By Jon Sampson, Thornwell Foster Care Recruiter and Foster Parent
How do you do it?
As a Thornwell foster care recruiter, I talk to a lot of potential foster families. As a foster parent, myself, I’m able to share with them the reality of “what it takes” to foster a child, the beautiful stories of love and support, and answer those important “nuts and bolts” questions. And yet, there is always one inevitable question followed by a familiar statement, “How do you do it? I think I would become too attached.”
Attachment. It is a simple word with so much behind it. For many, the fear of attachment is what might prevent someone from becoming a foster parent. As my wife and I have walked this journey, I can tell you that the feeling of attachment is the very reason you should say “yes” to fostering.
I want to tell you about a time that I got “too attached.”
He was the only child of a single mother. He came into foster care when he was 5 years old because someone was concerned about his mother’s mental capacity and her ability to care for him. A DSS transporter brought him to our home during dinner. My wife kept doing dinner with the other boys, and I showed him his new room. I helped him unpack the few things he brought with him and I showed him the welcome basket that we give to all new kids: a laundry basket with basic toiletries, some towels, a stuffed animal, and a handmade fleece blanket. He didn’t want to put the stuffed doggie down. He was extremely shy and reserved at first, just taking in all the newness and trying to figure out this new place and these new people.
As we got to know him, and he got to know us, his personality started to shine. He was just like any silly, goofy, curious 5 year old. He loved to ride bikes and play soccer. He was very athletic and could hold his own with kids twice his age. He had a lot of high highs, but he also had some pretty low lows. We never learned much about his home life prior to coming to Thornwell, but he had emotional delays and behaviors that definitely suggested some traumatic experiences in his young life. He would have dissociative episodes, where he would get upset and then mentally go to another place. For whatever reason, I connected with him more than my wife did. We were both really attached to him, but I was able to help him through those episodes until he could be present again and we could talk. I’ve found that those trying and scary times can really help the attachment process because it proves to the child that you are a safe person who will be there for them through some of their most difficult experiences.
Changes on the Horizon
He was with us for about 6 months, and we heard rumblings of TPR (terminating his mom’s parental rights). My wife and I had discussed it, and we agreed that if TPR did happen, we would pursue adopting him. To be fair, we had this conversation about multiple kids, because my wife is the classic ‘too attached’ foster mom who wanted to keep most of the kids that came through our house, which is one of the things that makes her a great foster parent. This one was different, though. This time I was the one who was ‘too attached.’
Then came the call. We were actually at a training to get our adoption license. We’ve known since we got married that we were going to end up adopting through foster care. It was just before lunch on the second day of the 2-day training. Our caseworker called us and said that he was going home to his mom. Everyone was surprised, from the caseworker to the Guardian Ad Litem, and obviously us. We explained the situation to the trainer, who was gracious enough to let us leave the training early. We drove straight to his school, where we pulled him out of his kindergarten class and told his teacher what was happening. She cried. We cried. We got him McDonald’s and took him home to begin packing his stuff. He didn’t seem to comprehend what was really happening, but he was excited to see his mom.
Its OK to Cry
Once all his stuff was packed, we had some time to just hang out together. We made sure that he knew that we loved him, and we would always love him, wherever he was. We told him we were sad that he was leaving but happy that he was going back to his mom. We took some pictures and gave him some pictures of us and our dog (everyone’s favorite.) Then the caseworker came. We signed a few papers, then began loading his things into a DSS minivan. Then he left. Then we cried. We were confused about why he was leaving and unclear about the situation he was going back to. We were selfishly certain that our house was better than his house. I was sad when most of our kids left, either for reunification or another placement, but I only cried a couple of times. This time I cried a lot.
We made sure that he knew that we loved him, and we would always love him, wherever he was.
Crying is ok. Being “too attached” is ok. Asking God “why” is ok.
Because you care. Because its personal. When you are committing to taking a child into your home as your own – no matter how temporary – it should start by being personal. You can believe in family reunification, and still wish they could stay with you. I remind myself that my fear of potential or eventual loss isn’t greater than a child’s fear when he or she is removed from the only home they’ve known, nor should our pain overshadow a child’s hope or healing.
And yes, it is still hard. This one is painful to remember because the reality is that not every “goodbye” in foster care is good or easy. The work is still worth it. We continue to pray for him and his mom to be happy and stable. We pray that he is in a safe, nurturing home with a mom who loves him and a supportive community surrounding their family.
I’ll leave you with this: there’s no such thing as ‘too attached.’ Don’t let that fear stop you from becoming a foster parent and providing an incredible family experience to a child who needs it – if only for a short time.
There's no such thing as ‘too attached.' Don't let that fear stop you from becoming a foster parent...
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