“How do you guard your heart??”
I was asked this question a number of times while fostering, and I think what people meant by it was this: How do you keep from getting too attached to a baby that may not stay with you forever?
People generally assumed my intentions would naturally be to protect myself against a close attachment for fear that the good-bye would shatter my heart, but that wasn’t my goal. It just couldn’t be if the child was to receive the shaping, healing love they’d need. If they were to move on to a new place, they’d be served there by having experienced as strong of an attachment as possible here. According to the experts, that’s how it works for these precious ones:
“Under ideal conditions, attachment springs up and grows within the context of nurturing experiences with a loving caregiver. Early interpersonal contacts have a profound impact on the brain…If these positive experiences are lacking, or if a child’s interactions with a primary caregiver are frightening or traumatic, chronically elevated levels of stress-related hormones, such as cortisol, can cause significant damage to the limbic system of the brain and impair a child’s capacity for secure and meaningful human relationships.
Always bear in mind that attachment is all about truth and that intimacy is directly connected to the feeling of being understood. Make a concerted effort to be honest and straightforward in all your dealings with your children and encourage them to do the same. Foster trust by cultivating an atmosphere of acceptance and openness. Let your children know in every way you can that they are loved with an unconditional love.” – Attachment in Adoption, Focus on the Family and Karyn Purvis
Perhaps others can, but my heart doesn’t know how to do that guarded.
I do, however, believe it’s important to guard your mind. As foster parents, we need to tend carefully to our thought life and keep our imaginations under control. Dwelling on all of the possible outcomes doesn’t help. When we fostered a baby girl the year before last, we were clear on our calling at the time to foster but not adopt, and I knew all along she’d make that calling a tough one. It was obvious from the beginning of knowing her, I would want to adopt her. So I chose not to go there in my mind. Near the very end of her time in our home, we had no choice but to engage in thinking about a future with her as we prayed for confirmation of that calling, but mostly I worked hard to keep myself from picturing her in our family. I didn’t daydream about it or wonder what it would be like. I just refused to go there. It was a tedious work constantly reminding myself that she wasn’t mine and that we were preparing her to be someone else’s. I won’t tell you that’s easy to do, but it was necessary. Fostering trained me in taking my thoughts captive to Christ, and it was worthy practice.
We guarded our thoughts, but we loved with abandon. Though there was grief in her leaving, we were grateful for the role of filling her with that love and confident God would powerfully use it in her sweet life. It was a risky love that brought both joy and pain, but it kept me desperate for his presence and positioned me to drink more deeply of His love.
There’s a vulnerability of heart required for loving your foster kids well. It’s essential for their development and health, but with it also comes the blessing of grace that covers and heals your risk-taking – and possibly breaking – heart.
That wraps up our series on Preparing Your Heart to Foster, and here you can find links to catch up on any of these topics you might have missed.
Happy National Foster Care Month! Pray with me that God’s desires for our involvement will be revealed and that we’ll seek to know His plans along with the grace that leads us to follow.