After Foster Children Go Home
Receiving the News
I recall sitting at my dining room table that tepid summer evening last year, surrounded by caseworkers and other members of the legal team. Though my ears were listening to the conversation, my eyes were swallowed up by tears leaving some of the words overshadowed by pain. Certainly I knew this day was coming, but tomorrow? Really? It couldn’t be here already and why were they just telling me this now? I had been putting off the thought of the day for months and now the reality had nearly knocked the air from my lungs leaving me breathless. What do I say to them? How do I tell them good-bye? How do I pack up their little things and look at their empty rooms, soon to be void of their energy and life?
You see, I had spent the last 16 months of my life caring for these children. Sleepless nights with the baby, feeding and rocking him, watching him undergo an intensive heart surgery to allow him a second chance at life. I had spent countless evenings shuffling the older two children to gymnastics and therapy, helping them with homework, cuddling with them on the couch watching movies and playing endless games of tag with them in the front yard. I developed a rich and intense bond with these children, and although logically I knew they weren’t really mine, my heart couldn’t tell the difference. I came to love them unconditionally.
Telling the Children They’re Going Home
In an effort to be helpful with informing the children of their departure, a caseworker offered to let them know of the impending move. Selfishly, I couldn’t rid my house of these professionals fast enough. I wanted to soak up every remaining moment that I had with the children. Unadulterated moments that weren’t clouded with paid workers and seemingly artificial empathy. I just wanted to keep my temporary family to myself for every second that I had left. Every tender whisper, innocent giggle, and sweet embrace.
After gathering the children in the living room, I garnered a deep breath of air in my lungs pending a search for the right words. Their petite eyes peered at me inquisitively during the extended silence. Eventually, a jumbled mess of words spilled from my mouth that sounded something to the liking of, “you know tonight will be your last night with me and then tomorrow you go home?”
The oldest questioned, “But aren’t I home now?”
“No, honey, your real home. The home with your mommy.” As tears trickled down that innocent 8 year old face, she recognized that the world she knew was changing. Quickly, I was enveloped in the sweet embrace of those little limbs. Though she and her brothers didn’t understand the complexity of the situation that they were in, they recognized that something drastic was occurring around them, something beyond the understanding of their young years.
That last evening faded too quickly and the next morning came with great anticipation. Waking up from our makeshift bed in the living room from the previous evening’s slumber party, we packed up an overnight bag and headed towards the daycare. Though the drive was only five minutes or so away, it felt like an eternity and yet a fraction of a second all at the same time. With tears in my eyes, I hugged each child, told them I loved them, and let them go, not knowing if I would ever have them in my presence again. My heart was breaking and I didn’t know if there was a chance to have it be mended.
You see, although I had a relationship with their mother throughout the case, it was distant. I had her babies and she wanted nothing more than to get them back in her arms. To have the ability to be the one to tuck them in bed each night, kiss each boo boo, and play chase around kitchen table while preparing dinner.
Seeing My Foster Children Again
As that July day rolled into August and then into September, I prepared myself to celebrate one of their birthdays on my own, maybe a cake in my home prepared for just me. I took the chance though and texted their mother, asking for the opportunity to see the youngest for his second birthday. After an extended silence, my phone eventually notified me of a new message. Upon seeing the letters, Y-E-S on my phone, I cried. And then, a few weeks later, I cried again when I saw those sweet faces in person. All that pain of saying goodbye those three months ago seeped into the background as I watched the children run to me, calling out my name excitedly.
Eagerly we planned for meeting up the following month for another birthday. I hesitantly hoped that we could continue this new tradition. A tradition of meeting up to celebrate birthdays and holidays and even just normal Saturdays or weekdays, any day really that would allow me to see the children grow and change with time.
A Relationship with Mom
As a result of seeing the children during these meet ups, I also had the opportunity to engage and develop a deeper relationship with their mother. No longer was she forced to have me in her life as her children’s foster parent, but now she could choose to have me in her life as her friend. With time, patience, and a lot of trust, our relationship has moved from that friendship to something more. The last time I saw her, she called me her sister and said we were more like family now. We may not be a traditional family of a mom and a dad and 2.5 children and a house with a white picket fence, but we are a family no less. A family that was introduced to each other through an unfortunate circumstance and brought together through a mutual adoration of these three beautiful children.
My role may not be foster mom any longer and I am okay with that. I have a lifelong place in these children’s lives as their aunt now and I love that and their mother considers me as a sister. This is not what I thought I was going to get when I signed up to be a foster parent. Oh no, not at all. This is so much better. So for any person out there thinking that this is too hard, too painful, too emotional. I will agree that at times it is. The satisfaction though of bringing a family together and then becoming a part of that new family is way more humbling than you could ever have imagined.
A Message to Foster Parents
So to the foster parents out there watching children leave and return home, I know your struggle well. I know the heartache and pain and I realize the concern that you have for the children as their future as it is out of your hands. I encourage you to see this not as a goodbye though and more as a transition, from a foster parent to a friend. Your ongoing support can do wonders for the family and of course, to the children that you have come to love as your own.
And to you, the mother of these three children I just talked about, you know who you are. I want to let you know that I am so very proud of you. I am proud of the energy and the effort that you have put into your children and your home. You have shown your children a tremendous amount of love and affection and created a home that is safe for them. Your children’s toothy grins, sweet giggles, and affectionate embraces are such a great reward for all the hard work you have done. And will continue to be a reward going forward. I want to thank you for sharing your children with me, letting me celebrate with you the milestones of life. You may never have chosen me to become involved in your life, but you are choosing to allow me to remain involved in your life and that means the world to me and for that I thank you.
Tracy Glantz, MS, is an Educational Therapist at CHI Health.