I’ve lost count of how many parents I’ve heard talking about how quickly kids grow up, and how you should appreciate every minute you have with them. As a teacher, I’ve always felt the same, and I’ve always been more than a little sad every time the kids I work with ‘graduate’ into a different class, school, or life adventure. For some reason though, I never really saw it coming with fostering.
I think maybe this is because when you have a placement, you have no idea how long it will last. The child may ultimately be reunited in the family home with their parents. The placement might just be a trial for all parties. The whole thing may just break down and be called to a halt for one of a hundred reasons or factors. With all of this in mind, you focus very much on the short term, at least until things begin to settle and pictures begin to form.
You also have to realise with a foster child, that just because that child has joined your family and you’re no doubt doing everything you can to integrate them into your life and home, that child may not respond in the way you may hope or expect. They certainly don’t owe you any kind of unconditional love, that’s for sure. As a result of all of this, you really don’t think about enjoying every minute – you think very much in the here and now, and you are always just a little bit on edge in preparation for something to happen that you just can’t control. It’s natural to assume though, that the longer you have that placement, the harder it’s going to be for you when it ends.
With The Boy, after just 10 months of living with us, the plan from day one had always been to work hard to ensure he had the option of going on to start at university after he’d finished his college studies. On the day he left to start that adventure, my heart broke.
I’ve since been ‘reminded’ by someone whose opinion I neither asked nor cared for, that “it’s not the same” as when other parents cry on university moving out/in day, because “he’s never been your baby”. Well I can’t argue with the biological facts of the latter half of that statement, but I still cried my eyes out when I got back in my car after spending the afternoon on campus moving him into his Halls.
Why did I cry? Was it that he was being taken away from me? No – he’s his own person and has made a logical choice to go and start a life at university. Was it that I was going to have to make the transition from spending every hour with him to not seeing him at all? No – whilst he lived with us he had a better social life and active calendar than I did and was rarely at home anyway!
Instead, the answer to why I cried was because I was caught up in a moment of transition and realisation. I’d played some part in helping this amazing lad build the structures he needed to go off to enjoy a life he’d deserved from day one; a life with a chance to succeed, a life of trying out new things, and a life of knowing that wherever and whatever he moves on to, there would always be someone back home who loves him and supports him. My role was complete.
The Boy would now need me less and less each day, after I’d tried to do in one year what someone should have been able to do for him for the previous 17. I’d done a good thing, I think, and while I was of course happy and proud, I felt an emptiness.
And so, going back to that most helpful and supportive of comments about it not being “the same”… I’d agree – it’s not the same, because in some ways, it’s so much worse.