By Becky Johnston
The number one thing that I hear as people find out we are a Foster Family is this: “I could never do that. Don’t you get too attached? I would have such a hard time letting a child go.”
I get it.
TOTALLY get it.
In fact, this is what kept me from being ready or willing to become a Foster Parent for years even though my husband had been ready all along. My argument to him sounded something like this:
“I don’t let people leave my life! My best friends today are people I’ve known since preschool! The worst day of my year growing up was always the last day of camp! I’ve had a pen pal for 26 years! I really like letting people in… but I do not letting people go!!!”
My husband, Dan, patiently and gently responded, “Yes, but it’s not just about you.”
But it WAS about me. It was about my schedule… my plans… my home. I was once in charge of these things. Or so I thought.
Fast forward a few (nine) years to a Sunday in February of 2011… after a discussion about building a deck on our home, our conversation meandered into whether or not we should expand our family. Dan very calmly and patiently said he thought we should, but he wasn’t sure if we should have children biologically. (In full disclosure, we had our biological daughter after several losses and through extensive fertility treatments. “Discussing” having more kids didn’t mean I assumed we could set our minds to it and it would happen.) I looked at him and said “Okay… do you still mean Foster or do you want to Adopt?”
I feel sure he thought I was on some sort of mind-altering “medication”.
NINE years of asking… and all of the sudden I was on board.
We began the task of shopping around for the right agency, taking classes, telling our families, and preparing our home for the unknown. Emergency exit plans were hung in our halls, fire extinguishers were hung in our kitchen. Social workers were met, licensing was done. (This is the über abbreviated version. We went through 2 different agencies before landing where we are now… we’d be happy to share more about our journey if this is something your family is contemplating.)
Summer of 2012 we had our first placement. A sweet baby girl who was placed with us only for respite- a four day weekend so that her current Foster Family could attend a wedding. Y’all. She was dear. She was easy. She was delightful. We all cried when she left. A few weeks later we received a call asking if we would consider taking her on for a longer placement… immediately we knew we should. We set up her nursery, bought the necessary supplies, then counted the days until she moved in. 45 minutes before she was to arrive, we got the call that a family member was going to be taking her instead.
Tears. Devastation. And yet so is the unpredictable road of Foster Care.
That fall, we got a call about placement for two little boys. Two young brothers who had been removed from their family that day. Within 2 hours of the phone call, they were in our home. This time, the tears and devastation were all theirs. They were terrified, confused, skeptical. We were feeling the very same things. For 7 weeks they stayed with us until a family member asked for them to be placed with her. When they left we were exhausted, weary, and hopeful for their future. We decided to take a break before another placement, and in the mean time found out we were pregnant- then lost that baby at 16 weeks- so we felt secure in our decision to hold off a while longer.
Our agency director called us this January to see if we were ready for another child. We told him our hope was to have a child that would become ready for adoption. We had experienced so much loss in our family over the last several years (several family members died, one parent is battling a terminal illness, and most recently the loss of our baby) we wanted to add someone to whom our family would not being saying goodbye. Shortly after our conversation with him he called about a sweet little baby, who would possibly be “adoptable”. We took a deep breath, reached out for prayer and help to our village of support, and said yes. Within a day, Sweet Baby was at our house.
We had a baby at our house. A baby. After plenty of time with our self-sufficient, good sleeping 7 year old, we were once again in the sleep-deprived world of a baby. And not just any baby… a baby who had been taken out of her home and put in a world with people she didn’t know at all. A baby who didn’t sleep. A baby who hated her crib.
And a baby who instantly captured our hearts.
This baby has now been with us for several months. We have no idea what the future will hold- we’re not sure if she will truly end up adoptable or not. We hope for the best for her mother… at the same time we understand that if her mother works things out, that means Sweet Baby would be leaving our family. And we can’t imagine that happening. We don’t want to anticipate that un-known grief.
That question that people ask: “Don’t you get attached?”
Yes. Yes, we do. And rightfully so. That’s what is appropriate when a child joins your family- for any length of time- who is in desperate need of love.
When I looked at Sweet Baby as I rocked her to sleep tonight, I was once again reminded that she is worth it. She did not come with any guarantee that she would be “ours” when we said yes to her… yet no child really does. A friend pointed out to me that we all make the assumption we are “in charge” of any child we have- biologically or through adoption- and yet that is never really the case at all. So we enjoy each moment we get to be with her (in full disclosure, we enjoy the ones where she is not crying and we are well-rested the best) and rest in the fact that we are doing Important Work in her life. We are teaching her how it feels to be safe, to be loved, to have basic needs met, to be part of a family. And whether she ends up ever sharing our last name or not- she is worth it.
Being a Foster Family is hard work. It’s painful. But yet it’s beautiful. Some days I feel like I can’t give any more… then I think about how I would want someone to love my 7 year old if I were unable to care for her. So we stand in the gap- not ready for that moment that we might learn she’s leaving us- yet filling her up with love in each next step. And the craziest part is she’s filling us right back up, too.