As someone who works in the field of child welfare (and as an adoptive parent), I have been afforded many opportunities to train folks just coming into the foster care arena. It is really inspiring to see people, from all kinds of walks of life, choose to step towards children in need. It continues to convince me that despite a lot of junk in the world, there are still amazing people out there.
During the initial foster parent training, I have heard people say things like, “I’ll just love it out of them” or “All they need is love”. This is in reference to trauma and behavior related issues. In my head, I’m thinking, “Well, bless your heart.” And, I mean it.
Bless your heart for wanting to love on children.
However, love is not always enough. This is where rubber meets the road and is a hard pill to swallow. I know that goes against just about everything that most of us have been raised to believe and even what we teach our children. But, it is true. Love is not enough to erase years of abuse and neglect or genetic issues or any other struggle a child has. If love were enough, I suspect there would be a decline in child abuse and neglect cases as well as a decline in substance abuse or any other issue that causes turmoil in one’s life. We all know people whose love was unwavering; yet, their child succumbed to bad choices.
This post is not meant to be disheartening. Of course, love is powerful and feeling loved is crucial. However, if one enters into child welfare and expecting all the feels of goodness and sweetness, it will be a very disappointing and bumpy ride. It is child abuse and neglect that lands children in the system – not warm, fuzzy, feel-good rainbow kind of moments. Don’t forget that.
We must stand up and speak out for children. We must wrap our minds around the fact that while love is powerful, alone, it cannot solve the issues at hand. It takes resilience and courage. It takes flexibility, sacrifice and humility. It takes the willingness to recognize that we have a lot more to learn than we believe we do. It also takes a whole heck of a lot of humor.
In caring for abused and neglected children, love (in itself) may not always be enough. It can, however, set the wheel in motion towards a journey that meets the pain and hardship of others head-on. It can stir hearts and minds in the rendering of waking up each day with a passion to seek and serve children in need.
Loving children means meeting them where they are at; RIGHT where they are at.
There isn’t a better example of this than Jesus. He met people where they were at; the outcasts, the lost, the sick, the hungry, the dead, and us. With love, He chose to discipline and in love, He chose the Cross. He chose to stay where He was supposed to and He did it out of love, but He also did it because He know what He needed to do. (Thank you, Lord!)
It may not feel good to say that love is not always enough, but let me tell you, this Momma has lived this truth. Right now as I’m typing this, my thoughts are to where I had planned on being. I had been scheduled to be in the Ukraine. Yes, you read that right. I was asked to travel to the Ukraine to train Ukrainian foster families who have taken in children with very little to no resources. However, I had to cancel those plans.
One of my children has been struggling with anxiety and a variety of emotional and behavioral issues. Loving this child is not enough to keep this child stable. I had to ask myself some hard questions. Do I leave for a two-week trip to another part of the world knowing that my child is struggling? How would my absence affect this kiddo (who does struggle with some attachment stuff)? What would happen if, in my absence, everything breaks apart and my child ends up suffering because of it?
I really wanted to go, but just simply loving my child regardless of where I was on the planet would not have helped. I chose to say “no”. I have found that when it comes to parenting children whose beginnings of life were not exactly ideal, it has taken more than love. Love is obvious, but what seems to overrule my life as a parent is fortitude, understanding, the willingness to learn, the desire to change my own parenting style, and whole lot of grace and empathy.
For those who are seeking to become foster or adoptive parents, set your love aside for a moment. Take all that energy bound up in desiring to love a child and put it to use. Use it to build up a pool of resources. Use it to open your mind about what works for children who come from difficult circumstance. Use it to persuade yourself to tweak and adjust your expectations and parenting style (which will evolve as time goes on). Don’t set love aside, of course, but take the same intensity and use it to seek knowledge about how to help children heal.
Love is not (always) enough. LOVE IN ACTION, well, that has no measure. It will look different for you and I. If you truly want to love a child who comes from a hard place, then you must understand that LOVE is a VERB.
It has to be.
For any future foster or adoptive parent reading this, I’d love to hear from you. Ask me anything. I can be brutally honest, but I think that is what you probably need to hear.