Substitute Parenting:: A Story of Hope, Forgiveness and Reconciliation

I’m not gonna lie…it wasn’t an easy decision.

We prayed. We pondered. We debated. We discussed.

We thought of all the reasons why it would never work.

We thought of all the people it would impact; all the people who might get hurt.

But the same three words just kept coming back to us…

Love Never Fails

And so, we did it.

We became legal guardians for an adolescent child of a family friend. As a side note, the child was not a stranger to us; we already knew and loved her.

The details make for an exceptionally long story and it’s a bit messy. Suffice it to say we were appointed as ‘foster parents’ of sort, just without a case number and a court order. Maybe ‘God-parents’ is a better description of our newly assumed role since the biological mother chose us; but in the end, it’s merely semantics.

What I can say for certain is that it was a forever, life-changing, heart-shaping, soul-crushing agreement we made with our dear, sweet, friend:: a mother, a sister, a daughter and a person whom we loved, admired and respected as our own.

I’m certain that this was the hardest decision any mother would ever make. A conscious, yet painful and difficult choice to place her child in someone else’s home. A harsh realization that this child {for hosts of reasons}, required more time, more affection, more nurturing, more structure, more patience, more guidance, and more presence than a single, working mom could manage or offer.

Some people thought we were crazy. Some people thought we deserved a medal. We were questioned, judged, criticized, and applauded; all in a matter of weeks.

The biological mom took the brunt of it, “How could you?” She was criticized, blamed, and shamed, mostly by her own family. 

Why? Because someone we loved chose us to do the impossible, the incredible:: rescue a child.

And because we believed that…

Love Never Fails

After some weeks passed, we settled into a normal routine:: school, homework, play time, family time, bedtime. But on so many nights, sleep did not come for this sweet girl. Her brain never stopped; too many questions…not enough answers.

She and I prayed, a lot, “God, we know you chose us; so please help us do this right.”

I wish I could say it got easier. Substitute parenting is hard. This sweet girl was hurt…and angry…and disappointed…and confused.

As months passed, we sought professional counseling; for her and for us. We learned about childhood trauma and strategies that helped us {help her} through it.

In time, she gained more confidence. She made lots of friends. She improved academically, socially, physically. Counseling was helping with the emotional support she so desperately needed.

From the very beginning we loved this girl without caution, without reservation, without condition. We loved her through painful memories. We taught her about painful sacrifice and forgiveness and grace. We consoled her through life’s disappointments; often those involving her own biological family.

Without question, it was the hardest thing we have ever done; substitute parenting someone else’s child. It was like being the permanent under-study in a Broadway show. Biologically she wasn’t ours, but we loved her as if she were.

It was hard on all of us.

Being chosen to nurture someone you love; can often hurt another you love.

We often had to remind ourselves that…

Love Never Fails

A year passed and then another. Our family continued to bond over thrilling vacations and amazing shared life experiences. Our love for this girl was growing stronger day by day; her love and attachment for us was growing even stronger. As her substitute parent, she and I forged an amazing bond of love, trust, and complete acceptance. I knew she was not perfect, but I loved her anyways. I knew that her emotions often got the best of her, but I did my best to love her through it. I was not always her best friend, but I always listened to her, heard her, believed in her.

She and her mom continued to see each other as often as possible. Their relationship was strained, and busy schedules did not help. We did our best to include her mom in her life:: her sporting events, her school activities, parties. We shared school calendars and set designated weekends for visits; but the limited time spent together was just not enough to repair or restore their relationship.

Our heart truly ached for her mom. We could tell that our custodial arrangement was taking a toll on her and our relationship with her also suffered. She was missing out on so much, so many memories and so much time lost. A lot of guilt, and shame, and resentment.

One heart was healing, while another heart was completely broken.

We did the only thing we knew to do…we prayed, “God, please help us do this right”.

His answer back…

Love Never Fails

It was our primary prayer that this precious girl would know true acceptance during her time with us and that she would be able to work through any residual childhood trauma that might be lingering in a safe and nurturing home.

Our prayer was for her to know that she had not been abandoned by her mother. Her mom had chosen us to do what she was not able to do at the time.

We had chosen her to be part of our family to help her heal emotionally and experience unconditional love daily; for as long as needed.

We are certain that our love for this precious girl will remain deep inside her over the many years to come regardless of where she lives. The seeds of kindness, grace, forgiveness, acceptance, and joy that were planted in her will sustain her through any difficulties and disappointments she may face in her future. She will always know that she was loved beyond measure; first by her real mom who sacrificed so much on her behalf…and second, by her substitute mom {the understudy} who learned all the lines as she went and played the part to the very best of her abilities.

I am forever grateful to have been chosen as her substitute.

My husband and I have complete faith in believing that love never fails. We are certain that in time, these relationships will heal, and then true reconciliation can happen…for a mother, a daughter, and for a family friend.

Someone once said, “It takes a village.” Truer words were never spoken.

This blog is for all the substitute parents out there:: grandparents who {for whatever reasons} are raising grandkids, stepparents who graciously step up to love and nurture their spouse’s children {who I know firsthand are sometimes hard to love}, aunts that step in to support their sister’s children, friends of single moms who back up an overwrought momma on the regular, foster parents who operate in this {substitute} space all the time. I salute you all, the chosen ones.

The role you play in the lives of these children will never be in vain. You are making a huge difference. They will be forever changed because of your love, your sacrifice, your passion. The seeds you have planted in their very souls will always be with them. Just knowing that someone cared, will in many cases be enough to sustain them.

Listen, I know it’s hard, often times unrewarding, and many times thankless; but don’t give up. These kids…these families…these moms…they need you; they need us.

So, go ahead, learn the songs, memorize your lines, take a bow…the show must go on {and we need an amazing, talented, compassionate under-study}.

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