The complexities an adopter or foster carer faces are hard to put into words. It takes time to explain to someone else how the care system works, the child’s needs, the family dynamics, the loss, the trauma, and the fatigue (to name a few concerns). When parents/carers can’t find someone who can grasp the challenges they face, they will often feel discouraged and alone.
When I was a foster carer, I did have some wonderful friends who tried hard to understand my reality. However, despite their best efforts, I often found myself thinking, “they just don’t get it.” I know many other foster carers and adopters have said those words – about social workers, church leaders, friends, extended family, neighbours anyone who hasn’t had experience of fostering or adopting themselves.
It can be hard when people don’t get us. But it can be hard to be the one who doesn’t get another’s situation too. We might begin to wonder if it is possible to offer meaningful support to foster carers at all. How do I walk alongside our youth worker who is single and fosters long-term? What insight can I offer a friend who has experienced significant, painful delays in being matched with a sibling group?
Thankfully, the Bible offers divine wisdom that encourages and equips every believer to move towards those who foster and adopt.
What foster carers and adopters need most is to be reminded that God understands them. This is very easy to forget in suffering. As a helper, we can hold in view that God knows them better than they know themselves (Psalm 139; 44:21). He is not a detached God, who does not care. He abides with them, counts up their tears, and has prepared a hope and a future for them and their children. Our confidence in this will help reorient them and us. We won’t despair when they tell us difficult stories. We won’t try to fix things immediately. Our assurance that God gets it and has got them, will help parents/carers feel safe with us – and him.
If you’re struggling to know where to point parents/carers, stick to stories of Jesus. Complex theological arguments may be hard for individuals to grasp when they’re experiencing fatigue. Well-known, simple stories that demonstrate Jesus’ care and concern for suffering and marginalised people are likely to resonate. We may want to ask which story has been meaningful to them in the past and read it slowly together. If we are stuck, blind Bartimaeus (Mark 10), the calming of the storm (Mark 4), and the resurrection of Lazarus (John 11) all clearly demonstrate how Jesus helps hurting people.
We can seek to understand
The fact that we don’t automatically get it can be an advantage if it leads us to humble curiosity. Admitting that we don’t know much, but that we’d like to learn is a huge gift to a parent/carer. Ask them to suggest books, blogs or podcasts that help you understand. Whatever has been helpful to them will be helpful to us too. This may require some time investment from us, but as we become more informed it will really help our conversations. We will start to know what questions to ask (and what to avoid!)
If we have a good relationship with the parent/carer, we can ask clarification questions. “Tell me more about X” or “can you help me understand Y better?” are great open questions that indicate we are willing to listen and learn about their specific situation. Expect some complex answers and be patient as you both seek to find clarity. Understanding someone else’s story cannot be rushed, so sit with the hard things and reflect back what you have heard. Together, over time, we will be able to see God’s good purposes in it all.
If we don’t have a flourishing relationship with the parent/carer, invest in that first before asking deeper questions. Otherwise, it may seem like we are prying. Generally, parents/carers want to share with people who are genuine in their care and committed for the long haul.
We can bring comfort
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4, emphasis added)
These verses offer us confidence that anyone who has been a recipient of the Lord’s comfort does have something to offer to others, regardless of the specific trouble. These verses remind us that the help we offer is not dependent on us having been through the same experience or knowing all the details.
There are words of comfort, strength and hope to share. We can remind people who God is – what he is actively doing right now. We can help people reflect on who God has made them to be and how he is equipping them. There is power in God’s word to speak into any situation they face.
There are other ways we can begin to bring comfort too. Here are some top tips parents/carers have shared with me:
- Be proactive in building relationships. Always start here – and go gently. Spend time with them. Check in during the week. Get to know likes/dislikes. Be persistent, but not insistent.
- Be prepared for a “no, thank you”. If you’ve worked up the courage to offer help, and meant it, it can be disappointing if it is not accepted. There are various reasons why foster carers and adopters may say, ”no” but it rarely means “never”. Try again on another occasion.
- Be creative in the little things. A link to a relevant podcast, a timely text message, a thoughtful gift, remembering birthdays and special occasions, are all ways of saying “I see you.” Don’t think what you offer must be big and flashy – little and often is better.
- Be respectful of timing. Think about timing in terms of routines and seasons. There are different times of the day when things are particularly tough – and different times of the year. Find out what those are for the parent/carer you know. But also remember, families who foster and adopt will need more time overall.
In truth, we will never fully get it – that is the Lord’s role. I’ve come to understand that we were never designed to understand the life of another completely. But as fellow travellers, in Christ, we can seek to understand each other and offer comfort as the Lord leads us.