Unprepared Loss: An Open Letter from a Former Foster Parent

Unprepared Loss: An Open Letter from a Former Foster Parent

Kristy Blagg was a foster parent for four years before adopting her two children in 2016. Now, Kristy uses her first-hand knowledge and passion for youth in foster care as a family recruitment specialist at Cornerstones of Care. Kristy wanted to share her experience to help other foster parents acknowledge, prepare for and heal from the loss that can come with fostering.

“Oh, I could never do foster care. I would get too attached.” So many people we talked to about fostering said this to us. We rolled our eyes, believing that foster care is meant to be temporary. We knew they would leave us. The fear of a child leaving our home did not deter us. We were prepared to be there for when the kids needed us, to love them while they were with us, and to send them on their way once it was time for them to return home or go to a more permanent place. The more people that discouraged us, the more determined we became to do what everyone else said they were incapable of.

Having only parented a Chihuahua before fostering, we were scared. We did not know if we would be good at parenting. We did not know if we could handle all the scary behaviors we had heard might come with kids in foster care. We knew we had the hearts to be of service to others. We had our eight-week training, our home study, and our own wild youths to prepare us. Our intention was to take in one kid and see how it went.

Within three weeks, we had four children, under the age of five living in our home. A sister and brother came, followed by three-day-old twin girls. Everyone thought we were crazy. Many people doubted us. “How can you go from zero to four in a month? You don’t know what you’ve gotten yourselves into.” Their concerns did not fall on deaf ears, but we were doing it. And we continued to for over a year.

With each passing day, we saw all four kids make progress. The behaviors and barriers with the older kids decreased quickly. They began to thrive, to love and trust us unconditionally, and each of their accomplishment made our hearts swell with pride. Knowing we were a small part of their successes made each obstacle worth it. We were not aware how much we would actually gain from fostering. We had set out to help them, and here they were helping us and making our lives so full.

The babies grew as babies do. We did skin-to-skin contact with them so they could form attachments. We googled, asked friends in the social service field and nurse friends how to best bond with them. There were long nights of little or no sleep, maternity leave from our jobs, and witnessing their daily growth and milestones.

With each passing month, our comfortability and confidence as parents grew. We loved each of the four kids with all of our hearts. Our lives that had seemed selfish before suddenly felt full of purpose and blessed beyond measure. Each day we fell in love more with each child. This came naturally and mutually. The longer they stayed, the more we felt like a family.

During this time, the court systems and biological families seemed inconsistent to us. There was speculation of trials being set to terminate parental rights and comments made regarding us adopting the kids. Anticipation would build, and then something would change. We felt we had no control over the situation or the outcome of whether the children stayed or went. In reality, we didn’t. Our anxiety grew as the time came closer for them to leave and as it became apparent the children would eventually return to their biological families.

This is the goal of foster care. This is what we expected. This is why we fostered. By all means, this was a success story. The children were no worse off as a result of being with us for a year, our lives had gained so much love, the parents got their lives back on track, and the kids were ready to return to their homes. This was the stuff that foster care movies are made of! Everything went great!!

And then as quickly as they came, they were gone.

Our house was full to the brim with baby cribs, toddler beds, kids’ clothes, toys, and baby and kid food. Our schedules were no longer packed with pick-ups, school events, and doctors’ appointments. We felt a quiet emptiness at home with only the Chihuahua left to cuddle.

We had not prepared ourselves for that loss. We did not take the time to look at how we had grieved in the past. We were unprepared for the feelings that came with the children leaving. Suddenly, everyone else’s statement, “I would get too attached,” made so much painful sense. We were left with an empty home and empty hearts.

Because we were unprepared to deal with that loss, we naturally turned to old coping skills. We no longer had kids who needed us to be focused and healthy. We needed distractions from the pain and loss we were feeling. And so we turned outwardly, away from each other, to ease some of that pain. Distance and resentment grew between us as we both tried to handle the loss of what felt like our children.

Selfishly, we thought, “What was it all for? We used all our time off at work, our money, our sleep, our energy for these kids who won’t even remember us. Our hearts will forever be with them, and they won’t even have a memory of us in their hearts. It was all for nothing. And here we are, left empty at the end of it.” We even wondered if fostering had been worth it or more than we could handle.

 A few weeks went by, and we did some research. We learned the attachment we formed with the kids would last their whole lives. Even for the little babies. Every time we held them, responded to their cries, snuggled and sang to them, they grew a bond. That bond will help them form healthy attachments and trust. Knowing this helped to ease the pain. We also had all the memories of our time together to last us our whole lives.

Soon a call came to foster two little ones with the potential for them to be up for legal adoption later. We were very hesitant to accept more kids into our home, fearing we would have another heartbreak. We also knew how many variables had to fall into place in order for us to adopt. We hesitantly agreed to have the kids come, as we were still trying to mend from our previous heartbreak and loss. We quickly made our minds up to not think about the possibility of adoption, but to be present and love them for as long as they needed us.

About a year later, we adopted our two babes. We can never repay this gift that we have been given. We will spend our whole lives advocating for all the children that need homes and love.

The impact you will have on the lives of these kids will far outlast any loss you feel when they leave. Our pain is not measurable to their need. Your fear of losing them should not be greater than your fear of what will happen to them if no one takes the risk of loving them. For those of us that think, “This isn’t a good time for me,” please consider that this isn’t a good time for them either. If we all go into this with open, selfless hearts, our lives will be forever changed for the better. You are capable, and they are there, waiting for your love and consistency. Give yourselves — and these beautiful children — that chance.

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