“I could never do what you do.”
“I could never have a child in my home and then give them back.”
“I would get too attached.”
If you’re a foster parent, you’ve heard people say these things to you before. If you’re not a resource parent, you’ve maybe thought or said these things yourself.
As a foster parent, sometimes these statements are hard to hear. Not because they come with ill intent, but because they insinuate there’s something different about you – that you don’t get too attached or it’s not too hard to see a child go when they reunite with their biological families, adoptive families, or even other foster families. Here’s the secret though: It. Is. Hard. It’s gut wrenching at times. Here’s the other secret: You could do it, too. It’s not a super power to be able to be a resource family (although, let’s be real, sometimes it feels like it). It’s something anyone can do.
I’ve been doing a lot of processing lately on grief and loss in the foster care world. Bring up a child that has been in my care before, and my heart becomes full of joy and memories – joy they were reunited with family, and beautiful memories of when I could be there when they needed safety. But there is also grief – grief of the relationships that ended, grief of the family that changes, grief of that missing piece. The feeling felt most of all? Gratitude. Gratitude for the opportunity to give myself to someone who needed it, even if only for a little while.
I was reading a fantastic book called “Reframing Foster Care” in which the author explains how our world changes with foster care, and it can’t, and shouldn’t ever be the same again. Each child leaves footprints on our hearts and home. Whether a child is with your family for four days, four months, or whether they end up staying forever, your world will never feel the same. I can tell you with complete certainty, that is true. My world will never be what it once was, nor should it be.
Here’s a real moment: I had a very short-term placement recently of an infant. I knew it was temporary going into it. I prepared myself. But my goodness, the grief was overpowering when she left. Everything felt different. Everything sounded different. Everything was different.
As it should be, right?
I reflected and reflected and reflected and even thought, “Can I do this again?”. I turned to the book “Reframing Foster Care” again and found a section I will forever be grateful for. Foster care was not about me and my feelings. It was about the child and their feelings. We have to let the fear of losing a child come second to the fear of having a child not feel our love at all. What a gift it was to love this child. What a gift it was to experience joy and memories. What a gift it was to experience that grief, because I am forever changed because of it.
Gratitude. Gratitude for every part of it.
It doesn’t take someone with the ability to turn off their feelings to be a foster parent. It takes someone who is willing to feel them whole heartedly, and know a child feeling our love overpowers everything else.
By Anne Peters, LMFT