The Hardest Goodbye in Foster Care

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“Grown-ups come back.” The song from Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood resonates through my mind over and over. The episode is teaching preschoolers that when grown-ups drop them off somewhere, they always come back for them. Except they don’t.

It happens every day. Children are brought to school or daycare by their parents, then picked up by a social worker and brought to a stranger’s house to live. For foster children, grown-ups don’t always come back.

 

The Hardest Day

Goodbyes have a very different meaning for foster children. They are also one of the hardest things in foster parenting.The hardest day for me as a foster parent was the day I said goodbye to the sweet little one who had been with us for a year. Only 17 months old, she couldn’t understand that her world was being turned upside down again. 

I spent the entire day sorting through her belongings, washing her clothes, and packing up all she held dear. Trying desperately to hide my tears from her and her sisters and retreating into my room when I couldn’t. Putting on a brave face as I explained to my sons what was happening. 

The drive to her new home felt surreal. Was this really happening? How had we gotten to this point? I couldn’t explain it, but I knew that hundreds of people had been praying for us and this little girl for weeks, and this was where we were headed. It looked wrong and sad and hopeless, but all I could do was trust God that it was right.

The last half of the ride there, she was cooing, laughing, and singing in the seat behind me. It was the happiest I had heard her in weeks. And it nearly broke my heart. If she only knew where we were going. But I continued my brave charade as I kept driving toward her new home.

I brought her things into the house, then unbuckled her from her carseat and brought her inside. She immediately got uncomfortable and began to fuss in my arms. You see, she was used to me handing her over to strangers. Per court order, I had been doing it several times a week for nearly six months. And almost every time, she cried. Many times she screamed for several minutes before settling down. But I always came back.

How could she know that this would be the time I wouldn’t come back? She couldn’t, of course. But I knew. As I said goodbye that day, she was in a stranger’s arms, screaming and reaching out for me. I couldn’t sleep that night, as that scene kept replaying in my head.

She is with a family who loves her and is taking good care of her, and for that I am very thankful. It broke my heart that I was one more grown-up in her life who didn’t come back. But I prayed for this little one even before she was born, and I will continue to pray and trust that God is in control of her life even when everything looks so wrong.

RealityGoodbyes have a very different meaning for foster children. They are also one of the hardest things in foster parenting.

No, Daniel Tiger, grown-ups don’t always come back, because we live in a broken world. It’s not a world where Moms and Dads always do what is best for their children. And it’s not a world where the right decisions are always made by the people who are supposed to be protecting those kids.

Am I implying that children’s shows shouldn’t teach that grown-ups come back? Of course not.  So many things that are true for most kids are just not the reality for foster kids. There are so many hard things, but this has to be one of the hardest.

Foster care is filled with many beautiful and heartbreaking moments. All this month, I am sharing our experiences from my heart. Some of it is wonderful, some of it is not. It’s just how things are in the world of foster care.

Check out the other posts in this series:

How Foster Care Affects Your Biological Children

Foster Parents Are Not Superheroes!

What About the Parents of Foster Children?

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