A previous version of this story was published in The Foster Care Survival Guide by Dr. John DeGarmo. I revised the story to share with you here. If you have read it before, I hope you will read this to get a fuller sense of the story.
The world of foster care can never be fully comprehended outside of diving headfirst into it. Nevertheless, my parents did their best to give me an understanding of what becoming a foster family would be like. They had often talked about people in need, including children in foster care. My tween siblings and I were fascinated with the idea of foster care.
Nothing could prepare me for the reality of two little sisters who arrived at our door. The toddler had eyes of wonder and confusion. Though she was wary of my parents, she warmed up to my siblings and me as we brought her toys and played with her.
That worked out well because my parents were busy with her infant sister. The baby was suffering the effects of drug withdrawals. She would tremor, break out into sweats, squirm, scream, and bat away her pacifier. We tried literally dozens of different pacifiers to help comfort her. It took weeks and weeks for her to finally overcome the withdrawals and gain a healthy weight.
Though my parents did not share all of the details of the girls’ case, they would try to prepare us for the changes that might happen. As the girls began more visits with their parents, my parents told me that the girls might be reunited with their parents soon. If the girls were returning from a difficult visit, my parents would remind my siblings and me that the girls might act out because of the tough stuff they had to deal with.
As time passed, different people dropped out of the girls’ lives. It was a messy situation. After a particularly rocky month, the county asked if our family would be willing to adopt the girls.
Although my parents prefaced this new revelation with caution and “this is only an option and not for sure,” my heart was dancing with the possibility. These girls, my sisters forever? Yes, please!
The more I looked at it, the more I thought it was perfect. We knew the girls’ likes, dislikes, and unique personalities better than anyone it seemed. They had been living with us for over a year. They seemed to fit into our family completely.
Then one evening, we got a call. With only hours of warning, my family had to pack up all the girls’ belongings. A social worker arrived in the morning and took them to live with a relative. I haven’t seen them since.
After all of that love, with one call, my sisters were gone.
It was hard. The grief was lonely. Not many people understood what we were going through. Even within our family, each of us coped differently.
Then another call came.
My parents sat our family down and explained that there was another set of siblings that needed somewhere to stay. These new children needed a temporary family just as much as the shy toddler and screaming infant had. Just like the girls, these children could not control how long they would stay with us, but they needed a family in that moment who would love them even if it hurt in the end.
So we loved them too.
Even when they were set to move home, we loved them.
And even when it seemed they would move to relatives, we loved them.
Though I was broken by what had happened before, I learned something as I moved forward. When you choose to love again, you are truly thinking beyond yourself and beyond your own pain to meet the needs of someone else. That is love. And love, even when it costs us, is exactly what children in foster care need. When we love children, despite the costs, we are showing them that they are worth the cost of love.
Next time you think “I would get too attached” or “I would be devastated when they leave;” ask yourself also:
“Do I believe children in foster care are worth the cost of love?”