One of the most common comments I’ve come across often rings something like, “I couldn’t foster because I’d be afraid of getting too attached.”
Believe it or not, that’s something that scared me at first too; getting attached and then having to send the kids home. Sometimes they’d be going home to what I’d even consider less-than-ideal environments. To make matters worse, as a foster parent I would have very little say in the matter, even though I might have loved that child for the past six months as if he were my own.
The truth is, I will get attached and I should.
These kids need attachment. They need you to love them as if you were their birth mother. Fostering is a bit different from adoption in that most kids are adopted as infants so the adoptive parents have the option of not indulging that news to their child until a later date or ever. In those circumstances, the bio-parents are lovingly (albeit painstakingly) giving up their legal parental rights to the adoptive family. It was their choice, and in most cases, the bio-parents chose the adoptive parents through stringent recruitment processes and private agencies that protect them. In a fostering situation, something went wrong in the bio-home. Something went so wrong, in fact, that someone (a neighbor, another family member, a teacher, etc.) noticed enough to be prompted to alert authorities. It could have been as violent as a call to the police for suspected domestic violence or something as simple as the child going to school in the same clothing everyday. The child might have even been in a loving home but her parents both died in a car crash. The bio-parents never chose to give up their rights or asked for their daughter to be removed. It was not their will. Of course, a baby wouldn’t be fully aware of what was happening to her but at the end of the day, that six-month-old girl is still traumatized.
Older foster children know you are not their parents. They know that something went wrong, even if they don’t know all the details. These children need the attachment of their foster parents even more because most likely they are hurting, confused, angry, terrified. That’s the best case scenario by the way. Too often than not, on top of the previous emotions, they are traumatized, have PTSD, are broken (literally and figuratively), may be ill, are undernourished, abused, and neglected. They bring all of this into a completely new environment full of completely new faces, smells, tastes, touches, sights and sounds. They probably don’t have more than a trash bag’s worth of possessions, but they can have more baggage than most adults.
They need you to get attached because there’s a chance that very primal need has never been met before.
I’m going to come out and say it because I was guilty of it too: choosing not to become a foster parent for nothing more than being afraid of getting too attached is probably the most selfish reason not to become a foster parent.
You will get attached and you should.
Yes, it will hurt when that sweet chubby-cheeked little boy leaves to go home. You will miss all the giggles and you will miss all the tears. You will probably even miss the episode in which he threw up dinner all over you. Your house will be quieter, emptier.
But you filled a little heart with hope and warmth and safety. You filled a little heart with the promise of love and self-worth, even though he didn’t recognize it. That little heart will hold onto that for years and years to come.
You will recover from the detachment because you gave a piece of your heart to heal another. That kind of wound heals. That kind of wound changes you, yes, but for the better.