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.

From loss to hope

Loss.

This one word sums up so much about foster care. First there is the children’s loss: they come to us to so full of it. They’ve lost just about everything by the time they move in – family, home, familiarity, possessions, belonging, security, trust… the list goes on and on. And then there is our loss: the empty hole in our hearts every time we let go of a little one we have loved as our own.

Loss hurts.

20180925_114603Last week we said goodbye to our fifth little love. Letting go just doesn’t get easier. But loss was not a part of God’s orignal plan. In the garden of Eden, there was no place for loss – all was perfect and so, so good. Yet now we live in a world marred by sin, and loss is rife.

But God was not content with loss. Instead, He decided to suffer the biggest loss of all, so that He could win us back and put an end to all loss and pain for good. Jesus Christ, the human personification of God himself, lost his connection to the God-head when he chose to die in our place. Of all the losses this world has seen, none can compare to this.

And now loss is not the end of the story. Jesus rose back to life, conquering death for us all. Now we can exchange loss for gain. We can exchange hurt for hope. We can exchange emptiness for fulfilment. Despite this broken world, God can work all things for good. He can turn the bad on its head.

This doesn’t mean that loss itself is good. No – the loss inflicted on the kids I love is painfully wrong. Desperately unfair. In no way good. But because God IS good, He can turn it around.

When we began this life of foster care we chose to embrace loss. We are priviledged to be co-workers with God, a part of turning bad into good in the lives of the children entrusted to us. And as we feel the pain of our own losses, God steps in and walks alongside us. He turns our tears to joy, gives us peace that passes understanding. As we follow His will, the richness of His presence in our lives makes the sorrow seem small.

Truly, we can do all things through Christ, who strengthens us.

Foster love: why I can’t let go, but choose to anyway

So many people have said to me over the last few months, as we have been approved as foster carers and had our first placement,

“Oh, I couldn’t do that. I could never hand them back!”

I get that. I totally, totally get that. I used to say the exact same thing myself, when friends of mine became foster carers and I watched them take in these precious, tiny babies then let them go again after investing so much. How could they do that? I just knew I couldn’t.

But here’s the thing. Anyone who just ‘can’ will probably never make a good foster carer.

Because fostering is not just about taking a child into your home. It’s about taking them into your heart. These are kids who have suffered things you and I really can’t imagine. Kids who have been abused, neglected, rejected. When they are taken into care they need someone who is willing to love them fiercely, wholeheartedly. They need to be loved as if they were your own. And yes, that means when they leave you will be heartbroken, because it will feel like letting go of your own children. But that is what they need. They need to matter to someone. They need to be loved so hard by someone who never wants to let them go. They need to be worth someone’s heartbreak.

Having said goodbye to our first little love last week, I have had my first taste of heartbreak. She wasn’t with us long, but we loved her completely. Since she left I keep thinking I hear her. I woke last night thinking she was crying for me. I keep thumbing through photos of her, missing her so much.

There is an undercurrent to that phrase “I couldn’t do that”. It’s almost as if, without meaning to, people assume that the only way to let go is to love less. That somehow we must love less, if we can handle saying goodbye. And I’m not blaming anyone – remember, I said the same thing myself. It’s just that I came to realise that my own heartbreak was nothing in comparison to what these children are going through. If they have no choice but to live through trauma, fear and broken relationships, surely I can give of myself in order for them to experience uninhibited love, no matter the cost to my own heart?

So we will keep loving each child who comes into our home as if they were our own. And we will endure the heartbreak of saying goodbye. Because they need us to love without holding back, more than we need to be spared the ache of letting them go.

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