We’re ‘just’ foster parents. It’s a word that impacted Megan Hogg and her husband deeply as they navigated a new foster placement with two young children. In this article, she reflects on what this experience taught her and shares her perspective on her role as a foster parent—a role that holds a weight and a privilege all on its own.
It was one of those perfect October days—sunny and crisp, not yet cold. As soon as I got home from work, I shed my hospital scrubs and changed into my fall uniform of stretchy black yoga pants and a long-sleeved shirt. I popped my headphones on, pressed play on a podcast, and headed out the door for a stroll.
I had only been walking for ten minutes when my phone rang. It was our social worker.
“We have a foster care placement for you,” she told me, getting straight to the point. “A sibling set. A 3-year-old girl and a 5-year-old boy.”
The First Night
Two hours later, my husband, Josh, and I had two children in our care. The girl, Heather, came with no possessions. It seemed she left her voice at home, too—we didn’t hear her speak until the following day. The boy, Jack, came with a Spiderman backpack and an exuberant personality, his volume more than compensating for his younger sister’s silence.
That first night, the four of us ate Domino’s pizza and then the kids got into the bathtub (“How do I wash a girl’s hair?” Josh asked me). After bath time, Jack and Heather insisted on sleeping in the same bed.
“I have to protect Welly Bird,” Jack told us desperately.
“Welly Bird?” we asked, curious.
“That’s what I call my sister,” he stated matter of factly.
Something about that nickname hit me in the gut. It was a clear reminder that this was a family that had been severed. A family with inside jokes and favorite movies and nicknames. How could my husband and I possibly be what these children needed?
IN OVER OUR HEADS
When we began our foster care journey, we held romanticized visions of caring for “the least of these,” as Jesus encourages His followers to do in Matthew 25:40. Jesus even goes so far as to say that caring for the least of these will be like caring for Him. Yet here we were, on a random weekday night with two children who had just been abruptly taken from their home, and it didn’t feel like we were caring for Jesus. It felt like we were in way over our heads.
I took the next few days off work to get the kids (and myself) settled into our new life together. There was no timeline on any of it, so we had no choice but to plan as if the situation was permanent. A social worker had thankfully already arranged daycare for Heather, but I still needed to register Jack for kindergarten.
Figuring it Out
On the kids’ first morning with us, I dressed them in the haphazard assembly of clothes we scrounged up at the last minute. I poured cereal and scrambled eggs, although the kids didn’t appear too enthused by either option. I finally got them each to eat a banana and drink some milk, and then the three of us headed off to Jack’s new elementary school together.
In the principal’s office, I was given a clipboard stacked with forms and directed to the library to fill them out. It didn’t take long to realize this seemingly simple task was going to take every ounce of mental strength I possessed. Before I even settled into a chair, the kids were off. Jack darted around the room doing some sort of parkour moves off the miniature tables and chairs, while Heather began scaling the bookshelves with zeal.
“Come sit and look at a book while I fill out these forms,” I yell-whispered at them, but it didn’t do any good. Eventually a librarian came over to me and said sternly, “Please keep your children under control.” My face flushed with embarrassment. They’re not technically my children, I wanted to explain, and I have no idea what I’m doing. I’m just filling in until their parents are able to take care of them again. Also, do you have any lollipops?
Instead, I physically carried each of the children over to a tiny table and set them up with a YouTube show on my phone. Day one and I was already resorting to screens as a distraction. Sigh.
A Lesson in Humility
Filling out Jack’s school forms was yet another lesson in humility. I constantly referred back to paperwork from the social worker to fill in the most basic of information: his birth date, his middle name, if he received a flu shot this year. By some miracle, I finally got the paperwork filled out and turned in, feeling accomplished, and more than a little encouraged. I can do this! I had just registered someone for kindergarten! This feat seemed on par with making it to the final round of “Survivor.”
The three of us began walking out of the library triumphantly, a ragtag bunch headed for the nearest park. Before we got out the door, the librarian stopped me to deliver one final blow, “You know the school uniform is a blue polo and khakis, right?” I had never heard of a public school requiring a uniform, but I nodded my understanding. How on earth were there so many things I didn’t know? Real parents would know things about school uniforms, and favorite breakfast foods, and how to keep kids occupied in a library.
“JUST” FOSTER PARENTS
A month into fostering Heather and Jack, Josh and I discovered the glory of YMCA childcare. After dinner we would take the kids there to let off any remaining energy in the play place while we did a short workout and then chatted in the lobby area. The lobby had two silver coffee carafes with a tower of styrofoam cups and a canister of powdered creamer sitting next to them. Josh and I joked that these evenings were our date nights at the ‘coffee shop’.
One evening, we were scanning our YMCA badges to check in when an employee commented cheerfully to Jack, “You look just like your father!”
