Many people show interest in our fostering experiences. I am thankful that this is true because it is a very important part of my life and experience over the last year. It has consumed much of our emotions, energy, prayers, hopes and fears. But it has also brought so much laughter and joy and depth to all of our lives.
We recently said good-bye to our foster daughter as she reunified with her family. It was an exciting time because it is so beautiful to see a child with her birth mother, who loves her so deeply. But it was also hard because it meant she was no longer in our home full-time; we were losing the baby that had been part of our family for the last 3.5 months.
When I talk to people about foster care, the most common statement I get is something like “wow, I don’t know if I could do it because I could never let go of the kids.” If I am honest, I do get tired of hearing this. I think it is intended to be complimentary in some way, but if I am in a bad mood, it comes across like this: “you must be less attachment-oriented and able to love less-deeply than I if you are able to let go of these kids.” I know that is not really the intention of the statement, but It has nevertheless caused me to process the required willingness to “let go” involved in foster care.
The truth is that good foster parents (and I’m sure any will tell you) do love completely, deeply and sacrificially. We treat our foster children as our own children for as long as they are with us. We seek to address their unique needs and be students of their personalities and temperaments, just as we do with our birth children. We long for them to feel secure and loved, and desperately want to see them doing well emotionally and socially. When we do come to the place of letting them go, it is not weakness, but in fact takes great strength. Granted, we have no say in the child’s destiny, but we do have the investment of having poured ourselves into this child, and there is a deep bond there. What we also have, however, is the choice to believe that birth families are incredibly important—they really matter, and a child should be with his/her birth parents if they can be safe and healthy there.
I have now said good-bye to 3 children that were part of my family for a time. The two boys we had in Arizona for 3 very intense months (before we found out we were moving and they had to be transitioned to a new foster family), and this precious baby girl who has now reunited with her family. So my perspective on letting go is wrapped up in both looking back at that loss that occurred last Spring as well as the one that is very new. I will briefly share how each has affected me.
Baby girl: I have to admit that part of my coping with the very recent loss is my hope of continuing relationship with her family. In other words, it isn’t really good-bye forever. I am so thankful that the Lord has blessed me with positive interactions with her family, and I care very deeply for them as well. I have already been able to hang out with them once since she moved back home, and it was a special time. I hope we have many more chances to hang out and continue to build those relationships. Now I know that I can’t put too much weight on keeping long-term relationship, however, because things change and people move, etc. My deeper peace in letting go of her is grounded in two things. First, many studies have shown that security, attachment and consistent adult interaction greatly matter in the life of a little one, even for a short period of time. It can help build a foundation for a child that will help him/her later succeed in life and have healthy relationships. So my role in a baby’s life, even if she doesn’t remember us at all, is important. Second, and perhaps more importantly, having seen and loved her little emerging personality, I can pray with specificity that God would shape and mold her and bring people into her life to encourage her. That gives me hope.
I also have hope that God still has another child for our family. Baby girl has left a bit of a gap in my life. I love my birth children and my life is full with them. Yet having held and nurtured another baby for a time, despite the extra craziness that it brought, has left my arms aching for another. I am trying to entrust it to the Lord each day, and to pray for the perfect timing and the right child that we can bless and love next.
The two boys: Last April, we said good-bye to the two boys that had been with our family for 3 months. That doesn’t sound like very much, but it was an intense, “all-in” time for me. I had no idea what I was getting into when I said yes to taking them, but they changed my life. They were so beautiful and broken and longing for safety and security. It broke my heart that, though I was able to gain their trust and saw them begin to feel secure with us, I then had to leave them behind… My heart still aches (perhaps even more now than at first) for them and for their pain. I look at their picture in my house every day, and I pray for them. What makes it worse is that, although I was able to write to them and express continuing affection for a time, they have since been moved and I now have no way of keeping in touch. That means my only connection to them now is my memories and my prayers. What this has done for me is make me examine: Do I really believe that prayer matters? Do I believe that there is hope that God will provide and work in their lives and bring safe people into their lives that they can trust AND that prayer can be part of that being accomplished? Yes, I do, because God has said that he responds to our prayers and that prayers are powerful and effective (e.g., Js 5:16; Ps 28:6; Ps 34:15; Ps 65:2).
Nevertheless, in the midst of the sadness of loss, there is joy and hope. For me, this hope and joy is grounded in the fact that I believe God is sovereign and loving. I can trust that He cares for these children and their families even more than I do. That doesn’t mean everything is going to turn out “just fine,” but it does mean I can entrust them to Him and the act of doing that is significant. It matters. My continuing prayers for them and my longing for them matter. The love and care that I poured into them during the time they were with me mattered too—imprinting on them an experience of healthy relationships.
There is also joy because my life was touched. I was allowed those months of learning and growth. I was given the gift of connection to and understanding of cultures different from my own. That is a huge gift, because it breaks down the misconceptions and beliefs I might have about certain cultures and socioeconomic realities without even having realized it. There is also joy because my birth children’s lives have been touched. Our children are able to see all people as special, no matter how different from us. While we were already trying to teach them this before doing foster care, they are learning this in a deeper way now than I could ever teach them with books, words, and even cross-cultural experiences. They see brokenness in people, but they also see the hope that we have in Christ to redeem all of us and give us a forever home.