The Toughest Words For This Foster Dad to Hear: “I Don’t Know How You Do It”

Part of the Dads Take Over Series: Post by Trent Friberg

There were a lot of question marks, a lot of unknowns, when we first decided to do this thing called foster care. If I’m honest, I had a lot of fears as well. Would it work? How would it affect our children? What were the risks to which we were exposing our family? Little did I know, these seven words would become the toughest part of being a foster dad…

“I don’t know how you do it.”

Let me offer this disclaimer… I have had family, close friends, acquaintances, and others who have all said this to me. If you happen to have been one of the people who has said this to me, relax. It’s okay. It has happened so often that I have learned what people mean, and I have practiced a reasonable, socially acceptable answer. But to be honest, this entire post is what I really want to say every time I hear it.

When you say these six words, what do you mean? Do you mean that you want to know how I do it? Or do you mean that it sounds really difficult, and you don’t think you could do it? Usually, if I drill down a little further, usually you mean that you would fear getting attached or connected to a child and having to bear the burden that comes with no guarantee of permanency.

When you ask, “How do you do it?” I often hear it with a tone of accusation: “How could you do it?” As in, “How could you attach to a child and then let that child, that human life, go?” I think that the thought of allowing your heart to attach to a child, inviting them into your home, caring for their every need, and then having the state tell you to release them scares the crap out of you.

Well, it scares me as much as it scares you.

Despite that fear, this truth remains: attachment is THE JOB. Teaching a child that they can safely attach to an adult in a healthy way literally might be THE MOST IMPORTANT job we have as foster parents. Once I was asked, “How do you guard my heart?” My answer is that I don’t! I give it away lavishly and recklessly to these children because they need it. A child who attaches to me learns that I can be trusted, that I will do everything in my power to protect, love, guide and instruct him/her. That child will later be able to attach to another adult. Even throughout the traumatic experience of being removed from my home, that child will search for another adult to which they can attach. Attachment is the job.

As much as having a child leave scares me, I have found something that scares me more. I imagine these children going through their childhoods without attaching to anyone. Like a river-worn flat rock I used to skip across the lake, this child could skim across the surface of life without learning that they are valuable, interesting, or worthy enough to ever have a deep attachment to a loving, caring adult.

That terrifies me.

Given that alternative, I choose risk. I choose pain. I choose to enter into the stories of these children. I choose to generously waste oceans of attachment on them because they are valuable and interesting. They are worthy. My heart has been broken on days when they have left, but my pain is insignificant in comparison to what these children have faced in their short journeys and will continue to face.

The cry of my heart is always:

“Let me CHOOSE to share an ounce or two of pain so that I may help you with the brokenness you had NO CHOICE but to endure.”

-Trent Friberg


Trent a four-year rookie to this thing called foster care. He and his wife, Lynne, were married in 1998 and have four biological children and four foster children as well. He has served on staff as a pastor since 2000 at a church that runs about 200 – 220 every week in Washington State. He loves following Mariner baseball, watching movies (romantic comedies with his wife, Marvel and Star Wars with his boys), and spending one-on-one time with any of the kids currently entrusted into their care.

About Alisha Palmer

Alisha is an adult adoptee that has been a therapeutic and medically fragile foster parent since 2012, caring for many children from medically fragile infants to therapeutic teenagers, and numerous in between. In 2015 she adopted their two amazing daughters from the foster care system. She is a foster care and adoption advocate who strives to encourage others to step out of their comfort zone and into this world, providing love and stability to children during their darkest times. Follow her on Instagram @alishaypalmer.
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