Building Relationships with Bio Family
The first time I met a bio parent for a visit, I felt like I was going on a blind date. My palms were sweaty and I worried. “Would she think I was taking good care of her child? Would she be angry at me? What if I have been feeding them the wrong food? Do I look like the kind of person who will take good care of her child, but doesn’t think that she is better than anyone else?” I got out of the car and adjusted every part of her son’s outfit. I triple checked his backpack to make sure all of his changing and feeding supplies were in there. We walked into McDonald’s together, both anxious, but for different reasons.
It turned out that I didn’t have anything to be afraid of - and I still don’t. Biological family members are other human beings who deeply love the same children that we love, even if they can’t currently care for them safely. Most of them are truly doing their best, and that many of them are coming out of situations where they never had the privileges, nurturing or people to be examples for them of safe and loving parenting.
As Christians, we see and value the dignity of every human because they are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26). We can be frustrated, angered, and hurt by biological family members’ behavior, but we have to be able to distinguish the behavior from the person. I remind myself that I am not the sum total of my worst behavior, and how mortified and frustrated it would feel to be seen that way - as just a composition of all the poor choices or mistakes that I have made.
We have had angry parents (usually angry at CPS, not us or their kids) and sad parents. We have had parents who hugged us at our first meetings, and ones that have held us at a distance for months. In each situation, there is so much that we can learn from them. They can teach us about persistence over difficult situations, about sacrifice, about learning, and about rewiring our thoughts. They can teach us how to practically take care of kids who don’t look like we do. They can teach us about breaking generational patterns and creating friendships with people who are different than we are.
Ultimately, the goal of foster care is family reunification and building these connections is critical for every person in the equation. Pouring myself into biological family members doesn’t just give me peace of mind. It gives me an outlet to love another person. It also matters to our children, whether they are old enough to voice it or not. Seeing “mom” and “foster mom” interact kindly reassures them. One of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do is drive kids away from their parents at the end of the visit. The visits are not about us - they are for the sake of the children, and it’s our jobs as the grown-ups in the relationship to make sure that it goes as well as possible.
No matter what, these are their PARENTS. There are parents that could have given me more - extravagant vacations, bigger houses, more clothes, a brand-new car. Maybe there are even parents that would have teased me less, been more patient, or played with me more. But I would never have traded my parents for those people. My family is mine, and I will love them fiercely and deeply forever.
So will these kids. No matter what material or emotional circumstances we can provide that their biological family members can’t, they will deeply love their families forever, even if reunification isn’t possible. It is worth it to do the work, because we love these children and this is important to them. Even more than that, we are commanded to love other people in radical ways in order to be an example of a God who loves us in a radical way.
Even more than that, we are commanded to love other people in radical ways in order to be an example of a God who loves us in a radical way.
Practical Ideas to Love Bio Parents:
●Write notes to send with your child. These have been valued by every family member. We include favorite foods, memories from that week, what they are learning in school, new skills, etc.
● Send a photo. Each week, I print off a photo or two from the week before and send it with our kids. They have lost the opportunity to take photos of their kids doing “typical” activities, so a picture of a child cooking or riding a bike becomes a treasured possession.
● Find little gifts that can come from the child. We have made Christmas ornaments, picked out small pumpkins and smelled lotions until we found the perfect one.
● Tell them how smart, beautiful, wonderful, etc., their children are. Everyone loves to be complimented on their kids, and it’s amazing how the walls fall down when the focus is on their children.
● Ask for their input when appropriate. We have gotten great feedback on bedtimes, haircare, discipline strategies and meals that kids will eat.
1 Peter 4:8
Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins.
Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.”
Matthew 25:10 - Bio parents are included in the "least of these"
“And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’
Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.
Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good.
About the Author:
Sarah Allen is a mother to her sweet daughter and to 20 children from the foster care system. She has shown me what it looks like to lay down your life for the sake of another, to stand up for justice, and to be a good friend.