When I meet people and discuss foster care the question that inevitably comes up (even in a five minute conversation while I’m working a booth) is “what if I get too attached?” And sometimes it is followed up with, “I just couldn’t give them back.”
Well, first, if you think you would be “too attached,” then you should definitely consider becoming a foster parent (I’ll circle back to that in a moment). And second, yes you would give them back. I know that the majority of people are well-intentioned and are not saying that wouldn’t return a child to their biological parents if it was court-ordered; they are simply making a strong statement to mean that they would not want to do it and it would be extremely difficult. I completely understand that. But they would (and could) do it, difficult though it would be.
Now let’s tackle the whole idea of being “too attached”. If you think that it is highly likely for you to feel so deeply and strongly about a child and his care, then you should absolutely look into becoming a foster parent. You can probably already imagine this, but as a child is being returned to biological parents, it is incredibly emotionally painful. And it is not a pain that will subside quickly. Or possibly ever. That’s where we get the notion of “too attached”.
But attachment is exactly what kids in foster care need. Many times, they have never had someone truly attach to them, nor have they had someone in their lives to whom they have a healthy attachment. As a result, they don’t know how to attach or even show that it’s what their hearts crave.
As foster parents, it is up to us to throw that lifeline to the kids in our care; the gift of attachment is something you can give children which they can carry with them for the rest of their lives…regardless of whether or not they are with you.
I understood early on in our youngest son’s case that he needed to know that we loved him and we would care for him as best we could; in other words, he needed to be attached. So, to garner that attachment, we held him all the time (even though he resisted being held when he first arrived). We talked to him, we looked him in the eyes and smiled a lot; we comforted him when he cried. Over time, he learned to enjoy being held; in fact, he is now possibly the biggest snuggle-bug you could ever meet. But both his enjoyment and understanding of comfort and affection were because he bonded with us and came to realize that we cared deeply for him; bottom line, he was attached…and so were we.
At the time of his placement (and for months afterward), we did not know he would be with us forever, but we worked to create the attachment between us because we knew HE needed it and the healing from his trauma would only begin to happen once we had the base of attachment. Even if the kids in foster care don’t realize that it’s the thing that’s been missing from their lives, to know someone and be fully known by someone is a deep need for all of us.
So yes, you might be “too attached” when your heart feels shattered as a child leaves your home, but all foster parents can be thankful and proud to have given the gift of attachment to a child…a gift which can be used for a lifetime.