Foster parenting, guard your heart

Saying goodbye to a foster child is one of the hardest things that foster parents face. I have been asked many times how we guard our hearts when we don’t know the future of the kids we are caring for. My answer is, I don’t.

Being a foster mom is hard. Saying goodbye to a child that you have cared for is harder. The days that followed kiddos leaving our home, for me have been very empty and sad, however to go into fostering thinking you can guard your heart and be a loving foster parent really don’t click for me. I am all in, and when we have to say goodbye I have to trust that they are changed forever by the love that we each left in each others hearts, and the impact, small or large, that we have had on their path in life.

Our very first placement was a sister sibling set. They were 1 and 2 year olds who came to live with us, but also had 6-month old siblings that were twins, who went to another foster home. We fell in love instantly but our bio boys had a very hard time with them, they were such a handful and took so much of our time, and I think coupled with being our first placement after having our license a few months, our family wasn’t sure what to expect and a little shocked. Reunification is always where DCFS starts out, but many times it doesn’t work out that way. After about 6 months after the girls moved in adoption was brought up by our caseworker. We weren’t ready and knew our boys were having a rough time. We knew these girls were not meant to stay with us, and I think we were a bit overwhelmed by that, and so sad but we told our caseworker we were couldn’t move forward with adoption, but we would keep them as long as needed to find a new pre-adoptive home. The foster family that had their younger siblings ended up taking the girls. It was such a blessing and we hoped to stay in contact with them and thought that was the reason we couldn’t keep them so they could all be together.

Even knowing the 4 siblings were now together in a loving home, with great foster parents was so very hard for me emotionally. I wasn’t really prepared for the enormous feeling of loss and guilt. We questioned… Did we do the right thing? If we did why does my heart hurt so badly. Everything was a trigger for what ended up being about a 6-month period of tears praying for them, tears looking at pictures and tears going in their room. I would sit in their room and cry and pray and eventually I prayed without the tears. In time I could look at their photo on the wall and my heart was happy for them with their siblings. I think it was almost a year after they moved when I got a call from their CASA worker asking for photos of their time with us. I said of course, but asked why, and then burst into tears when she told me they were moved to a different home. The CASA worker clearly hearing my shaky, teary voice assured me they were ok and that they moved to a home with a single mom who always wanted little girls and was a caseworker herself. We had the pleasure of seeing the girls and meeting their new mom at a foster Christmas party shortly thereafter and they were happy and beautiful and it was funny because the oldest actually resembled her new foster mom. I was blessed to see with my own eyes that it worked out just fine, not the way we thought originally but beautifully. As foster parents we don’t always get that blessing of seeing them again.

Those girls taught me a lot about guarding (or not guarding) your heart. Here are a few takeaways:

  1. Don’t even think about guarding your heart or protecting your feelings. What some of these kids have been through is so much worse and in comparison to the hurt I feel as a foster parent grieving. Go all in.
  2. Saying goodbye to a child that you have cared for and loved will require grief. Give yourself time to grieve. Celebrate the child’s return home or pre-adoption. Keep praying for them.
  3. If you are able to, stay in contact with the new or bio family. I feel this is so important so the kids don’t feel they were abandoned and it also helps me as a foster parent make sure they are taken care of and keep in touch. The more people to love on a child the better!
  4. Don’t let heartbreak stop you from fostering if you feel it is your call. I hear this a lot, “I am just not sure I could take the heartbreak.” A little secret here, I am not sure I can either. I am trusting God to help me through. Fostering is NOT for everyone so that is not what I am saying, but if you feel like God is calling you to foster, don’t let the heartbreak stand in your way. He will give you strength to get through that.

In my experience this is the hardest part of fostering, when you have to say goodbye, for whatever reason it isn’t easy. Giving yourself time to grieve in whatever way that works best for you is essential, but celebrating what it means for the child is a way to balance the feelings too as well as, staying in contact with them as they move to their new home or previous home if the family agrees. Our next sibling set of kiddos that came after the girls, we still keep in touch with them and their family and this is such a blessing.

Don’t let this stop you from fostering if it’s on your heart to do so. There are so many kids that need a loving family for however long that may be and to learn that big people can love them and care for them, I always tell myself that whatever pain I am feeling is minor compared to what these kiddos have gone through. If you feel nudged, called, or just have an interest, go for it. Call your local agency or DCFS office and find out how you start the process. Your heart will break, but a piece of it will go with a child who you loved on.