attachment to foster babies

As a foster parent, I’m asked questions all the time. The sweet little guy we have in our home right now draws interest wherever we go (babies just do!), and usually once someone knows he’s a foster baby, I get hammered with questions. I don’t mind. I love it. However, some are tricky to answer. At times I freeze and offer blank stares because how do you really share your heart – or the full reality of fostering – in the five or so seconds you have to reply?

For many of us who foster, the realization of our call came through a process. Seeds planted, watered, and then grown into a full bloom of recognition and obedience. That process, for many of us, has included other people. Their stories of fostering, played a part, big or small, in the realization of our own story God was writing. We watched others go before us, and we saw God’s movement there. Other people’s testimonies caused the idea to somehow seem more normal than crazy, and it made us think our “Yes” was possible. We could imagine God’s goodness in this hard calling because we’d seen Him be good to others in it.

This isn’t the way he writes this calling into all foster parents’ lives, but it does seem to be a theme in the lives of many of my fostering friends. And it’s because of this that I take seriously the answers I give to people’s questions about fostering. I just cannot know how God might use them to plant or water seeds of calling, if that were his will.

I can get overwhelmed by the weight of representing well this beautiful thing I love, but I have to remind myself of the truth: I’m not a PR rep for fostering. I can only speak of where I’ve seen God work in our lives with the call to foster, and my testimony – all of my beliefs, thoughts, feelings, and convictions – are just that: mine. They’re personal and imperfect, and I probably worry way too much about trying to say the perfect things to everyone who asks about it. It’s ridiculous to feel such pressure. God doesn’t need my words. And yet I hope to offer them, as carefully and completely as I can, for whoever may want to hear from a foster mom who’s just learning as she goes.

With that in mind, I’ll attempt today to answer the two most common questions I get asked about my experience as a foster mom. Probably 98% of what I’m asked fall into one of these two categories of questions:

1.) “How long will you have him?”

Most people seem very surprised to know that 1) it will likely be a year, and that 2) I really don’t know.

At least in Texas (I can’t speak for other states), foster children’s parents are initially given one year to complete services required to reunite with their children. In our current case, the goal remains reunification with a parent, and it is way too early in the game to have a feel for whether or not that will happen. I have to assume that it will and that this guy will remain with us for that entire year before returning to his parent. That’s the plan.

But the craziest part about fostering is that plans often change quickly. There are several reasons why his time with us could be cut short, and there’s always the possibility that parents are granted an extension to continue working their services, making the child’s stay in foster care longer. So many variables exist and they’re all far out of my control, and at this point, my knowledge. It will probably be a year – because that’s the norm – but I know enough to know that I never can really know. So there’s that.

2.) “How will you possibly be able to let him go after all that time?”

This is the question I receive most often. Its variations are many:

“How do you keep from getting too attached?”

“Is it going to be so hard to say good-bye to him once you’ve had him for a year?”

And then the actual question someone (at church) said to my face days after our current foster baby came into our home –

“WHY IN THE WORLD WOULD ANYONE WANT TO DO THAT?”

It didn’t offend me, but I didn’t have any words for that. In some of these moments, God will provide someone else to answer for me, and that’s a welcomed gift. But sometimes it has to be me who answers.

And before I do, let me tell you – the timing of this question is what surprises me the most. Sometimes this question is hard to answer because we’ve just gotten a new foster baby and we’re not thinking about the end yet! We’re just trying to get our minds around the beginning!

In those first six weeks of having a newborn suddenly thrust into our lives, there isn’t room in my mind for contemplating a good-bye. We’re just surviving, and it’s day-to-day. I’d say the transition with this newest one was good but not without also being crazy and overwhelming. So if you asked me this during those early weeks, what I really wanted to say was this: “It’s the holidays; there are three other children in our home with high demands and busy schedules; and some stranger just threw a baby into our home – and you want to talk about a year from now?!? I can only take life one day at a time!!!!”

But I likely just smiled politely (and probably awkwardly) and tried my best to answer.

Please don’t feel bad for asking. I don’t know any foster parent who doesn’t appreciate their friends’ sincere interest in their fostering journey. It’s not a bad question to ask. But please understand that it can be hard to answer because we’re not always thinking about it as much as you might be. Our lives are full enough with meeting the present, pressing needs of our family, and we don’t always have the mental energy for going beyond this day’s needs. I’ve experienced the beginning part of the journey to be more physically demanding, and while emotions can be strong then too, I tend to experience more of the emotional and mental aspects of fostering as I move through that adjustment period into a more settled home life. That’s just me. Once things calm down a little after getting a baby, I can go there a bit more and start thinking about the future, working through my feelings about all of the unknowns.

My family has been out of that initial adjustment period for a while, so I definitely can process my thoughts enough to tell you how I feel about the likelihood of saying good-bye one day to this sweet little guy we love and adore:

We just will do it, if that’s what we’re asked to do.

It really is as simple as this: These babies need attachment more than we need to be protected from it.

There’s no fancy answer here. Because we’ve been called, we make the choice to foster, expecting that our “yes” will bring heartache. We’ll battle fear, and we’ll need your prayers. Yet the hurt we’ll incur is simply not a compelling enough reason for us to say “no.”

foster parents too attached

The loss I expect we’ll feel when this precious one leaves our home for his own is unimaginable. I know our grief will run deep. But for us, this grief will birth something beautiful in our family. We’ll grieve, and it will be dark for a time. But we’ll cling to the Lord and disciple our children through the goodbye, and somehow it will benefit all of us. It will grow us, and we’ll know God’s redemptive love in a new way and our family will be changed. I’m not in denial that by fostering in this particular season of life, we’re asking our young children to embrace a degree of suffering as foster brothers and sisters to the little ones we welcome in, but the great comfort for this mother’s heart is knowing that my children will see Jesus in this. We all will see more of Jesus.

We’ll not only survive the hurt; we’ll be blessed through it.

But if this baby doesn’t get that early love and bonding he needs, the effects on him may endure for a lifetime and be difficult to recover from. 

Sometimes I would rather answer this question by handing out brochures about the effects on a baby when love is withheld and attachment to a caregiver doesn’t occur. Would that be too weird? Because I think if we all knew what would happen to these babies without foster families risking pain to love them – and if we understood as well the healing that begins when a family steps in to provide it for them – we’d stop making foster parents’ hurt the main topic. It’s real hurt we often experience, and we love that you care about us and ask questions, but our hearts really fill up most when we know you love these babies too – enough to invest yourself into some area of encouragement and support for foster families and the hurting kids we love.

I hope this comes across as gently as I feel it, but I have to say it: constantly telling us you’d never be able to foster because you can’t imagine letting go isn’t really the best way to show that support. Rather, it makes us feel misunderstood and alone in our mission, and in this mama’s opinion, that loneliness is absolutely the hardest part of fostering.

And if you’re tempted to praise us for any of this, may I kindly ask you to save it? The work is the Lord’s, and praise belongs to him alone, and we are not really as amazing as many of you like to tell us we are. But that’s a different post for a different day….

(Stay tuned for that.)

Your questions are always welcome. And to my fostering friends – feel free to chime in with your own thoughts, as I know our varied experiences lead to differing perspectives! I’d love for you to share yours here.