When I think of my time as a foster parent, my mind is immediately swarmed with thoughts, memories and emotions surrounding the goodbyes we experienced. Now, my husband and I have foster to adopted 4 children, and fostered a total of 7 children in all. Two of these beautiful souls aren’t with any more, one left and came back, and three came and stayed. In hindsight, I can honestly say I knew in my head what we were getting into because I’ve worked in the field, but truly until you’ve opened your heart and turned your life upside down for these children there is no way you know. I watched people say goodbye, transition kids to adoptive homes, new foster placements, adoptive homes, and transitions to college but really until my heart was faced with this loss there was no way for me to prepare for these moments. So I want to take a few moments to provide you tips on Saying Goodbye.
Tip #1 Change Teams
In our first transition, our foster daughter moved into an adoptive home where she later was adopted into her family forever. Obviously, this is beautiful but that didn’t change how hard it was to separate feelings about the pain and difficult situations from the new journey she was going on. Instead of focusing on our experiences, at a certain point the best thing was to change teams and start doing everything in our power to support the transition. In our second transition, our case went from a permanency track to a reunification track. When this change first happened, our hearts were broken and we were resistant. We did everything we could to hold onto control and plead our case of permanency (even though in my head and heart I knew and believed that foster care is about first family). There was a pivotal moment when we decided to stop fighting the process and swap teams. We took placement of our baby’s older sister when her adoptive home couldn’t accommodate the reunification process. We began cheering for their first family. We poured every ounce of energy into that process and we transitioned them home with dignity. In both cases, we needed to alter our stance, our perspective, and humble our hearts. Have you ever started praying for someone who hurt you or you didn’t like much? It sure is hard to keep feeling negative ways towards them when you do this. It was sort of the same feeling in these situations. Changing teams grew deep love, compassion, and empathy for our children and their families
Tip #2 Find a Friend
One of the most integral parts of my grieving process in reuniting our foster children with their first family was just being with someone who had been in that seat before. I reached out and asked to be connected with someone who had been in our shoes. We spent time together mom to mom and family to family in these early months of loss. Just being with someone who has experienced the joys and the pains of the process was such a blessing in so many ways.
Tip #3 Memorialize the Season
With any transition or loss, when we are able to find meaning in the pain and grow from the experiences we often find some relief. One of the ways that I was able to hold onto the meaning, the purpose, and the joy of this season was to intentionally make ways for us and for our kids to take this season with them. We made photo books for our kids who transitioned out of our home, one we kept and one they took. A couple of others things I did that brought me some joy and hope included keeping a little t-shirt of my baby’s, keeping a couple Christmas ornaments to hang on the tree each year, and making a special wall with their photos on it in our home acknowledging their huge impact on our hearts. I also had a special finger print necklace made so I could wear my child by my heart.
Tip #4 Expect Insensitive Comments
A lot of times as humans when we are met face to face with others’ grief and pain, we try to say something. Most of the time what we say, we are actually telling ourselves to help us make sense of this pain our loved one is experiencing. Comments like “well this is what you signed up for” , “I could never do fostering, I’d get too attached”, or “this has been great practice for when you become real parents”. These are all things people said to me that hurt during this time, but when I really think about who said these things and why they were most definitely said to soothe the sayers’ own hearts. By no means is it your responsibility to soothe those who are trying to comfort you, but knowing that this experience is just something people struggle to know how to approach may bring some grace into your interactions.
Tip #5 Hope
It is easy to pummel into the abyss of negativity about the system, our society, trauma, pain, and grief. It is easy to lose sight of why we chose to jump into the beautiful mess of foster care when we are in the middle of the pain. It is easy to fixate on the worst possible outcomes or let ourselves linger in anger. I am not at all saying to not let yourself grieve, by all means grieve. But, what I am saying is that when we can, for little moments in the darkness. refocus our eyes on the light of hope in this situation, everything changes. It changes in a way that you can be proud of how you handle this difficult time and changes in a way that you can’t let this be the end of the journey because the calling keeps on calling.
Saying Goodbye is sometimes expected and sometimes it isn’t, but regardless it is difficult to navigate through all of the emotions involved. This is not an exhaustive list or based on anything other than my own experience in what has helped me when we parted ways from children who carry a piece of hearts with them forever.