A Foster Parent’s Grief

By Mandy, a Colorado foster parent

When my husband and I first started fostering, we expected to be sad when the kids left our home. I expected it to be difficult and I was afraid, so I tried to prepare myself. But, there is so much more loss than the day a child reunites with their family and leaves your home. You can’t prepare for that kind of grief.

I grieve the loss of my ignorance. You will grieve the time when you didn’t know so much about child abuse and neglect and what it does to kids. You will grieve the time when you didn’t get calls in the middle of the night about a child in the hospital with bruises. Once you know, how can you ignore it? Having this knowledge changes your life forever.

I grieve for bio parents. Once you have lost foster kids and you know what it’s like, you grieve for their parents who have also lost kids. You will also grieve for the kids who miss that time with their family.

I grieve the emptiness of my home. Your home is where you became a family and where the kids became your whole life. Every room in your home will remind you of the memories you made with the children you cared for.  

I grieve the friends who I have lost. You’re living a life that most people can’t understand and a life many people will tell you to give up on. You will lose those friends.

I have not found a way to protect myself from the grief yet. I am afraid to become a foster parent who can protect themselves from these difficult emotions, because the kids deserve foster parents who will honestly and sincerely care for them. 

I can’t – and I won’t – protect myself from the grief, but I can do some things to take care of myself.

I have started therapy. The children in our home see therapists, and now so do I. I encourage all foster parents to find a therapist. You have to protect your own mental health and not create trauma for yourself.

I focus on the good. Sometimes you feel like you aren’t making a difference because parenting children who have been abused is the most difficult thing. It’s hard, but I try to focus on the good things, even the little things, that I have done to make these children’s lives better.

I plan vacations. While the kids are still with us, I plan a trip that my husband and I will take once the kids leave. It gives me something to look forward to. It’s also good to get away and out of the house where there are so many reminders of the children.

I am completely committed to the kids. Disrupted placements are incredibly difficult for children. My husband and I decided when we started fostering that no one was leaving our home unless they were going back to their home. It’s so hard for them to move around, but we’re going to stick with these kids no matter what.

I develop relationships with bio parents. I worked super hard to build a relationship with the father of a toddler who we cared for. I wanted to support this dad, because I knew he was going to need help. And, because we have a relationship, I see my former foster son every week.

I am honest with myself and with others.  It’s difficult to see other people water down the grief that foster parents experience. It is worth it and the kids really do need us, but it hurts so bad. I sometimes wonder if I can love anymore. Right now, for me and my husband, there is more love to give and more children to foster. If the day comes when we have nothing left to give, then we will know it’s time to find another way to help children. 

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