Emotions of a Foster Parent: the Conflicting (Part 3 of 6)

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This post is Part 3 of  a 6-part series on the emotions a Foster Parent will experience during their fostering journey.  My husband and I were foster parents for 9 years, and while we are not experts by any means, our experience did run the gamut of interesting situations, and of course emotions.  So I’m sharing from our experience.

Conflicted Feelings

Some days I can’t decide how I feel about things.  Some days I go back and forth.  Many times I’m feeling more than one emotion at a time.

Everyone experiences conflicted feelings now and then.  What’s amazing is how often a Foster Parent feels it.


Everyone feels protective of “their own”, however they define that.  Since childhood, I have felt protective of neglected, abandoned, abused, uncared-for children, whether they’re “mine” or not.  Heck, because they needed to be loved, I automatically consider them mine.

I am not conflicted about feeling protective of “someone else’s” child. I don’t personally draw lines that way.  I believe everyone has the obligation to be generally protective of, and help care for, whoever needs it at the time.  That’s just part of being human together.

What confounds me is when I find myself feeling protective of one child over another.  Not in a favoritism kind of way, but because of the emotional and behavioral challenges these kids face due to early trauma.  You shouldn’t have to protect children from each other; but in the world of foster care, you sometimes do.  Even though it breaks your heart.

I also find myself feeling protective of the child with regards to his/her birth family.  On the surface, that’s logical, because their inability to keep the child safe is WHY the child is in foster care, atleast temporarily.  Families should be loving and strong and intact.  But sometimes they aren’t, and that’s why foster parents are needed.  I was thrilled to be a foster parent and be able to take care of and love all these kids; but the reasons I was needed brought about conflicting feelings.

Unfortunately, you’ll find that many families in the foster care system have been involved for several generations.  Perhaps the birth parent of your foster child WAS a foster child.  Who was there to be protective of them?  Did they never learn to trust and attach to anyone?  Were they so damaged themselves, that they couldn’t learn how to be a better parent to the child in your care?  Does the whole extended family have a history of mental illness or alcoholism or FASD?

It’s sad.  And I end up feeling protective of just about everyone.  The older child who has been the only parent the baby has ever really known, but who is being placed in another home.  The grandmother who can’t take the children for health reasons, but whose heart is breaking right in front of you.  The young birth mother, whose own prenatal alcohol exposure prevents her from parenting her children, and she barely understands why.  The foster family who was told they would be adopting the sibling group they’ve had for two years, only to have the placement abruptly disrupted when a long-lost family member shows up.

As much as we love the babies and have fun with the kids in our care, we have to remember that foster homes are needed because families fall apart.  And that’s sad and painful for everyone.


Now, this is a strange emotion in this context.  I’m the foster parent, swooping in to rescue kids who need rescuing, right?  What would I have to feel guilty about?  I didn’t do anything.

Except I did.  I fell in love with someone else’s child.  I bought him his first brand new pair of shoes.  I was the one she took her first steps toward.  I was the tooth fairy.  I was the one who turned when they yelled “Mom!”  I got the bedtime hugs and high-fives after baseball games.  I got the great big smile when she put on her first pair of glasses.  I know her favorite foods.  I am the one he runs to if he scrapes a knee.  I am the one she doesn’t want to leave now.  I testified in court about why he should stay with me forever.

It’s really hard to step in to someone else’s parenting role, do it well, and not feel guilty about having a hand in tearing a family apart.  Of course, your actions are not what’s destroying the birth family.  But feelings are feelings.  And they often conflict.


You will feel relieved when decisions are made, when cases finally close, when adoptions are finalized.  You will feel relieved when medical issues are resolved, when IEP meetings go well, when your child finally feels safe enough to let go of disruptive survival behaviors.  You will feel relieved when you reconnect years later with the birth mom who got her child back, and realize she truly did kick the drugs and they’re doing fine (and you will be so proud of her, because even if it broke your heart to say goodbye to the baby, you know how hard she worked because you really were on that journey together.).

But here’s one you might not be expecting:  You will sometimes feel relieved when a child leaves your home and doesn’t come back.  This is a hard one.  You’re a foster parent because you love kids, right?  You want to take care of them, love them, fill your home with them.  But it’s important to realize that real damage is done when kids are exposed to drugs and alcohol in utero, when they experience early trauma before coming to you, when life teaches them that no adult can be trusted.

Sometimes a child is too damaged to be able to settle in to a typical family setting.  Sometimes they are suffering with mental illnesses that cause them to be unstable and unsafe.  Sometimes they are so angry and volatile that they need to be placed in residential care.  Sometimes  you need to protect your other children from them. The worst part is, sometimes these things don’t surface until after you’ve fallen in love. Talk about conflicting feelings.

Its ok to feel conflicted.  In fact, it’s ok to feel ALL of the emotions you will feel in your fostering journey.  It means you care.  It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it, only that you should know what you’re getting into, as best you can, and start now preparing yourself to handle it.  Because these kids need us.

There is ALWAYS a need for foster parents.  ALWAYS.

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Books I recommend for Fostering & Adoption  (affiliate link)

Read the rest of this series:

Emotions of a Foster Parent: the Positive (Part 1 of 6)

Emotions of a Foster Parent: the Negative (Part 2 of 6)

Emotions of a Foster Parent: the Hardest (Part 4 of 6)

Emotions of a Foster Parent: the Unexpected (Part 5 of 6)

Emotions of a Foster Parent: the Rollercoaster (Part 6 of 6)

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