Saying Goodbye To The Child You Love

The hardest part of foster care.

Kristy O'Neal June 27, 2017
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My first placement was a five-month-old baby boy. As I walked out of the local social services office with him and struggled to figure out how to adjust the car seat straps to fit properly, I was sure that at any moment the social worker would realize that I had no idea what I was doing. Once we finally arrived home, I slowly sat down on my couch and promised him that we would figure things out together.

And for the next ten months, we did. He learned to crawl, and walk, and talk, and I learned how to be a mom.

A week before Christmas, there was a last-minute court hearing, and just like that it was time for him to move on from my home. We planned a two week transition, during which time I soaked up every second, every memory I could. I packed up his things, dropped him off with a last hug and kiss, and tried not to cry on the way home.

All the Big Emotions

I wanted so desperately to be strong and brave. I told myself that this is what I had signed up for, that I knew the goal of foster care was almost always reunification. I told others that this was the best thing for him, that his parent loved him and would keep him safe, and most of the time, I believed it.

Nighttime was the hardest, when I wanted to rail and kick against the idea that the best thing for him would be anything other than me. During those last two weeks, on the nights he was with me, I often snuck into his room to watch him sleep. More than once I picked him up out of his bed and snuggled him close as I rocked him and tried not to wake him with my tears.

I Could Never Give Them Back

Ask anyone who has been a foster parent for more than a minute, and they’ll tell you they’ve heard something along these lines: “I could never give them back.” There are about as many ways to respond to this as there are people who say it. Honestly, my own answer differs, depending on the tone of the comment, the person making it, and my own ability to respond with grace in that moment.

But for everyone who is wrestling with a decision to become a foster family, this is a valid question. There is loss that comes with every placement that moves on from your home, not just for you, but for your family. In the best circumstances, that loss is accompanied by celebration. Sometimes that’s not the case.

Walking into this life with your eyes wide open is no guarantee you won’t experience grief, but it does help you to build up a reservoir of reasons when the grief and questions inevitably come. That’s when you’ll remember that at some point, you knew this was a possibility, and you said yes anyway. You chose to love despite the risk.

I look back on those ten months with that beautiful baby, and even knowing the eventual outcome, I would do it again. I think of the kids who have moved on from my home and the ones that have stayed, all the victories and the challenges, and I would still say yes. Each one was worth it.

Fellow foster parents, what would you add? Why did you sign up to be a foster parent? What makes you keep saying yes?

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Kristy O'Neal

Kristy is mom to two sweet, funny, wonderful kids and works full time in information technology. During her spare time, she likes to browse Pinterest and thrift stores, create things, and hang out with her kids. As a foster parent, Kristy cares about advocating for the needs of kids in foster care and supporting foster families. You can read her thoughts on these and many other topics at her blog.

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