Getting attached is not bad thing for foster parents; don’t fear it, embrace it

Guest Opinion

As a foster parent, I am surprised by how often I hear the objection “I could never do that, I would get too attached.” If you’ve thought this before, let me suggest that you might make the ideal foster parent. Seriously. Consider signing up, there are children who need your heart.

You see, getting attached is exactly what kids in foster care need. In the old days, foster parents were told not to get attached, because the kids would eventually be leaving. It was thought that getting attached was a bad thing, because it would hurt too much when it was time to go.

The problem with this thinking is that attachment is what relationships are all about. Children learn how to form and maintain relationships in life—with friends, family, a spouse, their own children—by seeing that unshakable bond demonstrated by loving adults who care about them.

One of the core needs we all have is to feel loved—to have the sense of belonging and self-worth that comes from knowing someone cares about you. What must it feel like to not have that? I want to protect kids from ever feeling that way, not perpetuate it. And we do that by caring enough to get attached.

Foster parents may have a child in their home for a week, a month, or sometimes longer if the courts deem it necessary. Regardless of the details of each case, children who are in foster care have just as much need for someone to care about them as any other child—maybe even more so.

While the goal of foster care is always to reunify the child with their family if and when it’s safe and healthy to do so, in the meantime, these kids need someone who cares enough to ask how school was today. They need someone who cares enough to actually listen when they want to tell you all about it. And they need someone who cares enough to be both heartbroken and happy for them if they are able to return safely to family.

So how do foster parents deal with the loss of children going back home? First, there is often an opportunity to build a connection that can last a lifetime. Just because kids leave your home doesn’t mean they have to leave your heart and your life. Depending on the age of the child and how deeply you were able to impact their life during their stay in your home, you may even get the honor of being someone they will always want to stay connected to.

Second, it’s important to remember that no matter the length of a time you have with a child, you have a chance to make lasting memories that will guide their understanding of themselves and adults for the rest of their lives. Whether you’re pouring much-needed love into an infant, toddler, school-age child, or teen, every moment with them is an opportunity to influence the trajectory of their young life.

So getting attached is not a bad thing. Don’t fear it; embrace it. Use it to speak love into a child’s life, and the occasional broken heart will never be in vain.

Sign up to get more information about becoming a foster parent: www.icwrtc.org/get-involved or call the Idaho Careline at 211.

Attend an informal information meeting in your community to learn more: www.icwrtc.org/events/info-meetings

Kevin Harper and his wife have been foster and adoptive parents for children from infants to teens for 14 years in two states. He helps to recruit, train and mentor new foster parents in Idaho. Kevin can be reached at 249-8893 or kharper8@ewu.edu.

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