Q: Isn't it hard to see them go?
A: The sentiment behind this question is also often intended when we hear its second cousin - "I could never do that...I would get too attached". The answer is both yes and no in our experience, mostly no.
Truthfully, we have only had one case (2 kids) go home so far and the situation surrounding that transition (foster parent lingo alert!) was a bit crazy, not because of the case as much as our life situation at the time, which really didn't allow us the time to grieve the loss. That being said, I strongly believe that through that situation and our reaction to it we were shown how much we were made for foster parenting. Nevertheless, I'll caution my answer with this caveat - every situation is different.
When you receive a placement [the child(ren) arrives in your home], there is a period of time where it is weird. You don't know anything about them and they don't know anything about you. It's a honeymoon period of sorts where you are figuring out how to live together. As good foster parents we do everything we can to incorporate our kids into our home, make them feel welcome and loved from the time they arrive, and then establish a new normal routine. This is kind of like when biological parents bring home a new baby from the hospital. Things have changed in their life and you have to establish the new normal. The difference is that with foster children they have an existing family and experiences that mean "home" to them and so it's not exactly the same as bringing home your own biological child straight from the hospital.
In our experience, it is strange at first. There isn't necesarily an immediate feeling of parental love and attachment - that has to build over time. In our experience, that bonding has happened very quickly, which has taught us or at least reminded us how important and impactful good parenting is for the development of a child. We're not super awesome cool parents. We have a dual-income home (and as the mom, not only do I work but I go to school too). We're not perfect by any means, but we consistently give our children safety, security, and basic needs like food, shelter, and love. All of our cases have been some form of neglect so far, so these things were lacking, at least to some degree (we don't know what degree and if we did due to confidentiality wouldn't share) and it has been amazing to see how quickly new children fit into our family and daily routine. In our case, it has only taken a few days, a week tops.
After that period of time we then move forward with life as normal and the children in our home feel like our own children. There are constent reminders that they aren't because of visits from a variety of folks, parent visits, special insurance, medical logs, and a variety of behavioral issues that you wouldn't expect from your biological children, but the feeling of being a cohesive family happens fairly quickly. Then on and on with daily life.
At some point there is a sense and then final notice that the children will be going home, which of course doesn't necesarily mean they will return to their old home with their own parents, though that is one option (I'll make a note to discuss that in another blog later). We have made it a point with each case to make it clear for everyone that we need notice when our children go home because we have another child that will always stay, forever, and we need time to adjust him to the idea that they will be "going home". So far, we've been fortunate enough to receive that courtesy, but there may be a time in the future where we don't get it. In the first case, we had 1 weeks notice. In one of our current cases, we've had 2 months to get used to the idea. That prep time is used for preparing our hearts for their departure and getting them used to the idea of moving on to their new place so that when the time finally comes we're able to move forward with our lives with the least amount of grief possible.
I can't say that there isn't any sadness - I can't imagine a case where you don't bond at all. At the very least there is a disruption in your home life so that can cause uncomfortable feelings. That being said, it really depends on a couple things. First, what are they returning to? Our first case they were returning to a relative they previously lived with who we knew loved them and they loved to be around. We knew that although we probably wouldn't have picked that as the best option for them, they would be ok. And we just trusted God to take care of them. (and, in that case I can follow along online to see the progress...that's not true of all cases). In the other case of the child going home we've had a great relationship with the biological parents the whole way. At this point we are rooting for them and want to see them succeed with parenting their child. So his returning home, though he will have been our longest placement (8 months), will be a celebration and we're talking with the parents about possibly establishing a friendship with them beyond returning home to keep that supportive relationship going for all involved. So, yes, it's sad a little bit but we're overwhelmed with happiness that this has worked out and he loves his parents and we're proud of them for making good choices to be able to care for their child. Depending on the circumstances of the case, though we're disrupted, we're able to be happy for the children that they will be stable and ok.
We've had one case so far where we were told the child would be going to a place we were not at all comfortable with the decision. Foster parents have some involvement in that decision, though not really much at all especially depending on the state officials involved. So, we can speak our mind but really don't have too much recourse or "rights" to make the plan ourselves. This is where involvement and influence are really handy. In the case I'm referring to I was angry and upset not because we'd be losing this child from our home but because I didn't feel it would be a safe place long-term. So we prayed. We prayed for her safety and wisdom for those deciding. We prayed for her long-term care and that we'd be ok with the decision. Two days later we received notice that the placement was disqualified and she would not be going there. We were overjoyed (and a bit saddened for the people who wouldn't be getting her).
Overall though, there are great benefits to having a child go home if you have peace about where they are going and you can trust that God will take care of them. For example, when our first kids went home, we went from 3 kids to 1 again...imagine how much more simple life is with 1 child vs. 3! (especially since at the time I couldn't walk due to a severe ankle injury). And, our son is a bit older and sleeps in. Yes! More sleep on the weekends! Easier trips to the grocery store. Not to mention the new and exciting possibility about getting a new call with new children and the excitement that goes with that. When our current placement goes home, we'll go from having "twin" one year olds to just having a 4 year old and a single 1 year old...that will be a piece of cake. And, we'll have the possibility of adding two more kiddos to our group. Sweet!
If this sounds crazy to you, you aren't alone. I'll write a post on that sometime too. But it isn't crazy to us (not now anyway!) and that is what tells us that we were made for such a time (and life!) as this.