In defense of bio parents

This post is written from my experience as a foster parent in the Pennsylvania court system. Though I must speak as I find, and reference situations I have experienced, I have taken great care to avoid representing a particular case, or disclosing any personal details I am bound to conceal. This is not a description of our current case, nor of any previous case in our home.

Dear Foster Parents,

As you take your first steps into this placement, and begin to form your ideas and opinions, there are a few things we’d like to run past you. You scarcely know us yet, but you will –

We are the bio parents. The *other* parents. The abusive-neglectful parents.

This is kind of awkward, isn’t it?

In our defense, we didn’t ask to be here. We didn’t ask you to step in and become a semi-permanent babysitter for our children. We would have preferred to do it ourselves, or to let Grandma do it if we couldn’t. Nobody wants to hand their child over to strangers.

Honestly, we don’t know a thing about you, and here we are at a distinct disadvantage, because you are about to get our whole family history, double-barrelled. We will soon sit in court and hear our dirtiest laundry aired, in front of you and God and just for the record, could you clarify exactly how long you left her alone in her crib, Ms. P? If you have never sat in our chair, you have no idea of the level of shame this involves. We don’t handle it well. I’ll be the first to admit, we don’t look good sitting there. If we don’t cry we look like heartless hussies, and if we do we look maudlin and unglued. There’s no good spin to put on this story, and no covers left to hide under.

If we dare to meet your eyes at this moment, it would help so much if we could see in them that you respect us – not because of what we’ve done or left undone, but because we are fellow humans going through the worst days of our lives. If you think we don’t care, or don’t feel, or don’t know this, you are wrong. We really, really messed up; and we do not expect to find mercy in this place.

Among the many things we fear, we are afraid of you, foster parents: afraid of what you will do with our kids, and afraid of how bad you will make us look, or feel. We expect you to be catty and backstabbing and petty, out for what you can get. Those are the rules we know. Those are the rules this world lives by.

Then you buy them new clothes and do their hair all pretty, and show up in a fancy vehicle that belongs to you, with proper car seats and a full tank of gas – and we think See? Look at you being the good guys, the cool new parents. Forgive us if we don’t appear as appreciative as we ought. It’s hard to be glad for what you’re doing, when it reflects so negatively on us – when it’s what we wish we could do, but we don’t have the resources and we don’t know how.

So don’t expect a lot of bonhomie, at first. Our trust is a gift you will have to earn – or not. Don’t expect us to be falling over ourselves to play nice with you, to be humble and generous and grateful and nice.

Don’t even expect us to be particularly good people, nice parents who model virtue for our children and make healthy choices for our family. We’re SUPPOSED to hand out purple stuffed animals instead of clothes and food, we’re SUPPOSED to pull a no-show at visit time and end up in detox (again), we’re SUPPOSED to be clueless and infuriating and dishonest and difficult. If we knew how to do this adulting thing you wouldn’t be in our story.

It will help us a lot if you can stop hyperventilating over everything we do wrong.


Please don’t expect, just hope. If there are two ways to take what we say and do, please take it in the way that makes us look good. You may think the deck is stacked heavily in our favor; but we feel the same about you. We feel beset at every turn, asked to reinvent ourselves, to stand on our heads, to do what we can’t do. We don’t know how to remake our lives. It’s hard and painful and sometimes impossible. It’s all cool for you to sit there thinking what you would do if this happened to you – but – no offense – Did it? If it didn’t happen to you, you don’t know the bondage of this position, the habitual, biological, chemical, relational, financial, fearful chains that tie us to what we know. We give what we’ve been given. We don’t know anything else.

We need you to give us hope. We need you to be the team player when we can’t. We need you to show us how adults work things out, how grace builds bridges, how suffering love wins. Believe me when I tell you we have never seen this firsthand before.

Are you with us so far? because now we’re going to lose you. Now we’re coming to our biggest sin of all, and probably the hardest one for you to forgive: We want our kids back. We know you are probably the better parent, if someone looked at this objectively. You are giving them a good life, parts of which we are incapable of reproducing. They are clean and loved and thriving in your home. Removing them will be horribly disruptive. But they belong to us. Our blood flows in their veins, our passion gave them life, our faces snuggled against their newborn skin and breathed in the euphoria of parenthood. We’ve wounded these kids we share, and we may wound them again. But by birth and by law they are ours.

