There are things that you do with your children that you don’t do with other people’s children.
You play with them, but you probably don’t plant over-the-top raspberries on their belly that send them into wild fits and giggles. You hold them, but you probably don’t go all in with a deep and reassuring snuggle. There is an intimacy that you uniquely share with your children.
I didn’t give much thought to this until I became a foster mom.
In those first couple of weeks, I found myself keeping to a lot of those social norms regarding how to treat other people’s children, but then one Saturday morning, I remember reaching to pick up the Sandman and he looked up and smiled. He had probably smiled at me a hundred times before, but this one felt different. It was the same way L and F and G had smiled at me when they were babies.
I knew in that moment, that whether or not he was mine, I was his.
I realized that if I wasn’t planting over-the-top raspberries on his belly, nobody else was. If I wasn’t giving him all-in snuggles, he wasn’t getting them. If I wasn’t telling him he was loved, he wasn’t hearing it. If I didn’t tell him he belonged, no one else did.
He needed these things. Desperately. They are vital to the mental and emotional health of a child. Even at his young age, I knew he would be harmed if he didn’t have them.
It was in this moment that the walls I had put up to protect myself began to crumble. I couldn’t take care of him the way he deserved unless I was all in with him. He was all in with me. So, from that day forward I started making it a point to tell him everyday that I loved him and that we were his family. I smothered him with kisses every chance I got. I set aside time each evening to focus on talking to him and making him laugh.
The weeks continued to go by, and more and more it began to look like the Sandman wouldn’t be going anywhere. The man who was believed to be his father was not, and there were no other potential fathers named. His mother had not been in contact, and the mysterious “aunt” who was supposed to take him days after his placement had never surfaced.
It was a normal caseworker visit. She arrived at our home and took a picture of him as was her custom. Then I had to sign off on her visit and we chatted briefly about his development. Just as she was about to leave she added, “I have some good news! Mom gave us the name of a friend of hers and they will be doing a homestudy to qualify to foster him. So, it must be done within 30 days, and then he will be placed with the new family.”
It felt like the room was spinning.
Within a matter of minutes, we had gone from expecting that we would probably get to adopt the Sandman, to preparing to say goodbye.
Now, I can’t profess myself to be an expert on the subject, but I do feel that in the 30-day season of waiting for the homestudy to be complete, God did give me some wisdom in how to prepare our hearts for the Sandman’s transition to a new foster home.
1. Pray for your foster child’s new family.
I made a promise to myself at the beginning of our foster care journey that I would never pray that God would let us keep a child. There is no win-win. If the foster family adopts the baby, it means that the biological family is suffering terrible loss and brokenness. It means that the child will grow up with questions no child should ever have to ask. If the biological family is reunited it means that the foster family has to grieve, and that the child needs to experience yet another loss. So instead, I prayed for the Sandman to end up in a safe and loving home – even if that home was not with me. I prayed for the new family to know Christ, and for the Sandman to grow to know Him as well.
2. Talk about your foster child’s new family often.
For the sake of my other children I needed to make the Sandman’s transition to a new home a family affair, so we told the children right away that it was likely that the Sandman would be moving to a new family in a few weeks. There were tears at first, but as the days passed, they had questions.
Would the Sandman miss us? Would he be happy with his new family? I tried to always keep it very positive for them even if it was difficult for me. We were told there was a chance the Sandman may be living with his biological half-brother. So, I focused a lot on how happy he would be to get to grow up with his brother.
Would they get to say goodbye? We made a plan that they would make pictures he could take with him when he went to his new family, and that the day he left we would all lay hands on the Sandman and pray for him and that they would get to say a special goodbye.
3. Take pictures and video.
Pictures are a big deal with me. My babies’ milestones were all impeccably documented, and it dawned on me how much more precious these pictures would be to a family that wasn’t able to be there to see these baby stages with their own eyes. So, I try to take the Sandman for professional pictures every three months. I also try to take lots of pictures of just him, without other people. While pictures of all of us with him are precious to me, I understand that they probably would represent something very painful to his biological family.
My plan was that when he was placed with his new family, I would be able to include a CD in his package with photographs of him spanning all of the time they had been separated. In the event that we got to adopt him, he would be just as well-documented as my biological kids.
4. Teach your foster child a skill that will serve them well in their new home.
During his time with us, the Sandman had gotten a little spoiled at night. 🙂
At the time that we got the news that a new family may be taking over in 30 days, he was waking me about every two hours at night – even if it was just to receive a few cuddles before drifting back off to sleep. I really didn’t mind that much, but I figured that a new family probably wouldn’t be too keen on this particular habit. So, I decided that in preparation of letting him go, I would train the Sandman to sleep through the night.
Of all my tips, I actually found that this one helped a LOT. It made me a part of the “team” who was working to make the Sandman’s move successful, and by the end of the four weeks he was sleeping 6-8 hours at a stretch.
What better gift can you give to the new family than a smoother transition? If your child already sleeps well through the night, maybe you could work on picky eating or potty training? No matter what the child’s age or developmental level, there is something you can teach to ease the transition.
5. Prepare a package to send with your foster child when they leave.
Put together a few outfits in your foster child’s current size, a package of diapers and wipes, a can of formula, and perhaps a few favorite toys. Remember that your child’s biological family may not know what size clothes, shoes or diapers the child is wearing anymore. They may not know the current brand of formula, and a few toys that the child loves and knows can do a lot to ease his nerves as he makes the transition to a new home.
I also intended to include the pictures I mentioned earlier in my package, along with a note about his eating and sleeping routine, things he likes/dislikes, and just an expression of how much we love him and will be praying for him and their family. I also planned to include an email address just in case they ever wanted to contact me.
6. Make sure your records are up to date.
The Sandman would be transitioning just after turning six months old, so I made sure that he would have his six-month well check before the move took place, and that his case record was fully up to date. This may seem like a little thing, but speaking as someone who has adjusted to a new baby (times four), anything you can take off a new mother’s plate is appreciated!
7. Let yourself be excited for what God has in store for your family.
As the days grew short, I made up my mind that I didn’t want to spend that time in dread. So instead of focusing on losing the Sandman, I started to plan and prepare for the new foster child we would be receiving. I started to pray for that child, and allowed myself to be excited to meet him.
The morning that the 30-days were complete, I went to have the Sandman’s 6-month baby pictures done. While the photo shoot was bittersweet, I knew I would forever be thankful to have those images. As I drove home, I texted my support worker to see if there was any news on the homestudy, and within minutes, I received a response from the Sandman’s caseworker that the homestudy had been denied.
I was shocked. I had been completely convinced in my own mind that I was going to have to let him go. This is the roller coaster that is foster parenting!
So now, we are back to where we started – just taking it one day at a time. Tomorrow it all may change, but today we get to love him.