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 about guarding our hearts as foster parents 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, 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. The love that we each left in each other’s hearts. The impact, small or large, that we’ve had on their path in life.

Our very first placement was a sibling set. They were 1 and 2-year-old sisters who came to live with us. They had 6-month old younger siblings, twins, who went to another foster home. We fell in love instantly, but our bio boys had a tough time with them, they were such a handful. They 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. Our family wasn’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. I told our caseworker we 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. I thought I was guarding my heart as a foster parent. 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 6 months 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. 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 great. 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 after that. 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 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) our heart as a foster parent. Here are a few takeaways:

  1. Don’t even think about guarding your heart as a foster parent or protecting your feelings. What some of these kids have been through is so much worse. 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 can, stay in contact with the new or bio family. I feel this is so important, so the kids don’t feel they were abandoned. It also helps me as a foster parent, to see they are doing well, 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, but if you feel like God is calling you to foster, don’t let the heartbreak stand in your way. He will give you the 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 going to be easy. Giving yourself time to grieve in whatever way that works best for you is essential. Also, 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. Many kids need a loving family. For however long that may be. 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.