A Gardening Story

Leaving Room for Biological Families to Grow image

Leaving Room for Biological Families to Grow

I am not a really great gardener, but I love this time of year. It feels invigorating to drive past nurseries and home improvement stores and see the pallets of seedling plants, potting soil and seed packets. I begin to imagine my yard overflowing with beautiful colors and scents.

It is important to read the directions on the seeds and plants before you actually start planting them. The directions account for how large the future plant will become so the directions always recommend spacing plants and seeds with enough room to allow for growth. These recommendations can look and feel awkward at first, because that space seems too far apart. It feels silly to have a five gallon planter with just a few sprigs sticking out. It doesn’t start out looking like the “Better Homes and Gardens” splendor that we were anticipating.

However, if we choose a smaller container in the beginning, then the plants will not be as hearty throughout the duration of the season. The planter will become cramped and require more watering, maintenance, and eventually, transplanting.

Perhaps the biological families of our children in foster care should come with planting instructions, too. We don’t know how much they will grow. It is hard to resist the temptation to look at them where they are today and imagine that they will always be stuck in their present immature state. When we do this, we may mistakenly plant them in a small container that doesn’t leave room for them to grow.

What if we planted the birth families in the containers of our minds that expects they will grow? What if we described our children’s birth families with sincerely hopeful language that assumes that someday they will figure things out, get their feet under themselves, and be contributing members of our community and a healthy part of their children’s lives? Would it change the way we view their imperfections and the way we nurture the relationship now?

What if we are wrong and the biological families don’t grow and change? What will we lose? The children in our care, will learn to hope for and believe in the best in others. We will be teaching them to believe in the best in themselves, too. Sometimes we fear that this optimism will set up a false hope for the children. It doesn’t have to be a false hope. It is possible to be optimistic and maintain appropriate boundaries and precautions while we watch for signs of growth. It is also possible to acknowledge small growth, is still growth.

When we plant seeds in the soil, we get so pleased when we see that first tiny green stem barely poking out. We look forward to the two tiny leaves that will come soon after. Then little by little the plant begins to grow more leaves, then we begin to anticipate blossoms and/or fruit. Growth happens so slowly that we can’t see it happening before us, but we recognize the change over time, and each stage of progress is celebrated.

When working with our children’s birth families, we will not likely see growth in one season. It may take years, decades, or even a lifetime, but if we can see past where they are now and give them room to grow, we may be surprised at just how beautiful they can blossom.


– Teresa Pina

Recruiter/Trainer NBFS Louisville Metro

Foster Parent