One of the hardest parts about raising other people’s children is overcoming their sense that you aren’t supposed to be there.  We are only in their lives because they lost their first choice, an intact biological family.  All of my children are part of my family only because I was their Plan B parent.  Fortunately, being someone else’s Plan B has been pretty wonderful.

Plan B is Not a Consolation Prize

One hard lesson we learn as adults is that our lives never go as planned. We all have a story of a lost job or other opportunity that somehow worked out better for us. I left my prosecutor job unwillingly due to a combination of supervisor bias and family exigencies. My move from criminal to civil law, however, offered me new professional opportunities that I had not had before. It forced me to develop new skills and led me to a field of law that I never knew existed. I will always be grateful and somewhat nostalgic about my days in law enforcement,but being forced out of my plans turned into an exciting opportunity.

More importantly, if I had remained in that job, I would never have met my husband and his children. I would not have been unhappy, but I would have missed the relationships that have become the center of my life.  My career Plan B has been rich and rewarding.

Our Plan B Can Be Challenging and Difficult

Knowing that our backup plan may become the best plan does not make the transition any easier. Having to give up our plans is a loss, and losing an intact biological family is a loss for our children.  We have to give them time to grieve for that loss.  No matter what they know in their heads, their emotions will work on their own timetable.

Even after we make the transition from Plan A to Plan B, we may find the new plan to be more challenging and difficult than we expected. We might need to learn new skills, forge new relationships; we may experience difficult failures that we in turn need to learn from. Nothing about that process is easy.

I certainly had no idea what I was getting myself into when I started raising other people’s children. If I had foreseen all of the arguments, sleepless nights, heart-wrenching separations, and deep sadness that I would experience, I do not know if I would have had the courage to take the first step. Fortunately, I did not have to make that decision and I am glad that I did not have an opportunity to chicken out. In the midst of all my challenges, I have learned lessons that I would not trade for anything, much less an easier life. My children have made me a much stronger, more compassionate, and loving person.  Even the children who broke my heart taught me invaluable lessons about myself and how to parent my other children. I grieve for their losses, but I would not have passed up the opportunities to know and love them.

That lesson really is the core of raising other people’s children. Our lives rarely go as we plan, but being our child’s Plan B can enrich our lives beyond anything that we can imagine.  Despite all of the challenges and difficult days, I would do it all again in a heartbeat.

* * *

This blog post includes an excerpt from my new book, “Raising Other People’s Children: What Foster Parenting Taught Me About Bringing Together a Blended Family.”  For more information, visit


Debbie Ausburn

Helping foster parents and stepparents learn how to be the person who is not supposed to be there.