For now, I mean. Our countdown clock is ticking, our fears are arriving, our worst loss may become your greatest gain. Or your worst loss our gain. For the latter we strive, and we do not care about your feelings as much as you would hope.

Please give us the dignity of acknowledging our role. Please give us the chance to win them back. Please open your heart to share them with us – as we shared them with you – only more graciously. More like the way a good adult does it.

Show us, please. Show us how Love acts. We’ve not found it anywhere else in this wretched story.

– The Bio Parents

More on this topic next time.

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Wendy Zook
5 years ago

My eyes are brimming! You have written well! Maybe more thoughts later or maybe sometime over coffee!

5 years ago

Yes! My eyes are running also! We had a foster mom speak at our ladies’ retreat just a few weeks ago, and i admired her SO much! She told us of her “fostering” journey, and pulled out framed pictures of each of her children with their bio parents. And she scurried home after retreat to have supper with a bio mom. I surely don’t know exactly the right way to deal with all the issues, nor how to have the strength to do it if we’d know it… I just know I saw Jesus in her as she talked about the parents as well as the children.

Rachel Graybill
5 years ago

Well spoken.

5 years ago

Oh. The deep grief on every side of living in a broken, messed up world. I find myself only with tears and no words.

My favorite line: “Please open your heart to share them with us – as we shared them with you – only more graciously.”

5 years ago

My favorite line is “If we knew how to do this adulting thing you wouldn’t be in our story.” But you knew that already. Well said. I love how hard you work to build rapport with bio parents.

Priscilla F.
5 years ago

I’ve never commented on your blog before, but have been on and off again reading it since I stumbled upon the high-heeled cupcake pictures about a year ago. Now I’m a subscriber, and am in the middle of a book you just recommended “Ask Me Why I Hurt”. I’ve always been one to think (maybe even state) “Never could I be a foster parent and deal with that messed up system!” Maybe I never will. God alone knows. I have 5 under 9, and one due in June. My hands are full as it is. And yet it keeps coming before me, even when I’ve managed to shelve it in the back part of my mind for a while; little and sometimes big reminders of the overwhelming need in our country, and a God Who enables us to meet needs that couldn’t otherwise be met. In His grace and will, I sometimes think the journey is only just begun for me… At any rate, I want you to know how much I appreciate ALL you write, and especially gobble up the tidbits about fostering, from the perspective of a conservative believer who wonders if I really could or should do it. God bless you and all the family currently under your roof and in your hearts!

Mama Zook
5 years ago

So well put, Shari, and except for Jesus…I could have been the bio mom! And yes, I’m weeping here!

5 years ago
Reply to  Mama Zook

Yes. Let us all remember “except for Jesus”. In so many scenarios I have found myself defending the bio parents when they are so badly bashed in conversations. I just keep thinking, “what if I were her?”. Thank you, Shari!

5 years ago

“It would help us a lot if you can stop hyperventilating over everything we do wrong.” A whole lot of things would go better in this world if we Christians could do this. I really like your letter.

5 years ago

As a foster mom, the things you wrote are very noble in the head, but sooo hard to feel in the heart. When we began our fostering journey, it brought us up close and personal to brokenness and there just isn’t a lot of pretty in it! Thanks so much for being willing to sacrifice for these little ones. God sees the tears, pain, joy, the whole “double barrel” of it, and your work is not in vain!

5 years ago

These people are my neighbors & friends….both sides of the fence, bio/foster. Above all else they really do love their kids…I’ve witnessed broken & shattered, Jesus is the only One who brings redemption. I applaud believers who are willing to join forces with Him.

5 years ago

Yeeeees! You need to share this with the Rejuvenate ladies.

