Is it OK to get attached to a foster child?

August 27, 2018

“How can you get so attached to foster children when you could lose them?’ Of all the foster care questions, this is by far the most common. This question assumes a very clear and universal premise: parenting involves attachment. And when it comes to foster care, parenting requires serious heart-labor without any guarantees of permanency.

I feel especially soft toward this question, as two different foster children have come and gone through our home over the past two years. I was their temporary mom. I’ve thought, “I could love you. I could invest, and teach, and bathe, and clean, and snuggle, and sing you to sleep. And one day, after all that, you could just leave. And there’s nothing I could do about it. These questions once swirled in my mind: “Can I love with those odds? Can I really do this? Can I offer my whole heart knowing it might wobble out the door in the custody of a social worker one morning?”

A change in perspective

I thought I needed to answer these questions, until the Lord showed me otherwise. My husband and I were at a foster-parent-small-group of sorts. What struck me was that, while these parents were talking about themselves a little bit—their struggles, tears, and frustrations—the majority of the time was spent talking about the kids and their families. The group was obviously about others, not self.

And it hit me: There are children who are daily being pulled out of all sorts of situations they cannot handle, and my questions about it have nothing to do with them and everything to do with me. If I say I want to live considering others’ interests as more important than my own, why don’t any of my questions have to do with the child? For example, “What will happen to them if I say no?” I had a perspective shift on what foster care means for the child instead of me. I started asking, “What’s the biggest thing these kids need during the trauma they face?”

Understanding attachment

The best thing a child can get while going through trauma—the big factor that gives them the chance to develop emotionally, spiritually, physically, mentally, and academically—is attachment. It’s the thing child development experts say divides those who continue forward normally and those who have (usually) irreversible damage to their coping skills, life choices, social interactions, emotional stability, and mental health. The one thing I’m terrified to give is, ironically, the one thing they desperately need to survive.

I have the resources I need if I have to face grief over losing a little one—a healthy marriage, a church support system, an extended family, access to other foster parents, proximity to good counselors, and a job. But a potential foster child is most likely in a situation that looks nothing like mine. So, who has the best resources to make it through loss? Why would I deprive a child of the one thing she needs to survive that loss?

What to do with the heartbreak

The reality is that there’s no such thing as parenting without heartbreak. Natural, adoptive, or foster parent, none of us get through this thing unscathed. As much as everyone hates thinking about it, we all run the risk of losing a child after years of investment. They could run away. They could hate us and end up estranged. They could, God forbid, have a short life. We could die unexpectedly, and they could end up in the home of one of our family members.

On top of that, we end up letting them go eventually anyway—whether that means they leave the nest for college or a job or marriage. All moms and dads put their heart on the line without guarantees. Foster parents simply choose which type of heartbreak they face. Not even God gets through parenting without pain. Often his children bring him sorrow and grief in the Scriptures. So why do I think I’m exempt?

A holy heartache

After a season with us, one of our foster kids left us to live with his aunt and other siblings. I knew it was very good thing for him, but some days I found myself crib-side, bawling like the little one who used to be in it. Loving that little boy (and the little girl who came after him) ripped me in half, and God is still mending the tear.

Since we became friends with his aunt and uncle, we got to visit him in his new home. We got to see him reunited and playing with his sisters. They were dancing, playing, laughing, and reading books together. They were all entirely different children because they were finally reunited. And I watched this baby boy, now wobbling around on his own two feet, bouncing up and down to music and holding the book I used to read to him every day.

My mind put a fragmented, flurry of thoughts together on our way out the door. He’s happy here. The time he spent with us was important. And his family is almost at the point of reuniting with him fully. God is doing a work in their family to bring them back together, because God is always in the business of redemption. I suppose he had to go somewhere for that time. He ended up with us; and now, somehow, he’s where a child should be at his age.

All of this was because we got attached. No matter what his life holds in the future, I can deal with the crib-side tears now because I know he got what he needed—mind, body, and spirit— in that little season of his life. In fact, the sorrow brings me a strange joy. The tears are my confirmation, my proof, that he got the bonds he needed to grow. I rejoice knowing that my holy heartache has a purpose, and all that investment made a developmental difference in his life.

The gospel and the God who got attached

In a very real sense, my loss was his gain. I know it sounds cliché, but because of foster care, I understand Jesus more than I ever have before—the one who willingly chose unimaginable pain and loss so we could have life. Jesus faced a cross because our attachment to him was more important to him than the fear of pain. He could certainly live without attachment to us, but, just like a foster child, we could not make it without attachment to him.

Remember, attachment is how we enter the Divine family and develop as his children. Union with Christ, or attachment in a sense, is how we are reconciled to the Father and brought into his family (John 1:12; 2 Cor. 5:17; 1 Cor. 6:17; 1 Pet. 3:18). Staying attached to the Vine is how we continue to grow (John 15:5; Gal. 2:20). It’s crucial to our development. Attachment, for us, is everything, too.

Counting the cost  

You will have to count the cost of becoming a foster parent. It will cost you—your heart, time, and fears. But because we are the people of the cross, who consider the interests of others as more important than our own, the most significant cost we can count is that of the child’s. What they might gain or lose should be our main concern.

I’m not saying any of it is easy. Fear and loss are an unavoidable part of all parenting, and life. So, if you’re considering foster care, I’m asking you to choose to love the children. Offer them the very thing that Christ offered you. And instead of fearing what you will lose after you bond with them, allow what they would lose without your care to frighten you more.

Join the ERLC in Dallas on October 11-13 for the Cross-Shaped Family. This conference is designed to equip families to see that all of our family stories are shaped by the ultimate story of our lives, the gospel. Speakers include Russell Moore, Jen Wilkin, Matt Chandler, Eric Mason, Ray Ortlund, Beth Moore, Jamie Ivey, and many more. Use discount code B21 at checkout to save $30 off your ticket price. Our last National Conference sold out ahead of time so register to attend today!

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24