guilty that I am the one who gets to see a baby take her first steps, see a little boy lose a tooth and get excited over the Tooth Fairy in the morning, or see a kid score in their football game. Don’t get me wrong, I feel deeply privileged to see these things happening in the life of a child, but I sometimes wonder if their mom dreamt about experiencing and being a part of these milestones in her child’s life. Why is it me? Why am I the one who gets to be a part of these special moments? Isn’t the parent the one who should be witnessing these things? I wish it were possible.
I feel guilty about the power I have over the child’s parents. A judge will determine what kind of contact a child can have with their parents. In some cases, it is limited so if a child is crying and begging me to speak to her mother, I just can’t say yes. It’s so hard! In other cases, I can allow more contact. Then, it is me who has the power to decide. I try to allow phone calls as much as I can, but sometimes it’s just not possible if we are already busy with something else.
Anytime my foster child asks me, ‘Can I call my mom?’ and I have to say, ‘No, not right now,’ my heart breaks. That’s their mother. Why am I the one who has to regulate their relationship? But sometimes, the reality is I know if we were to make the call at that moment, there would be no answer, and that comes with even more guilt.
On the other hand, biological parents sometimes reach out to talk to their kids, which I love, but sometimes it happens when the kids are at school, taking a nap, or in a moment where their child isn’t in the mood to talk. Once again, I have to deal with the guilt of saying no. I wish the power to connect freely was with the parent and child, even though I understand this is the way things have to be for now.
I also feel guilty about my privilege to be the comforter or the one who deals with conflict. These moments build bonds between parent and child and when a birth parent isn’t available, I know these are missed opportunities. If it’s within my guidelines, I sometimes call the mom and tell them when something is going on. For example, I might say, ‘Hey, he’s having quite an attitude today, do you think you could speak to him and find out what’s up?’ to get them involved. When it comes to doctor and hospital visits, we all know moms are usually the ones who comfort their children to say, ‘You are brave. You are not alone,’ and hold them in their arms when they are scared.
As a foster dad, I have to step in and assume the role of mother, father, protector, and comforter while knowing their mom didn’t have the opportunity to be there when their child needed them. All the parents are left with is a phone call after the fact. That’s when I can really hear the shame, disappointment, and the struggle they have explaining why they can’t be there for their child. That’s where my guilt really shows up.
So, yes, I love being a foster parent, however, I sometimes have guilty feelings. I wish it were different for these kids, but I’m prepared to be there for them as long as they need me.”
Read Peter’s backstory here:
‘At 11, his adoptive parents abandoned him at a hospital, never to return. ‘Mr. Peter, can I call you my Dad?’ I began to cry uncontrollably.’: Single dad adopts 11-year-old boy from foster care after biological, adoptive family abandon him
‘Would you be willing to take in a 7-year-old boy during quarantine?’ I knew it was a risk, but I also knew all he needed was love.’: Single adoptive, foster dad says ‘my house is not a blessing unless it’s shared’
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