Most days, I love my son greatly. I’ve become increasingly patient, responding to hostility with gentleness. I listen. I try to understand his perspective, taking into account his past affliction while holding him accountable as he needs.
Other days, I want to punch him in the face.
I’m not the perfect foster/adoptive father. Are you?
Parenting is hard work, no doubt. It always has been. Yet, our age presents unique challenges. Culture, media, the internet, the descent of our entire nation into godlessness— all conspire to mold your children into disciples of Satan.
Now, add a healthy dose of trauma.
System kids need perfection. Their trauma demands it.
And I’ve screwed it up, a thousand times.
I’ve been lenient when I should’ve stuck to my guns. I’ve been harsh when I should’ve shown mercy. I’ve lost my temper, been too dogmatic, focused on the less than important, not followed through, demanded more than necessary, expected too little. You name it. I’ve messed it up…and I’m tired.
Perfection is exhausting.
They Look So Normal
My sons look like any other kids.
In fact, they are handsome boys. I know I’m biased. Several of them look like the typical All-American kid— sandy blonde hair, blue eyes, the whole bit. The others sport year-round tans with mops of dark, curly hair—cute or handsome, depending on their age.
The trauma remains hidden…until it’s not.
It has no choice but to manifest itself in their actions.
I will never understand their trauma. I am only now coming to terms with its existence.
Consider, as a child, having your entire life ripped to shreds, repeatedly. A stranger shows up in the middle of the night and takes you…to a stranger’s house. The trauma of forced separation alone is stunning to consider.
They lack certainty and assurance. Who will love them? Who will take care of them? Will they ever see their parents again? Each move sets them back months in development. What happens after the fourth move, the fifth?
Physical or emotional abuse, neglect, or the fallout from drug abuse—all prevalent in system kids—darkens the reality further.
Episodically, all of my sons have been betrayed by those supposed to love them the most. Several suffer from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome or prenatal drug exposure. They witnessed violence, against their mothers. They were exposed to rampant drug abuse. They suffer physical, psychological, and emotional conditions.
And I expect them to act just like any other kid?!?
What About You?
It’s not fair.
It’s not fair to the kids. They didn’t ask for this hand. They were dealt it by the sin of another, through no fault of their own.
And now you have to deal with it. It’s not fair to you either.
They need a perfect parent. They need one who is compassionate, patient, loving, kind, understanding, steadfast, and firm. They need a parent who resonates with grace, one who emanates mercy.
They need a parent unlike you, or me for that matter.
In case you haven’t figured this out, you’re not perfect. Nor am I.
My son and I had a confrontation that went poorly. I prayed before speaking with him, but the issue became heated and before I knew it, he stormed out the door to the streets. In that moment, I failed him. He needed more than I had to offer. He needed something I did not give. This wasn’t the first time either.
After he walked, I retreated to the upstairs bathroom and wept bitterly. “Here we go again,” I thought to myself. My failures, my shortcomings, my imperfections as a father, overwhelmed me in that moment.
I needed to be reminded of a few truths.
Academically, I know these truths, but in my desire to be what my sons need, I need to be reminded myself. Perhaps you do as well.
1. They don’t need perfection. They need advocacy.
My wife embodies the advocate.
There is no limit to which she will not go on behalf of our sons. She will move mountains, storm the very gates of hell, on their behalf. She battles red tape, the system, lawyers, and doctors on their behalf.
She took a catatonic, FAS baby and loved and advocated that child to health and vitality, to life. Woe be the person, system, or process that stands in her way.
When they lost their families, my sons lost their advocate. They needed another to champion their cause. They will never know the extent of her advocacy.
Yours won’t either.
They will never see the sleepless nights, the tears, the hours spent on the phone with uncooperative government agencies. They will never know the turmoil in your own life wrought by the turmoil of theirs, the uncertainty you deal with.
They just will never know.
And that’s okay. It has to be.
2. They don’t need perfection. They need love.
Can you love someone who doesn’t love you in return?
Can you love someone who cannot love you in return, who lacks the sheer ability?
They desperately need unconditional love, just like everyone does. Yet, their affliction will oftentimes render them unlovable. They lash out, they rage against the invisible constraints of that which they cannot understand. They misplace hate and anger, maybe direct it towards you, the very one trying to help them.
They run and rebel. They resist overtures and maintain baffling loyalties to those they ought to hate.
It doesn’t make sense. It’s hard. It’s frustrating.
Love them. You’ll respond inappropriately. I promise. You’ll get frustrated yourself. You’ll return anger for anger. You’ll make decisions in response to their aggression and then you’ll second guess yourself, maybe doubt.
“What am I doing? I’m not cut out for this.”
But love them. You must.
3. They don’t need perfection, they need Christ.
How could I father without Him?
As often as I’ve failed, as often as I’ve dropped the ball, I have Christ to rest upon.
Who embodies advocacy but Jesus?
He presently sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty interceding for us, advocating for us. (Romans 8:34, 1 John 2:1) He is our voice, our righteousness. In the great transaction, He imputes His righteousness to us and we our sin to Him and forever, He is our champion.
Who embodies love but Jesus?
Really. Let’s talk about it. Imagine marrying a woman or man knowing that every single day for the rest of your life, they would cheat on you with another. When I was in my most unlovable condition, while I was yet a sinner, a hater of God, Christ died for me. (Romans 5:8) He decided to love me, he decided to set his affections on me.
Your foster children need this, they need Jesus, desperately.
Like anyone, He is their only hope. Yet, their affliction denies them the one who was supposed to bring them to the cross, their parents. Their suffering builds a great callous upon their hearts. The hardness is astounding.
Let your advocacy, let your love, fully demonstrate the love and advocacy of the risen Lord Jesus.
And let Him be your strength. Let Him be your rest. Let Him be your comfort, your strong tower, your rock, your help, your happiness. Let Him empower you.
Let Him free your foster children with the burden of your happiness or satisfaction.
My son needs perfection. I don’t have it, but I do. He needs perfection, so I give Him Christ, as much as I can, as often as I can, imperfectly, but perfect in my imperfections. When I tire, when I fail, I go to Christ. When I sin against my son, I repent. I ask Him to forgive me and then I ask him to forgive me. I lift him in prayer, do my best, and trust in the Savior.
Take heart. This is all you can do.
Author - Founder
Soldier, Pastor, Author – Bradford stays busy, with his wife Ami, raising their 9 children, serving the nation, pastoring, preaching, and writing books (#3 is due out October ’17).
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