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On Loving and Letting Go: A Foster Mom's Dilemma After a Year With Her Child.

A year ago today, I received my first long-term placement. The pandemic was in full swing, I was terrified of getting sick, and I felt the risk of complications was too high for someone with chronic health issues. I was not interested in having someone in my home who went to school in-person every day during the pandemic. My new teen also had reason to learn remotely, which made me feel more comfortable taking her in.

My foster teen wondered why she needed to be moved again to another foster home. She had done no wrong, but it became clear to me early on that she was holding a lot of guilt for circumstances which were neither her fault nor under her control. We worked on addressing that, along with her confidence in herself. I also wanted to make sure that my home would be the last before she reunited with her family of origin.

During our time together, we celebrated each of our two birthdays through Zoom parties with family and friends, went camping a few times, walked around a thousand-year-old archeological site, and learned about her natural hair and taking care of it. (My child is African American, and has received messages from our society that her natural hair was something to disdain. I wanted to change that for her.) We also celebrated a number of holidays, such as Juneteenth, Thanksgiving, the Christmas season, Kwanzaa, Three Kings Day and Easter. I wanted to be sure that my child had a well-rounded understanding of the holidays, especially those connected to her own heritage.

Over the last year, I have seen my foster child grow and mature. She now has a better understanding of how to care for her hair, has greater confidence in herself and her abilities, knows healthy ways to cope with unpleasant situations, and possesses a larger support system. She has reached all of her milestones, and she recognizes how strong she is. I sm so proud and happy to see the progress, and to have been that last person before she went home.

She is gone. I mourn the loss of my maternal relationship, of the daily routine we had down, of being able to give her a goodnight hug. I miss her playing with my cats; they miss that, too. Her goofy ways remain close to my heart. The letting go process is not a barrel of laughs; it's more like a barrel of tears. We have cried and hugged and reminded ourselves that this was a good step in my teen's life. That's true, but it only really numbs the pain.

I watch the show 911, and the past few episodes involved the process of reunification from the foster parents' perspective. At many points I was under the impression that someone was spying on me and my child, and then putting all of that out in the open for all to see. Seriously, I think the representation was a balm for the wound on my heart.

So, if it's so painful, would I ever do it again? In a heartbeat. Well, maybe two heartbeats. There is a multitude of reasons why. First, loving and letting go is part of the process. The foster, now also called resource, parent is meant to help with the healing and growth of the child and then facilitate the reunification process. I have done this, and I am glad to have had the opportunity to be a part of her life.

Second, loving and letting go is kind of what I have done for years: burying two daughters; teaching and mentoring students; and being a bonus mother to my cousin's child. It doesn't get easier, but perhaps aside from that first example the goal is to help the person get to a point where she no longer needs me. Watching my teen build her tent on her own and wave me off whenever I offered assistance was a perfect symbol of that, especially since the first time we went camping she had harbored no belief in her ability to complete the task. I sat down and thought to myself, it's time. She is ready. I hope that her family can heal its wounds as a unit.

A third reason I would do this again is that I have an amazing support system, and so many of the members within that system have fully embraced my choice and my child. Our family has expanded even as my teen sees that hers has as well. Perhaps "I," is not as valid as, "we." We have support. Even from afar, our support system found ways to show my teen that she is loved by so many. And she is adored quite well also. That goofy manner about her brings smiles to many faces.

A final reason why I would do this again is that there are so many children in the foster care system who just need loving and open homes, and not enough homes have been made available to take them in. My child is a teen and a person of color, two factors which made her less likely to find a foster home much less a long-term one. These children are perceived to be more difficult to handle than younger ones. I have found that belief untrue. Children who are also parents and those who are members of the LGBTQIA+ populations are further affected by the feeling of many current and prospective foster parents that such children are sinners or unclean. In contrast, I begin with the fact that they are children in need of loving, welcoming families. I'm not concerned about the details of their identities as traits to consider when deciding whether to take someone in, though I intentionally attempt to ensure that they have representation in my home.

Last night, my foster child went home. I have mixed emotions: proud; worried; joyful; sad. I need to take some time to process. And then I plan to do it all again!


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