Our first foster placement, a 5-year old boy, came barreling into our lives the day after Labor Day. We had no idea what to expect and were, frankly, a little terrified at the prospect of going from no kids to a 5-year old overnight. Now, 5 weeks and 1 day later, we’re saying goodbye as that sweet boy heads back home.
“I could never be a foster parent. I would never be able to say goodbye to the kids.” That’s what AJ and I hear most often when we tell people we are foster parents. I’m not sure if they think we are just heartless and made of stone and we have no emotions, or if they think we just have some superhuman emotional strength that they don’t possess. Either way, the result is the same: many people do not consider foster carer because “saying goodbye” would be too hard.
Yes, there are times when a child is returning to a situation that you might personally feel is unsafe. Unfortunately, that happens a lot. There are times when a placement is disrupted because the child is not the right fit for your family (i.e., behavior issues may be too much to manage). There are times when you might have believed that you were on the path to adopting the child and then the goal of Social Services suddenly changes back to reuniting the child with their family. Those are hard circumstances and I’m not qualified to speak on them – we have never experienced those situations. But I want to offer a different perspective, so that people know there is something out there in between “My heart is shattered into a thousand pieces” and “Thank goodness that hellion is gone.”
In this case, we are truly, genuinely excited for our foster son to be returning home. It’s not because we want our lives back (although I do look forward to occasionally sleeping past 7 am) or because he was poorly behaved (he wasn’t). We’re excited for him because it means he will be back with the family that he loves and that loves him! We truly believe that when it is safe (and of course, it is not always safe), it is always best that a child be with their biological family. We have been blessed to develop an awesome relationship with his biological mom and siblings during his time with us. We have come to know them as people, to understand what they are struggling with, and to see them do their best to change their circumstances. For us, fostering isn’t just about fostering kids, it’s about fostering families – offering support when we can (and when it is appropriate) and helping families get back on their feet.
So, to see a family succeed is exciting! Knowing that our little guy gets to go home and be tucked in every night by his mom, who loves him very much, and be surrounded by his siblings – we could not be more thrilled. With that said, of course, we will miss him. There’s something very special about your first foster placement, and we will certainly never forget the impact he has made on us. He has taught us so much about ourselves and the world in just 5 short weeks. And, I take comfort in knowing that we have made an impact on him, too – he told his mom yesterday that he wants us (including the dog) to come to his next birthday party. As I tucked him in last night, he said “Daniel, when I go home, can you live with me at my house too?” 5 weeks later and he still doesn’t quite know my name, but at least he knows I love him. That’s what matters, right?
In truth, this has been the best possible transition that we could have possibly had. We found out a week beforehand that he would be leaving (that’s basically unheard of – normally, you have maybe a few hours notice), and I was able to coordinate directly with his bio mom so that we can drop him off at home, leaving the social workers out of it. All told, it couldn’t be a better situation, which is really what can be said of this entire placement. We were really eased into foster care big time, and while that doesn’t mean every second (or any second) has been easy, we couldn’t have asked for a much better first placement.
So this morning, for the first time, we’re waking up without our little guy, who inevitably would have crawled into our room to sleep on the couch by now. There will be no giggles as I help him brush his teeth, no begging me to please let him bring his giant stuffed animal to school, and no “one more hug” for the dog on the way out the door. But at home – his home – there will be all of those things. So today, we are celebrating. See you at your 6th birthday, kiddo.