“He’s not my dad!” Jack screamed immediately.
It felt like every eye in the place was on us. The employee’s smile faltered, and I could tell she regretted the seemingly innocent comment. Josh put a reassuring hand on Jack’s shoulder and told the employee quietly, “He’s right, I’m not his dad. I’m just his foster parent.”
In Over Our Heads
“Just” his foster parent.
That about summed it up. The tiny little qualifier “just” seemed to undermine our credibility as parents (as humans, even) in one fell swoop. The bedtime stories, the playground adventures, the homework help, the Saturday morning chocolate chip pancakes—none of that was real parenting. It was “just” foster parenting. We were a placeholder, like a substitute teacher who plays a movie while the real teacher is out sick.
What had we gotten ourselves into? I wondered that night, and not for the first time. My vision of providing a safe and loving home for these children had been replaced by a desire to prove that what I was doing was real and important, and that I wasn’t an imposter.
REMEMBERING THE WHY
Three months after Heather and Jack walked through our door, our social worker gave us the good news that they could be reunited with their parents. It was just before Christmas, and we were overjoyed they would be back home in time for the holiday.
We planned to meet their parents in a Dollar General parking lot 30 minutes from our house. That evening after dinner, we got into the car and explained once again to Jack and Heather that we were taking them back to their parents, and they would no longer be living with us.
“But I’ll see you guys tomorrow, right?” Jack asked. I told him we would keep in touch as best we could, but that we probably wouldn’t be seeing each other very often. He nodded, his brow furrowed, and looked out the window at the highway blurring past.
“Are you guys excited?!” I turned around to ask halfway through the drive, my tone just a touch more chipper than the situation called for. Heather nodded yes, but I saw she had tears running down her cheeks. I unbuckled my seat belt and moved to the back so I could wedge myself in between the kids. I held Heather’s smooth, small hand in mine for the remainder of the drive.
We pulled into the Dollar General parking lot 15 minutes early, but their parents were already there waiting. It was pitch dark, and the tall fluorescent lights illuminated the scene below—one joyful reunion, one bittersweet goodbye. “Can I pray for us?” Josh asked. We huddled in a circle, all six of us, as Josh thanked God for the privilege of being Jack and Heather’s foster parents and the gift it was that their family was back together. Their parents thanked us again and again and again, until we gave the kids one last fierce hug goodbye and drove the 30 minutes back home.
When we walked through the front door, our house was eerily quiet. It felt like whiplash. All the noise and clamor and neediness of children had abruptly been replaced by… nothing at all. My phone buzzed not long after we got home, and I saw it was a text from Heather and Jack’s mom.
Keeping a Family Together
“I will never be able to thank you guys enough. You kept our family together.”
The words felt like an electric jolt, a realization. Is that what we had been doing? Serving endless meals and snacks, reading books at bedtime, figuring out how to discipline Jack that night we found him jumping on our laptop—all that time, we had actually been helping keep a family together? It seemed so obvious now. Our situation had, miraculously, been the foster care ideal: a family reunited.
In the midst of the meals and the messes and my desperate desire to feel like a ‘real’ mom, I had completely forgotten why we chose to be foster parents in the first place: To help families. To help children. And to serve others the way Christ served us—by giving up His very life so that ours might be restored.
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF MY ROLE AS A FOSTER PARENT
I had known that foster care was a radical act of hospitality and service. But I hadn’t known just how deeply it would challenge me. I hadn’t known it would bring all my sins and fears and insecurities to the surface, forcing me to confront them daily. I hadn’t known it would make me wonder how God could possibly be in control when so much sadness and brokenness existed not only in the world, but also in these children I had grown to love.
Looking back on the three months we spent with Jack and Heather in our home, it’s easy to see everything we did ‘wrong’. I know that even on my best days I did a poor job of loving them the way Christ would, and I know I certainly couldn’t ever replace their birth mom. But maybe, by the grace of God, I was what they needed at the time. I may have “just” been their foster mom, but my role as a foster parent held a weight and a privilege all on its own.
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As a teacher of kids with disabilities, (which meant small class sizes and 5 years with each child because they moved on by age), we became more intimately acquainted with parents and foster parents than many teachers have the opportunity to do. We saw the incredibly important role that foster parents had in children’s lives.
I am glad it appears that your first children went back to parents ready to parent. The most heartbreaking were the ones where we all knew there were issues but the hoops had been jumped through so children were returned. Those parents got better at hiding the abuse and threatening children not to tell.
You cared, you loved, you did the best you knew how…..on behalf of those sweet children, I thank you.
Kathy, thank you for these kind words! I know you have made such an impact as a teacher as well.
Megan, thank you for sharing your beautiful story. You’re an encouragement to me today in my foster mom journey.
I am so glad, Annie. You are doing good work. Thank you for reading!