We got the call a few days before Christmas. For once, my Christmas shopping was done and we were preparing for a pretty stress-free holiday. Our last placement had been 9 months prior and the daily anticipation of a phone call from our agency had long since passed.
When we heard about a little girl who needed a home, we immediately said yes. We began the mental lists and “to do’s” of what were immediate needs for her and what we would need to roll through the holidays with another addition to our family. We excitedly picked up this sweet girl and walked into the unknowns that come with being a foster parent.
She was such a happy toddler. Our kids loved playing with her. She had such a sweet spirit and such pretty blue eyes. She won the hearts of everyone who met her.
I struggled to connect with her. At all. With our previous placements, it took a while to feel as though I had a healthy bond with each child. One took longer than the other, but eventually it happened.
But with this sweet blond-haired, blue-eyed sweetheart, daily life was such a battle. I was told she didn’t eat. Ever. But she loved food. She would stretch up on her tippy toes to grab any food that was within reach. She dumped countless bowls of food and cups of water on her face. It wasn’t that she was denied food in her home, she was just given it whenever she desired. Her lack of interest at meals was actually a lack of hunger. So we eventually stretched out the snacks, and she began eating her meals.
But finishing her string cheese and not being given a second could send her into a 45 minute tantrum.
It appeared as though she had never heard the word “no.” The meaning of it had never been taught. She didn’t speak yet and her known ways of communicating were through whining, shrieks and full-on tantrums.
Weeks and months passed, but the more time went on, the harder I found it to be near her.
She made lots of progress! She began signing and even learned new words. Her fits lessened and she began to understand life in our house, and we began to understand her more.
But my heart still struggled.
Love is a choice. I had to make a decision to choose to love her. I may not enjoy her—and she might even annoy me—but love is a choice, and this little girl deserved it.
Everyone deserves to be loved.
I had to mentally, physically and emotionally choose this daily.
There were days I was just done. I cried a lot. A lot of my ugly reared it’s head. I remember feeling that I had moved past being selfish about my time. I finally understood that my time and my priorities were mixed up with what God’s priorities were. But I still had moments where if I had to bend over and pick up another water spill I might snap.
Most people didn’t understand. After all, isn’t that what foster care is all about? Isn’t this what parenting is all about?
In the midst of it all, I asked these question many times.
Is this working? Can I do this for another month? Another year?
I battled in my heart for weeks. Am I being selfish if I tell the agency we are done? Am I failing her? Am I one more person who has let her down? Abandoned her?
In the end, we learned more about her case and did decide it was best to speak up and have her moved to a new home. She deserved to be in a home where she would be given more one-on-one attention. She craved it, and this mama couldn’t give her what she needed.
I packed up her things with probably a little more excitement than I cared to admit at the time. A few weeks later I dropped her off at the agency, where her new foster mom was waiting, and it got a little more real. And as I pulled away, the tears began. I sobbed off and on all day.
The inward battle was so real. Here I was, trying to help and protect children, and I failed her. Again. But I also knew that as her foster mom, by not being able to give her the love she deserved, I was also failing her.
Love is a choice. I had to choose to love her. I was exhausted, emotional and so frustrated I could scream. But it was a choice.
A choice that I didn’t make well.
I felt a lot of guilt for weeks afterwards. Maybe I just wasn’t cut out to be a foster mom.
I worried other people would think we just gave up. That we didn’t “like” her enough, or that we just aren’t cut out to be foster parents. “Isn’t this just normal toddler behavior?”
Recognizing that for one reason or another, I couldn’t bring myself to show this child love, and deciding to move her to a home that could provide that was the best decision for us all.
We almost closed our home. I even told our caseworker that we would be on hold for a while. I was done. I had too much fear that the same thing would happen with another child.
But as I looked back on the time she was in our home, I realized two things.
First, that love IS a choice. I wish I could say I powered through and chose to love her even when it was hard. Even when I didn’t want to love her; when I daydreamed about how much easier life was before she came. But rather than working on changing my heart and celebrating the daily successes, I let those daydreams distract me from the child in front of me—a child who desperately wanted to be loved.
Secondly, I realized if I was not able to bring myself to that place of loving when it was hard, that it was more loving to let her go. I’m not saying it’s loving to give up when you know you should try harder, but what I realized was that it wasn’t fair to this sweet girl who deserved so much more than I was choosing to give her. Some days, it was selfishness on my behalf. Other days it was desperation. But overall, I knew it was the right thing to do.
Although it’s hard for me to admit, I do not miss her. I still wonder about her. I still pray for her. I still wish that I had done things differently, but somewhere in my heart I knew she wasn’t meant to be ours. And that brings me peace.
As time went on, we decided not to close our home, but take a break. A few weeks later we talked about opening for respite. A few weeks after that we decided to open our home again. It was scary, but we took that step.
And guess what? This time it was different. We all fell hard this time for the sweet child who came into our home. Love came easier this time. And yet, there are still days when that selfishness still creeps in, and I have those “what if’s.” But just as each child is unique, so are the parents who parent them. And sometimes children may come into a home that just isn’t the right fit. Sometimes you won’t even be able to put a finger on the exact reason. And that’s ok. You are not a failure as a foster parent and recognizing this doesn’t make you another failed relationship to the child. You are a part of his or her healing, even if just for a moment. Love is a choice, and at the end of the day, choosing to love a child will never be a mistake.