1. Wow, I could never do that.
This goes along with:
"You're such a saint!"
2. Isn't it hard when they have to leave?
3. How long have you been doing that?
4. Don't you have to follow all sorts of rules?
5. Do you have to meet the parents?
And then from there the series of questions varies based on the person, though usually we cover how many kids we have, generalities about situations we've seen and behaviors, and usually something about what happens to the kids (adoption, kinship placement, return to parents, etc.).
Last Friday I was talking to somemone I work with but don't know very well and this topic came up. So, immediately began the questions...unfortunately I've become so accustomed to answering the same questions over and over again I didn't let her finish and her 1st question was actually something I hadn't been asked before, but it was a very valid question.
Q: Isn't it hard too...(I assumed...let them leave)...get used to them and bond with them when they come to your home?
Interestingly, this person is a little bit younger than I am and is either engaged or married but with no kids. Briefly, it didn't strike me that she was quite in that phase yet. So then I started thinking about it and all the people I've talked to about it have had kids themselves and therefore can picture the challenge of letting "your" child go. As I thought about it, sure enough as a child-free couple not yet into the phase of life where they are pursuing children, I bet one of the more curious questions is how they fit into your life...just as one of the biggest concerns about starting to build a family has to do with how having children will change your life. Interesting.
A: Having foster children join your home really does throw your life up in the air like one of those cartoons where they throw the pizza up in the air and it lands and the toppings land a little bit different (or, a lot different) than they were when they started. The first few weeks of a placement are pretty crazy, especially with your first few placements. But this is only temporary. Then, after you get into a routine, depending on the children and your family, it only takes a 2-4 weeks in our experience to start feeling like a family.
When we received our first placement - man that changed our lives. We went from having a 3.5 yr old to having a 1.5, 2.5, and 3.5 year old literally overnight one weekend. It was a Saturday night, so Sunday we stayed home from church to get used to everything and take care of getting the stuff we needed. I stayed home that Monday from work, in part to get used to it all and in part to take care of a few things, like finding daycare. We'd been licensed for all of a week! I remember thinking that Monday - there's no way I could go back to work! I literally forgot to eat all day that Monday purely from figuring out a new routine with 3 kids. I remember making dinner that night and not making enough for all of us - I was hardly used to cooking for 2 let alone 5! They were sick, I didn't know the system, and it was a bit overwhelming. Though it took 2-3 weeks for me to figure out for the dust to settle into normal routines (after doing initial doctor visits, caseworker visits, parent visits, ECI evaluations, finding daycare, etc.), it took no more than 3-4 days for me to be hooked on these kids. They called us mom and dad the day after they arrived. They only stayed 8 weeks, which felt like such a long-time because they were part of our family. They really were.
They went home before we received another placement. He was an 11 month old little boy who loved to sleep. The night he arrived as it got late he cried and cried. I was worried that he was sad and scared. I didn't know how he liked to go to sleep. I fed him a bottle and he was awake. So, I just put him in his bed. He rolled over and went to sleep. That's all he wanted - to be put in his bed. That all made life easier. So, we had our son and a 1 year old for about 6 weeks. After having 3, going to 2 with the additional one being "so easy" it was a piece of cake. All the system stuff was still new and took a while to figure out, but it probably only took about 2 weeks for life to settle down with him. He was "part of our family" at least by that time.
As we had more placements the time it took to get through the system-related chaos got down to about 1 week. We are now really used to how to work with doctors, therapists, the school, caseworkers, court, and parents. In a way, the chaos of having a new placement has become old-hat for us.
In terms of bonding with the children, it really depends on the child, their experiences, and their characteristics. Though you start to feel like a family after about 2-4 weeks (meaning, the child isn't a visitor in your home, they're like one of your own), the amount of time for you to actually bond to a child or for them to bond to you can be very different. In that way, sometimes foster care is kind of like a job - you have the job of parenting to do but not necesarily the heart emotion and connection like I have with my biological son - that can take time. We've had that develop with all of our kids, but some have taken longer. There's one in particular that we struggled to really bond with and that is related to the child's attachment issues and behaviors.
Surprisingly, at least to us, all of the kiddos have bonded to us as their family very quickly. They all call us mom and dad. Though all but one has had an ongoing relationship with their biological parents, all of them have at least sometimes have chosen us over their biological parents. There was the time with the first placements when mom had her first visit and afterward, while in her arms, they reached out to me and yelled MOMMY!. There was the time when at every visit if the little boy saw me in the foyer during the visit he'd crawl right to me rather than his parents. At our last visit with #4's parents we went to take a picture of them together and she wouldn't hold still in their arms long enough to take a picture - she wanted us. Then there's the current situation where at least 4-5 times a week I have to hear #7 tell me that he wants to visit his mommy and daddy but he wants to LIVE with us. When his attorney asked "if you could live anywhere in the world, where would you want to live" and he said "here. I want to be a Gxxxx".
Though our kiddos have all come with some level of hurt, brokenness, and in need of healing - we've found at least in the beginning all it takes is basic care - a hug, regular meals, a bedtime routine, etc. - and they almost instantly begin the healing process and start to trust you as their caregiver. Again, that's not to say there aren't deeper issues that they have to deal with and that is the case with all kids, it depends on the child and their trauma, but in our experience they have seen us as their family very quickly.