When there are so many unknowns in your immediate life, it’s easy for your mind to wander to a lot of what ifs. What if this happens? What if I make this decision? What if I screw up big time?
I go to that one a lot. What if I make a bad call? What if I do something wrong? I mean, it’s been many years since I’ve had a little one around my house. You’d be surprised at how much you forget. For instance, our little guy is sick. Really sick. Miserable. When do you go to the doctor? What’s a serious temperature for an infant again? How far do you put the suckie thing up their nose? There are so many things you forget when you’re doing this whole baby thing later in life.
And I have always been a fairly laid back parent when it comes to illness and injury. Is it bleeding? Oh, you think you’re dying? Okay, we should go to the hospital. My husband and I may, or may not, have been the parents who had their oldest child go to bed with a fractured arm because ‘it will probably feel better in the morning.’
Well, not so much when it’s broken.
So much can go wrong, but so much rarely does. This is reality. But what if? Balancing the probable with the not knowing is a really thin line to walk when you’re dealing with someone else’s child. Even more so when they’ve been around long enough to feel like your child. Hold a sweet one for enough nights and eventually they no longer feel like someone else’s baby, because they are yours for now.
And this is the thing about foster care that is so difficult. “They” – the powers that be, the system – they want you to take these sweet, broken children into your home and love them like they’re your own, but then in the end, they want you to let them go as if they were never loved like a member of your family. And as a foster parent, you are the last person considered as an expert on the child. I mean, sure, you’re the one they’re throwing up on in court, you’re the one that held them while they shook from withdrawals, and yours is the only family they’ve ever known, but by golly, what if some distant stranger from out of nowhere shares a drop of blood with them? Well, shoot! Lookie there! We’ve got a family for that child!
What? That child has a family. The foster family that’s been asked to take it in, like one of their own, has become their family. Maybe the only family they know. What if that family is where they belong? Perhaps the blood of a stranger isn’t as important as the arms of the people who’ve been loving this child, in their home, for so long.
But THIS IS foster care. You go into it willing to give your heart to a little one that ultimately is not yours. Half of the children in foster care will eventually end up back with their parents or someone in their family. This is what you must be willing to do.
And there are horror stories from both sides. You hear about the foster family that gets so attached to a child that they fight in court for years to keep the child. Then they lose because the child was supposed to go back to their family. What of that child’s feelings? Why didn’t the foster family let them go, years earlier, when it was obvious it wasn’t possible to win? Or you hear about the terrible case of a child who is quickly yanked away from the only family they’ve ever known, their foster family, only to be placed in the home of strangers they’ve never met. Who in the system was thinking of that child’s transition and mental health? Who thinks a four year old, who has been with a foster family since birth, doesn’t deserve a little warning and transition, if they must be given to someone else just because they’re a cousin of mom’s cousin’s sister? And who, besides a system out of touch, really thinks that just because someone shares distant blood with a child, that makes them automatically better than the family they’ve been with for years?
So many what ifs. So many things expected from foster parents that go against natural inclinations.
But if I’m going to be honest about this journey, I have to say, frankly, that this is what you sign up for when you sign up for foster care. It’s not easy. If it was easy, I suppose more people would be doing it. This is what you open your family up to. This is what you expect your extended family to understand. This is how it really is. And it won’t always end up the way YOU want it to.
The child comes first. And you have to rely on your intellect to override your emotions when you fall in love with each and every child that comes into your home. And you must love each and every one of them. This is necessary for their wellbeing. And yours.
Sometimes it is easy to love them and let them go. Even though you love them, and your hearts hurt from the empty spot in your home, you know that true family was the family they were taken from, not the family that loved them in the short term.
And sometimes you have to let them go when it’s not easy, but it’s best. Sometimes another family they find in the future is better for them than yours.
What if you fall in love with a child and they don’t stay? That’s not a distant what if. That’s a surety. It’s going to happen. Because that’s foster care. That’s the kind of what if you take a risk on.
But it’s not the important what if.
What if there’s no one there to love that child? What if there isn’t a family to take that child in? What if that sweet baby ends up in a group home because there just aren’t enough families to take her in? What if that scared, helpless little one has no one to care for him when he’s taken out of danger and needs a safe place to heal? What if that teenager never has the joy of belonging to a family?
See, those are the important what ifs. Those are the what ifs that should compel you to risk your heart to heal the heart of another, if this is your family’s calling.
Because those are the what ifs that matter.