It’s been just over eight months since my husband and I brought our sweet baby boy home from the hospital. Memories of what life was like before his arrival are faint. We can’t imagine our day-to-day without his crinkled-nose smiles or his excited shrieks of delight. Life as a family of three is our new normal, and while being a mommy to our little one is more exhausting than I thought possible, it is also more joy-filled and abundant than I expected. This deep joy of motherhood, however, is also mingled with sadness; sadness because the time is soon approaching when our days will no longer be filled with this little one’s sweet shrieks of delight. My heart aches knowing that while we have been able to enthusiastically cheer on his first attempts to crawl, it is unlikely that we will be able to experience his first steps, first words, or his first day of school.
Our little one is not terminally ill. This sweet baby boy that we took home from the hospital nearly nine months ago is our foster son. In the next month or two he will likely leave our home and be adopted by his extended family members. We’re grateful that our foster son has family members who want to raise him as their own. Yet, deep grief fills our hearts knowing we will not be able to make this son we love a permanent part of our family. It’s overwhelming thinking of the day we will have to strap him in his car seat for the last time, kiss his big, soft cheeks, and say our good-byes.
At times I wonder if we were crazy to get ourselves into this. Foster care is a messy, complicated process, filled with messy, complicated emotions. When we tell people he is our foster son, they usually commend us then quickly add, “I could never do foster care, I would get too attached.” But that’s the point.
Great pain for a great need
We don’t have any special ability to be foster parents. Our hearts are breakable. And detachment isn’t feasible, nor is it desirable. Parents who are willing to get “too attached” are precisely what children in foster care need. And the need is enormous:
* There are over 510,000 children in the foster care system in the U.S. Of those kids, over 100,000 of them are waiting to be adopted, but nearly 19,000 will age-out of the system every year before they have the chance.
* The kids who leave foster care without being linked to “forever families” are highly likely to experience homelessness, unemployment, and incarceration as adults. Thirty percent of homeless people in the U.S. were once formerly in the foster care system.
* The issue of attachment looms large. Having never learned how to attach to people or places, they struggle to have healthy relationships, stay in school, and hold down a job later in life.
* It is crucial at each stage of development—infants, toddlers, and young children—to learn how to attach. Even if children do not get to stay with the person they are attaching to, it is better for them to go through the pain of loss than to never attach to anyone at all.