This was prompted by a friends Facebook post but, also my own experience and possibly upcoming experience.
The hard part :Many people can grasp the concept of adding a child to your family. many people have experienced this reality themselves. The idea that is hard to convey is how one night you have your “normal” family and an hour, a day, a week, or a minute later your life changes when you get the phone call asking you to if you would consider taking a sibling group into your home or an individual child, or a young mom and her child. By the way, we don’t know much about them. but DCFS can usually tell you why the child was removed, the gender and ages. Sometimes, that is all you get. Then you have a limited time to make a decision that is life changing. Most people can’t grasp what that is like. When you say “No”. No one understands the guilt that takes hold. Few understand when you say “yes” how you have to change your life around for children you haven’t even met yet. But, this is the life of a foster parent. no complaints just fact.
The harder part, you are taking care of this child. you give it your all. you take them to school, you take them to the Dr., you take them to church, vacations, birthdays, you treat them as your children. it is fun and hard, you learn a lot. you grow together. you start to create an attachment. this is the hard part for friends and family to understand. this doesn’t just naturally happen. both sides have to work on it and lets face it, not all personalities mesh together. when you give birth to children or adopt ” a sure thing”, this happens a lot more naturally and easier. when we foster you have this child with no bond or connection to you (nor do they want one with you) and you have to create it. you have this strangers child you are doing “everything” for and they reject you, your rules, your decisions, your comments. the act out on holidays and birthdays and these events become harder to face because you know what is probably going to happen. they don’t like their schedules changed. not only don’t they like it but the can’t handle it. major meltdowns occur. and don’t even get me started on what happens on a “visit day”. it is ugly for several days after and usually the day before. even babies….
the hardest part comes when they leave. this is a loss you can’t describe, except to a person who has lost a child. it is devastating. you have nurtured given love, devoted your energy to driving them, talking to them, playing with them for a year or more of their life and yours. this is a long time!! some go even longer. then they go home. you are so happy for them because you know how children can suffer, question, wonder and the loss they feel without that birth parent. so you have joy for them. the parents are on the right path. they are not perfect but they are trying. this feeling goes hand in hand with the thought that the parent isn’t going to give them what you can. they don’t have a stable enough life yet. they haven’t been “clean” long enough. doesn’t DCFS see what I see? don’t the AG’s office and Guardian ad litem have any idea what they may put this child through by going home too early? how can they do this?
then the realization that you as the foster parent have very little voice. you can scream, argue, through tantrums, share facts, share how the child has blossomed at our home. how they are now performing at their appropriate age. DCFS thanks you (maybe) then tells you the parents are on their way to a doing well. They need the opportunity and if the child comes into care again, you will be the first one DCFS contacts to take them back so you can live the roller coaster again
the big day arrives and they leave. you pack their favorite things. You send them with so much more than they came with. you dress them in their very best. You bathe them, make sure you have everything. clean out their room, and you try not to break down. The caseworker arrives. the dreaded moment has come. you have to have hand over your beloved child. the one who now tolerates your presence, who hugs you, who gives you a smile, who rushes towards you when they see you. we always include an “instruction” sheet. this is about foods they like. they are working on doing this…. the sleep and eat times. we instruct the parent through the letter to not wash all of their belongings right away but to keep them smelling like us to make the transition easier. we tell them of our love for their child. we send them with pictures of their life. then, you have to hand over your baby/child to the caseworker. the caseworker tries to reassure you. they can’t always fully meet your eyes as they know you are grieving. they may give you one more minute to say goodbye. you whisper sweet words of love. you tell them they are strong and they will be okay. that you will always love them. you tell them to remember you and what a family should feel like. you hope they will have that thought somewhere in their mind for years to come.
then..they are gone from your life. that easily they came into it and that quickly they are no longer with you. you enter your home, say a prayer and finally break down. the loss is real. you are a grieving parent. most people don’t know how to react or what to say. they don’t treat you like you have lost a huge chunk of your life.
you take some time to be with your family. then….you do it again with another one. we have done this with 65 children. some have been able to stay but that has it repercussions as well. that is another post.
we have a new baby that we are currently giving all of our love to. This baby may be returned to its birth family. how do you rationalize this in your mind? how do you give them all that they need but protect yourself? the truth? you can’t. they deserve the very best of you. they deserve your best effort. the deserve all you have to give. that is why you became a foster parent. to help, to encourage, to love, to teach. to keep children in a family because that is what they need and what you have the strength to provide.
Not everyone can be a foster parent. this was a calling that you were chosen for. no one ever said it would be easy….