I’ve discovered there’s something people say when you tell them you foster: “Good for you! I could never do it because I’d love them too much to let them go.”.
I suppose I can appreciate the sentiment: a roundabout, self-deprecating compliment that suggests that you’re made of sterner stuff.
If you ever feel tempted to say this to a foster carer: don’t. Rather than being a compliment, it can actually be quite insulting. It’s quite easy to interpret “I could never do it because I’d love them too much” as “I obviously love my children more than you love yours.”.
It may also serve as an excuse. A compliment that hides a little absolution of the possibility of doing it yourself.
It would be ridiculous of me to suggest that fostering is for everyone, but dismissing it without proper consideration because it’ll hurt you a bit isn’t really sound reasoning. Are you suggesting that you care about children so much that you do nothing? And you may be missing out on something wonderful.
Fostering is all about emotional highs and lows. You get to contribute to something special. You learn more about yourself. You are affirmed by seeing the difference you’re making to other people. But you must also deal with the heartache.
Yes, it’s going to hurt when they go. It’ll be painful for you and your extended family. You get warned about it repeatedly during training … but you won’t truly understand how you’ll deal with it until it happens.
You and I are adults. Growing up, we had loving families who protected us until we learned to cope for ourselves – and let’s face it, we still need to lean on them even now. We’ve spent years developing coping mechanisms for this kind of thing. We can rationalize it. We can deal with it.
The children in our care, however, cannot. They don’t understand what’s going on. How could they?
No matter how rough their first few years, and no matter how diabolical the circumstances that brought them into care: children always love their parents. Their home might have been cold and hostile, but it was all they knew. So how can they possibly cope when they’re taken away from that? How scared and alone must they feel?
Compared to that, any loss that I might feel when a child moves-on seems rather trivial.
“Moving on” is what they call it, by the way. It’s a carefully-chosen phrase that tries to put a positive spin on a painful transition. It’s certainly better than “letting them go” or even “taking them off me” which is how it might feel. It emphasizes the progression.
As foster carers, we’re members of a team. Part of that team had to deal with bringing a child into care. Then the child is passed on to us, and hopefully starts to heal. But then they might move on: to a different part of the team, or to adoption. And it hurts that we won’t get to see them grow – but we did our bit. We were part of it.
When we understand that, it helps with the heartache … but perhaps not as much as we’d like.