Yes, I’m attached

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“I could never do what you do; I would get too attached.” This is what we hear. We hear it at the park, at school, and when we meet strangers on the street that eye us and ask about our diverse family. We even hear it from family, and dare I say, at church.

Every. Single. Time. I hear these words uttered, the phrase “’Tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all” broadcasts emphatically across my mind. Who knew Alfred Lord Tennyson would have such a lasting impact in my life. But this is not usually how we respond.

After fostering for seven years, we have learned to respond with love as these words tumble effortlessly off someone’s tongue. And to be honest, I say effortlessly because it is a shockingly casual remark considering the circumstances of the children in foster care.

Children are almost always in foster care due to abuse or neglect. Even when they’re not, they were thrown into a system that often isn’t moving quickly enough. (“Moving quickly” is a description that all participants agree is the minimum standard of action constituting the child’s best interest while in care.) The children are removed from the people they love the most and placed suddenly into a home with complete strangers.

Even if they are being abused at their home, they still fiercely love those who are abusing them. The abuse is all they know. Removing them from the one thing they know and placing them into something they don’t creates instability. The only thing worse than the instability and insecurity of removal is the abuse itself. We know that. Kids don’t. They have no idea why they have been taken away from what they know and placed in a situation completely foreign. And for many of these kids it will be many years, maybe a decade, before the reality of the situation is clear to them.

Our response comes to a few simple points.

1) Understand that when the child leaves to go home, this is called reunification, and this is a hopeful sign that the family is healing. The parents are addressing the problems that led to the foster placement. Rejoice! Rejoice with tears of joy knowing that not only was a child cared for today, but a family was strengthened for tomorrow.

2) Stability through attachment is critical. If you don’t attach to the child you are not doing your primary job as a foster parent. These children need healthy attachments and loving adults. All children need the stability of healthy attachments to loving and protective adults.

3) You are the adult and they are the child. You can and should sacrifice your heart for these children. Regardless of the age or developmental stage, all foster care children require shelter, bed, food (preferably meals with a family at a table), and clothing. But those things are not what make a GREAT foster home. They contribute to, but do not create stability and development. You must love. You must provide emotional, relational, and spiritual security. Yes, without love you can meet the minimum standards of foster care. But without love the child will go home just as traumatized as the day he entered care, or more so. (We think this is why most people reflexively reject foster care the way it is advertised; your heart tells you it’s not worth the pain to simply provide three squares and a cot!) It is much better for you to suffer emotionally a little now, than for the child to suffer emotionally, spiritually, physically, academically, and relationally for the rest of their lives. Take an arrow to the heart for them.

4) Did I mention attachment is critical for children? Healthy attachments lead to healthy adults. The only way to break a cycle of foster care is to intercede now, for people you don’t know and children you didn’t birth, and attach your heart to the children in your care.

5) Foster care is a ministry you can engage in at home and in your community. It doesn’t require approval from a mission board (although support from your church is preferred) or a passport. You have the opportunity (and responsibility) to help a child when they are most in need. If you are called–all Christians are called (see James 1:27)–then you should/must act. Open your home. Get licensed and get involved. Support others who are directly involved. Ask your church about how they are, or can be, involved. Seek out organizations that are helping (e.g. Go Foster!). Donate money. Pray. Pray some more.

Yes, it’s hard. I’m not going to lie and say reunification is easy on the foster parents or the other children in the family. It’s not. But foster care teaches us to love a child, to sacrifice ourselves and to step in and fulfill a real need. (And that’s something I want myself, as well as my own children, to learn.)

It’s also a blessing. Meeting a child, having them fill your home with laughter and tears, helping them cope and understand what is happening, investing in their life. It all makes sense. And it fills your heart and home with many, many memories.

If you have considered fostering a child but have had doubts due to the pain you may suffer when the child leaves your home, please understand that attaching to a child is positive thing. It should be seen as blessing, and not as a hardship. And more importantly, reunification with their family is the primary goal.

Over the last seven years we have fostered 15 children and today four of those children are currently in our home. We grieve the day a child leaves. But as the days and years pass, we remember all the fun and all the laughter and we look forward to knowing that we made a difference during that time of their life when they were most in need.

Purging our home

while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” — II Corinthians 2:18

Our kid’s room is a MESS! Part of it was because I’ve been working the entire time we have had children. Some weeks I worked 40 hours, some weeks I worked 80 hours. In the last 7 years we have had 15 children in our home. All different ages. And as foster parents we never knew what age we would have next. So for many years we stored clothes and toys that our children didn’t need. We have stopped and we actually don’t need to now (a story for later), but the excess that I am having to get rid of is shocking. I was also never home to make sure they cleaned their room correctly, and so our children learned to shove everything in the closets and close the doors.

To be quite truthful the amount of stuff we have as a family has been aggravating me for years. It bothers me to even think about how much shopping I did as a young adult. Most of us live in excess of what we need. And even as I type this and I purge my own life and my own home, I realize that my idea of minimal is still excessive.

As a family we have tried to focus on this things which are eternal – our relationship with God, our ministry (and more specifically what we are called to do), our relationship with others, and friendships.

There are some things in our home we have limited. For instance, our four children all share a room at the moment. Our daughters share a bed. There are no video games in our home. I generally won’t let the children watch TV during the week. The children are expected to help with chores and gardening and so forth. But even so, there are areas in our life that are too abundant and wasteful.

The verse I posted at the top of the post has been reappearing in our conversations at home for many weeks now. The children and I had a short devotional on it a few weeks ago. You might hear me reminding them when I find them arguing over a toy that their relationship with their brother or sister is more valuable than the toy. I usually ask them to reconsider and try to work it out. If they can’t, I simply remove the toy. And then a friend, and young mother of three young children passed away, and we were reminded again that things in this world are only temporary. We spent a lot of time with friends that week and it was a blessing.

Our own family has suffered from excess stuff. And now that I’m home, as wife and mother, it’s time to purge. I’ve focused on a few smaller areas since being home, but this past weekend I focused on the kids room.

I had been praying about tackling their room because honestly it scarred me. And about that time, a dear friend offered to help. And so Saturday she spent 12 hours in our home sacrificing her day to help our family reach our goal. She helped drag everything out of the closets and together we put all the little pieces to all the toys back together and decided what to keep, what to trash, and what to give away.

This is a picture of some of the stuff we pulled out. It was bad. I filled up our entire large trash can outside, and I determined another three boxes to donate.
toy purgetoy purge2

It is not completed yet, but it was the beginning. I still need to purge more and tackle the books in their room. I’m also going to let them help me tackle the stuffed animals and choose a few of their favorites.

I think the children thought I was throwing everything out. I didn’t. In the evening I think they were happily surprised at what they did see left in their closets. They can easily spot something to play with. And there are items they didn’t notice before because there was just too much stuff. So far, they haven’t been able to think of anything they are missing. It’s either because I didn’t throw out enough, or because they didn’t play with most of it anyway — and I’d prefer to think it was the latter (but I’m not sure).