The hidden guilt of foster carers

You may have heard that being a foster carer is rewarding. You may have heard that it is challenging.  You may have heard that there is grief in saying goodbye. You may have heard that there is joy in knowing we were there when it counted.

But have you heard of foster carer guilt?

I hadn’t. In fact, even now that I’ve been fostering for over two years, I’ve still never heard anyone mention it. And to be honest, this is the first time I’ve talked about it, too.

20190518_124027 (1)I have a little love right now. He came to us straight from hospital, at one week old. I remember his perfect little face on the day he came home. Now he’s seven months old. He’s sleeping through the night, rolling everywhere, sitting like a champ and devouring any solid food he can get his cute, chubby little hands on. He is a real smiler, but still a little wary of strangers. Yesterday he woke from a nap to find two people visiting he didn’t know, and he clung a little tighter and tucked his head against my chest. Today I read him a book, and half-way through he turned his face up to check out mine, reminding himself that I was still there. You see, I am his safe place.

In fact, right now I am his everything. My home is the only one he’s ever known. My arms the ones he’s happiest in. My voice is the one that calms him. My family is his family.  He trusts me totally, completely, utterly, unquestionably.

And what shatters my heart is that I know I have to betray his trust.

He is not mine to keep. I know that – but he doesn’t. And now as the assessments draw to a close, and the court date creeps up, the guilt overwhelms me. Because I have to give him away. And as much as that will hurt me, the thing that I can’t bear is how it is going to hurt him. How his little innocent heart, which believes I will protect him from everything, will be so deeply and irreparably hurt by me.

Please don’t be quick to jump and tell me not to feel guilty. Don’t say it’s not my fault.  Don’t remind me of the good I’ve done and how that will set him up so well. Because in my head I know these things. I know them. But however true they are, they can’t change the facts.

Foster care will always, always be second best. And moving these already broken little people on to yet another home will always, always cause even more trauma. It’s unavoidable. It’s not my fault, yes – but I am still caught up in the process. And it is still me who has to look into those sparkling eyes, so full of trust and love – and know that one day soon I will hand over ‘my’ baby, and leave him.

And he will cry for ME. He will search for ME. He will feel abandoned by ME.

So yes, I am guilty. And I am heartbroken. And so incredibly sad and sorry for the unfairness of this world. But there is hope. And faith. And love. And in the truest, wisest book ever written we are told that love is the greatest.

So I will keep loving as many babies as God brings my way.  I’ll love them fiercely and unreservedly. Because that’s the only – and best – thing I can do.

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