5 years ago

“you don’t know the bondage of this position, the habitual, biological, chemical, relational, financial, fearful chains that tie us to what we know. We give what we’ve been given. We don’t know anything else.” Exactly. You explained it so well!I’ve noticed that when they see us treat them with respect and compassion month after month, they relax and eventually they seem to forget they were ever angry with us for being “perfect” and angry at us for caring for the child they love! I love seeing that thaw! Some have become friends, some keep us at arms length but still act thankful. Even if they are never thankful, I like to think the absence of anger is an indication that they trust us! I’ve also noticed that for some reason, meeting my husband and seeing the respect he offers makes even larger bounds to a more relaxed/ trusting relationship!

janelle glick
5 years ago

What raw and powerful words of advocation for the longings of parents near to each of us. Thank you, Shari. In another post you write about being a “warm window” – that is a perfect image for what I see you writing here. Love you!

5 years ago

Wow this is so good Shari! What a complicated and tough relationship! How foster parents really are the hands and feet of Jesus to people at the lowest points of their lives! And what loss these dear parents are experiencing…I kept thinking but for the grace of God there am I..

5 years ago

WOW! So well written! I am sharing this to our Fostering Change WA facebook page this coming Friday. (Giving you credit of course!) Thank you for this beautiful perspective!

Anthony w Zook
5 years ago

Thank you, Shari for the letter from a bio parents point of view. We are in the process of adopting and relating to bio family and the challenge to do it lovingly amidst breaking all ties. It is difficult in this part of the country when we are a small community. You know. You’ve lived here. In our 9 years of fostering we have had good relationships with bio parents but I’m not sure how this is all going to go. Thanks again!!
Martha Zook

4 years ago


4 years ago

“you don’t know the bondage of this position, the habitual, biological, chemical, relational, financial, fearful chains that tie us to what we know. We give what we’ve been given. We don’t know anything else” This might be true of non-kinship fostering, but it’s not necessarily true for kinship fostering. In kinship fostering, the foster parents often DO know what the bio parents were and were not given. We know how hard the relatives of the bio-parents tried to help them, to arrange counseling, to pay their bills, etc. We know that, sometimes, despite being raised in a drug-free, middle-class home, with access to good education, etc., that sometimes a person will choose the “road of forbidden fruit”, the road of “non-conformity”… and then, if there are children involved, they sometimes get caught in the crossfire. There are many kinship foster homes, and more often, grandparents are being asked to either step up or risk forever losing their grandchild(ren) into the system. In those cases… we, as grandparents are trying to save both our adult child and the grandchildren as well. We generally want/need our adult child to make the changes to become at least an adequate parent, because we’d love to be able to just be grandparents to the grandchild, and parents to our adult child again. However, sometimes our adult child – the bio-parent to our grandchild(ren) – is so focused on deflecting any blame, refusing to admit any need for change, refusing any support, that our dreams as grandparents are shattered.

4 years ago

May I bring up another dimension? I really identified with your more recent post “In Which I Attempt To Love My Enemy”….. but will try to verbalize my thoughts here. My “foster child” is my own flesh and blood, who spends considerable time with
the other parent. Sometimes, I am horrified at how much I view him as “the enemy”. When there is continued denial about his addictions, and a willful turning away from all that he once embraced as truth, how can I show respect to his choices that undermine my values? How can I co-parent with one I no longer trust? I pray often that he would see Jesus in our interactions, even in my own hurt and brokenness….. Thank you for putting into words what is in my heart many times. I look forward to your posts and am keeping your family in prayer during this difficult season.

4 years ago

I have the utmost respect for this posting. I appreciate your sincerity as you wrote it, as it clearly came from a very noble and loving place. As a foster parent, I agree that we should definitely not judge or assume the worst when we consider the bio parents. Our interactions with them should be kind and polite. However, I think it is also wrong to go to the complete opposite extreme and assume the best of them. There is no possible way to know what is going on in their hearts and minds. If they feel any shame. If they compare and contrast the outfits and car seats we provide to the children. If they are trying their best. In some cases the answer is yes. In some cases that answer is no. Our job is to be smart and discerning and do what is best for the children. Right now it is very trendy in the fostering world to “be a mentor” to bio parents but not every person and situation is the same. Be loving, AND be careful. It is not an act of hate to set boundaries.

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