Raise your hand if you’ve ever considered becoming a foster parent but thought “I could never do that because I’d get too attached and it would be too hard to say goodbye.”
Raise your hand if you’re a foster parent who has ever been hesitant to give yourself fully to your foster child because you don’t want it to hurt as bad when they leave.
Not really. Foster care is one of the most selfless things that a person and a family can do. It involves so much sacrificial love and constantly putting someone else’s needs above your own. Even acknowledging the problem and considering becoming a foster parent is a selfless discussion, because you are recognizing that there are great needs in your community that are bigger than your own needs.
The most common hesitation to becoming foster parents is becoming attached to the child and being too heartbroken when they leave, even if it’s to a good situation. To those people I gently say that foster care isn’t about you. Your fear of loss should not be stronger than the need for abused and neglected children to feel love. By choosing to become a foster parent, you are choosing the grief and loss that comes when a child you love leaves your home. You are saying that you are willing to feel hurt so that the children will feel love. In his book Reframing Foster Care, Jason Johnson says “we can’t let the fear of loving a child who might leave deter us; we must let the fear of a child never knowing our love drive us.”
It’s an especially common saying around the holidays, but it truly is better to give than receive. Foster parents give love without the guarantee of getting it back. It’s hard to realize the good that you are doing in the life of a child when they don’t seem to reciprocate the feelings that you have for them. When a child leaves, it can be tough to think that you made a difference if you had a difficult relationship with them or they were only with you for a short time. Foster parents can make a lifelong difference in the short time that a child is placed in their home.
I’m not a rocket scientist, but I heard this example in a physics class that I love and applies perfectly to foster care. Pretend you are launching a rocket aimed at the moon, if the coordinates are even one degree off, the rocket will miss the target by hundreds, if not thousands of miles. A tiny change in trajectory can lead to a massive change in outcome. The love, support, and structure that a child can feel in your home can alter the trajectory of their life forever. Even if they are only in your home for 24 hours, the lessons that they learn will stay with them for life. Their time with you might be the first time they’ve ever had 3 meals in a day or gone 24 hours without fear of being abused.
The knowledge of what a family should be, even if it’s a tiny snapshot, can help children realize that their life before foster care wasn’t normal. Many children enter foster care not realizing that they abuse and neglect they were suffering were harmful. It’s all they’ve ever known. If they get a taste of healthy family life, then they will realize what a family should be and hopefully be able to recognize when they’re in an unsafe situation so they can take steps to keep themselves safe. Those are lessons they can use when they have a family of their own as well. It doesn’t always happen, but the hope is that they learn from the experience of different family dynamics and choose a healthier path then they experienced as a child.
Foster Parents can make an eternal change in a child’s life in a very short time. There’s no denying that it is heartbreaking when a child leaves your home. It’s someone who is a part of your family who you love as a child and a sibling that is no longer with you and you may never hear from again. It’s a grieving process similar to a death. Any foster parent will tell you though: It’s worth the short term pain of loss for the long-term gain of a child who knows what healthy, unconditional love looks and feels like.