The Joy and Sadness of a Foster Care Placement

Getting the call to ask whether you can take a child is a nerve-wracking experience. You’re on the phone, combing through all the questions you thought you should ask and wondering whether you’re prepared to care for this kiddo. Saying yes is terrifying and thrilling and terrifying and thrilling. After saying yes, I cycled from hysteria (how will I entertain a 7-year-old?) to rapture (I get to play with a 7-year-old!). I was told this is normal, but what do I really know? This is our first placement, our first foray into parenting.

Our own emotions, however, are mere shades to the turbulent ones of a kiddo who has been removed from her home and her family and almost everything she had ever considered her own. She’s sad, angry, cheerful, grieving, hopeful, desperate, silly, regretful, and resilient. Is she allowed to have fun here? Does that undermine her strong love for her home and her family? The loss of a home and a family and nearly all possessions is a big thing to deal with for adults—to a child, these losses feel more insurmountable because a child has such little control over his or her life.

When we received this kiddo into our home, our emotions were mostly positive ones of hope, love, and joy (notwithstanding the moments of panic). When this kiddo came into our home, her emotions were mostly negative ones of loss, anger, and sadness. This juxtaposition is difficult as we try to respect our kiddo’s boundaries and not smother her with the affection we absolutely feel for her. We let her decide when she was ready to hug us, when to kiss us. We asked permission to read in bed with her the first night (denied!) and to give her kisses goodnight just a few days ago (granted!). And just last night, we got our own goodnight kisses.

We’re still getting used to each other, but our main goal has been to validate all the different emotions she’s feeling, the good and the not-so-good. Even as we’re happy to have her, her being in our home is a loss to her. We are telling her that it’s okay to be both happy and sad that she’s here. She is, and we certainly are too. After all, her bruises are ours now too.

P.S. She told me she liked the curtains.

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