My family has been engaging in foster care for nearly eight years. We have seen kiddos come and go and sometimes stay forever, but the going never gets any easier… Only more familiar.
As we prepare right now to say goodbye to another child who has come to us through foster care–another son, brother and friend–it aches just like it did the first time we said goodbye. Saying goodbye to him brings to the forefront memories of all the other kiddos we have loved as a part of our family and loved enough to send home to their family forever! I remember the first goodbye we ever said to a precious little girl with the biggest smile you have ever seen; a smile she had lost when she came to us but was able to rediscover and go home wearing. Oh, how I loved this little girl, and the thought of not reading her bedtime stories and snuggling in as she went to bed each night tore my heart apart. Even now writing these words I feel it just as intensely.
Every child we have said goodbye to in foster care has hurt just as much as the first, yet this is how we know we have fulfilled our job description. It is our job to love each child who comes into our home as our own whether they are with us two days, two years or forever. If we do not hurt when the time comes for us to say goodbye, then we have failed.
Yet with this goodbye, I do feel an element of failure, not because I have failed to love this little one enough, but because things are not turning out for him the way I had hoped. I’m not sure I could have done much differently to change this outcome but still, I feel the sting of disappointment and unmet expectations. But I know it does not serve me, my family or this sweet little one well to sit in the weight of expectations I put upon myself that are not mine to carry alone.
I have learned to find grace and love for the parents of the kids who come to us through foster care so I can learn to find grace and love for myself. I must learn to find grace and love for myself.
Hands down what I hear most from people who learn we are foster parents is, “I could never do that because I couldn’t give them back,” as if to imply we are at best saints and at worst hard-hearted villains because we can do so. The fact is we can’t “give them back” either and we don’t do so flippantly and without heartache. We say goodbye not because we can, but because we must. We signed up to be a safe place until a child could go home and because we signed up to be in the best interest of these children. So for their sake, we can walk through the heartbreak.
So we will say goodbye again with heavy hearts for the everyday interactions we will be missing with this little one and full hearts for knowing we have loved him well. We will hold him close and hand him off with the confidence that he will continue to be loved and cherished and safe knowing that we are forever a part of his life story and he is forever a part of ours. Goodbyes in foster care never get easier, only more familiar.