“I could never let them leave.”
Those are the words I hear most frequently when people learn that we foster. They tend to tell us how amazing we are. How it’s so needed. And how they could never do it, because they could never let go.
First, it’s kidnapping if you refuse to let them go. True story, right? Even still, I’ve imagined unrealized border crossings before. But second, it sort of implies that we, as foster parents, are somehow less affected by the child leaving than the person who made the comment would be. Which is certainly not true. We often fret about children leaving, dread them going, grieve them once they’ve left, dream of them for years, and worry and wonder about them often. But we’re adults. We make the choice to foster and to accept this reality and risk. The children in foster care needing our home are never given that choice. And my husband and I, we have each other as well as family and friends to help support us as we foster and as we say goodbye. The child in foster care, they may have no one else.
So who am I to say no to fostering because of how it might hurt me when they leave? Who am I to protect my own feelings when a vulnerable child is given no choice in the matter and is alone, with possibly no one else to step up to protect them?
And please understand that last truth. There is very rarely a line of people waiting to take in a foster child. If you don’t do it, there may be no one else. That’s not dramatic. That’s reality.
But here’s a piece of this story that most people haven’t written about. And that’s the truth that sometimes, you’re okay with them going. Maybe the biological parent(s) have done what they need to do and changed and you have the privilege of seeing them reunited with their child. That’s beautiful. Or maybe the child wasn’t a good fit for your family – or even caused absolute chaos in your home – and you’re relieved when he leaves. That’s certainly a possibility, too. It’s not mean or harsh or unloving, it’s honest. Honest that sometimes children bring in to our homes, through no original fault of their own, brokenness, and needs that can make their leaving again easier, if not something to even look forward to.
But none of this – the reasons we cry from grief or sigh in relief when they leave – are reasons not to foster. All children deserve you to fight for them while they’re yours to care for and to love them so much you cry when they leave. All children deserve someone. So decide to be that someone. Decide the tears are worth it.