When it comes to foster care, I can’t begin to count the many times I’ve been told, “I admire you so much. I could never do that because I’d get too attached.”
As if I don’t get attached. As if we haven’t cried when foster kids left our home for good. As if I don’t wake up in the middle of the night with a burden to pray for a certain former foster kid. As if I don’t spend time praying for that child to be safe and protected – and to know he is loved. As if I don’t care what happens to my kiddos.
As if it’s easy to invest time and sweat and energy into a kid who will one day walk out of my life. Forever.
As if I don’t care or miss them. As if it’s fun to have a former foster kid walk past me at Wal-Mart and act like she doesn’t notice me. As if during the annual parade downtown when a kid rides right by me and turns his head the other way – as if that doesn’t pull at my heart.
I get it. I get why foster kids find it hard to acknowledge their foster parents. We are a reminder of the day their world ended. We are the reminder that they went to school one morning and ended up in our house that night, then woke up the next morning with their world upside down in this house of a stranger they had never met before. Ever.
We represent that horror, that pain, that abandonment. In addition, sometimes our presence calls for a divided loyalty.
There was the day my grocery cart met a stepmom’s cart in the cereal aisle at Food Lion. We smiled and chatted for a moment before I noticed Little Miss hiding behind stepmom. Little Miss who used to call me mom peeked out from around the woman she now called “mom”, not sure what to do because I was her “mom” before stepmom ever was.
Little Miss gave me a tentative hug, but it was obvious she didn’t quite know how to respond. I was the one who rocked her to sleep at night, cuddled her for hours after visits with her real mom, and accompanied her on a visit to a specialist. It had been a few years, but she remembered and didn’t know what to do with me as her new mom and I chatted. So yes, sometimes seeing me conjures up images that bring divided loyalty. What is an eight-year-old supposed to do with that? How am I supposed to bridge that gap with her and let her know it’s okay to love her new mom, even though I’ll love her still?
Yes, call me too attached, but I get why former kids don’t know how to respond sometimes.
You know what?
“Getting it” doesn’t make it a piece of cake. I get it. Yet there’s still that tug in my heart when eyes fail to connect with mine.
So yes, I get attached. You can call it too attached if you want.
You know why we do this? It is not for the court system, the social services system, or for ourselves. We do it for the kids. If we were doing this for us, then we’d be saying, “No thanks; I’d get too attached.”
You know what we’re really saying when we say we’d get too attached?
We’re really saying we’re just too selfish. We are saying that we have a right to not experience any pain from a loss. We have a right to cling to what is not ours. We have a right to possessing instead of losing. We have a right to invest and then be around for the return on that investment. We’re saying that we’re glad God the Father was willing to send His Son to die for us – but we’re not willing to die to ourselves to make a difference or to help bring life to kids.
When we focus on becoming too attached, we are forgetting that these kids need a safe haven we could offer, they need to be shown that there’s another world where folks still try to do things right. ‘Another world with real families who love each other instead of yelling, who tussle and tangle in fun more often than in anger. Families who are still intact and work at keeping it that way. Families who are free of drugs and booze and cursing and constant bickering. Families who love Jesus and want to make a difference in the world around them. Families who are willing to experience the pain from loss because they know what they’re doing can change a child’s world.
We’re not doing this for anyone else’s admiration. It is not about us. It’s about them.
We’re doing it for the kids because Eternity does matter.
I can’t fix all the problems or all the kids. But I can be a part of helping to fix one (or more). Like the little boy who was picking up starfish along the shore that had been deposited by the waves. When asked why he did this (because if he couldn’t save them all it wouldn’t make a difference), he replied as he tossed another one back into the ocean, “It makes a difference to this one.”
So yes. We do it to make a difference to one child – or two, or three. You can, too.
Go ahead and make a difference in the life of one child.
It’s true that sometimes we don’t make as much of a difference as we’d like. We don’t have enough time with the kids before they go back to their old haunts or to some place new. But we can come alongside parents who want to do it right and who just need that extra push and applause when they make good choices.
So go ahead. If God calls you to do foster care*, say yes. Then go ahead.
Go ahead and get too attached.
Before you sign up for the opportunity, reckon with the fact that it will take both parents to do this well. It will take the support of your kids if they’re still at home. It helps to have extended family and a church family who love your foster kids as well. We are blessed with a church family who loves our foster kids and applauds them as much as any doting grandparents or uncles and aunts.
Think of the difference that Christian families could make in their communities if only they were willing to widen their circle and make room for other stragglers who need a place to call home. How much easier would be the life of a social worker if she knew she had more than enough homes waiting with open hearts and open arms to welcome a child who needs to be saved – families who are anxiously waiting to become too attached.
Think of the difference you could make if only you weren’t afraid of becoming too attached.
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*Not everybody is called to become a foster parent. There are, however, things you can do to support foster parents. Foster parenting is hard work, and sometimes foster parents need “a break.” You can be that “break.” You can sign up to qualify for respite care so you can babysit for an evening or longer. You might not be able to do this 24/7, but you can lend a hand and a heart by helping those who do. If you can’t do respite care, you can provide a meal when you know a foster family is having a tough week; you can provide a certificate for a kid-friendly restaurant in town so the foster mom can have a break from cooking. There is always a way to help. Trust me – the money foster parents receive from the state does not begin to cover expenses. Every time we have had foster kids in our home, our income didn’t cover expenses. But then, we don’t do it for the applause or the money. We do it for the kids. You can help others do it for the kids.