Grieving With Your Foster Child

It’s easy to start getting used to the stories and statistics.

Abused children.

Neglected children.

Abandoned children.

Children who have been exposed to domestic violence,

drug and alcohol abuse,

poverty;

Children who have lost every thing and every one.

We hear it every day.

But every now and then,

I look at the sweet faces in my own home and imagine them wearing these stories…

and it’s devastatingly, painfully real.

Or I read through the social histories of my own children and tears blur the black and white testament of their pain.

I see my foster child’s mother’s name inscribed in the local newspaper and watch the hopes I had for her die away as she once again caves to her addictions while I tuck her child into bed in my home tonight.

It’s not hard to find the stories.

It seems to be what people want to know about foster care.

Why is it we are pulled like curious onlookers to these children and their pain?

One more baby is left alone in the hospital NICU, with no parent by their side.

One more little girl comes to school with bruises on her body and emptiness in her eyes.

One more little boy raids the pantry for food while Mommy falls asleep on the couch or gets high with her friends.

One more teenager is moved to yet another foster home as they push away the people who want to help them, lashing out angrily at the world that has betrayed them, hurt them, abandoned them.

One more son grows up knowing his daddy is in prison.

All these scenarios are common in foster care.

They are normal.

Children in care regularly go months without seeing their parents, while the slow wheels of the system spin toward a future that involves separation.

Children in care regularly travel to and from visits that are cancelled at the last minute by a birth parent who ‘had something come up.’

Children in care are regularly plucked from their homes and moved in a matter of hours, often with little or no familiar belongings accompanying them.  No favourite stuffy, no familiar clothing, no pillow or worn-in sneakers.

I get so used to these scenarios, until something happens and it hits me again.

The grief bursts inside, constricting my chest with the heaviness and pain of it all.

The little face I kiss goodnight has spent so many hours smeared in tears and unwashed stickiness.

Those eyes that stare up at me, laughing and bright, have witnessed anger, fear and violence.

Those arms that pull at me, grabbing for my attention, have been yanked and bruised and pushed aside.

They’ve seen too much,

heard too much,

felt too much.

It’s painful to read the accounts and know that they are true and there is nothing I can do to erase those moments.

Sometimes I read my children’s stories and I feel like I will drown beneath the weight of their reality.

It can feel so hopeless and unfair.

It’s painful to grieve their lost innocence and to know that one day they will want to read for themselves the cold, hard facts of their story…and that in that moment nothing I say will erase that pain.

I wait and pray with my children for their parents to heal, to return, to want them more than anything else in the world.

I wait and pray with them for someone to be the one to help their parents  get sober, disciple them toward healing, drive them to treatment.

I claim God’s promises over them each night, my forehead pressed against theirs, for a future filled with hope, for strength and courage, for eyes to always see them as He does.

I never want to get used to the pain they have lived through and carry even now in their hearts and sub-conscience.

It’s not okay.

Even while they are safe here in my arms,

I want to learn how to grieve with them.

To cry because they have not always been held.

To ache because they have not always been protected.

To listen without answers because they have not always been heard.

To forgive because they have not always been given an example to follow.

I don’t want to push it aside just because it is too painful to hold up to the light.

I don’t want to hide it under the stuff of today, forgetting to put in context their frustrations and anger over a life spiralling out of their control.

They deserve to be seen, in the entirety of who they are and where they have come from.

I may not have any answers.

It may hurt to face up to the giant realization that I cannot fix this for them.

But I can sit with them in their grief.

I can be present in the sadness and give them the gift of my larger hands cradling this too big world of brokenness for them.

I will carry this for you.

I will hurt with you.

As long as you are here, you do not need to feel all of this alone.

~AF