I’m no stranger to goodbyes. We have had twenty kids come through our home through foster care in the last three years. Each of them we loved. Each of them we cherished. Some for a few days, some for a few months, and two very special brothers for almost three years. We are supporters of reunification. In fact, our goal is that every child who enters our home is able to return to parents or kin as quickly as possible. We celebrate each family restored. But honestly, after three years with these two very special kiddos, we were shocked when we had to say a very hard and very sudden goodbye.
There were times in the last three years that we thought adoption was on the horizon. There were other times in those three years where we had packed up all their belongings anticipating a court date that would declare it was time for reunification. To be honest, with both anticipating adoption and anticipating reunification there was grief and certainly confusion at how to feel, what to do, how to prepare.
We had said goodbye to other kiddos. We had prepared our hearts for goodbye with these boys too. We talked about it as a family. We talked about it with the boys. We were always honest (in age appropriate ways) about timelines, plans, and hopes of reunification. They knew that a grandparent in another state was doing everything she could so that they could live with her. They were excited.
Still when it came time for goodbye, it was somehow more devastating than I could have imagined. It hit like a ton of bricks. It was somehow still surprising even though I saw it coming. Even though we had been talking about it. Even though we were told this was coming. I’m not going to lie, the end of the case was messy. There were emergency decisions made. There were surprises. But still, reunification was always the plan. Grandma was always the plan. And we fully supported it.
We quickly packed bags, gathering clothes and artwork and favorite toys and toothbrushes. We did loads of laundry and packed presents that were ready for Christmas. We held back tears as we shared the good news that they were going home! The joy was apparent, priceless. But it was also painful. For us. If I have learned anything from foster care it is that we can always hold more than one emotion at a time. We have the capacity and complexity as humans, as adults, to celebrate the beauty and hold the brokenness of foster care at the same time. We can hold gift and grief together, fear and faith. We can celebrate the true and deep goodness of a family restored and also the deep sadness that we feel at the dissolution of our sweet temporary family.
Waving at our beloved boys in the back of a car driving away from us possibly forever was heart wrenching. I cried selfish tears. But seeing huge smiles as they knew they were moving to live with Grandma, the hard fought-for goal of the last three years, was at the same time heart-filling in magical ways!
We still don’t know if we will hear from them or see them again. We hope we do. We also have accepted that we did our part, a chapter is closed. We fulfilled our role in the season that we were given. So much in foster care is out of our control. We don’t get to choose the timeline or the outcomes as foster parents. It can be frustrating. But, for our family, we still choose to show up and play our part. We try to roll with the punches. We try to be flexible. We risk our own discomfort so that children and youth can have a safe and stable place to land. We are brave. Of course, kids are braver.
I try to hold this wisdom from Brene Brown close, “Strong back. Soft front. Wild heart.” Goodbyes don’t get easier. There are still moments that I lose it when I feel the ache of missing our boys. There are still moments where I feel like I can’t do this again. But, there are still children in need of homes, temporary families. And I still have a home to offer, a family with love to share. So with a strong back and soft front, I’ll show up and risk getting hurt. With a wild heart, I will love even though I know that the goal is to say goodbye.