My name is Jamie. I’m a foster mom. And I get “too attached.”
It has to be the reasoning I hear most often from would-be foster parents: “I could never do that. I would get too attached.” Well, that makes two of us. Attachment is the whole point of this, after all. Kids don’t just need homes and food and “caretakers.” They need families. Families who are willing to give these kids their hearts, love them as their own and get “too attached.”
We misuse the word “attachment” to mean something more like “bond,” but it’s so much more than that. It’s not a sentimental feeling (as in “oh I love that teddy bear”); it’s a foundational skill (as in “oh, now I understand what mother means”). Attachment is vital to human development. It’s the force that teaches a child “the world makes sense, my needs will be met, people are trustworthy.” It’s the scaffold for every other relationship a child will form, the basis of every interaction a child will have with the world around him. And it takes (at least) two people to make it happen. This means that on the other side of this all-important learning is a space waiting for someone willing to step in and get the job done. Love is costly–attachment is costly–and it takes a person willing to absorb the cost of it, someone who’s willing to spend up their heart on this lofty and worthy price tag.
Getting attached to a child who will most likely leave means living in tension. It means freely releasing your heart–where you love and feel and connect–but holding the reins on your mind–where you plan and hope and daydream. Your heart and your mind are two different things, and you can operate them separately. I can desperately want a child to stay, while believing it’s best for him to leave. I can love a child as my own, while knowing that he isn’t. And that’s the bottom line: he isn’t. God created the family, and it is sacred to Him. Broken families are a broken reality of the whole and perfect picture He created. But He is all about restoring what sin has broken, and I want to be a part of that, when at all possible. For me, being a foster parent is about playing a role in His redemptive work on earth. What a privilege to get to be a part of something so big and beautiful.
But I’m not superhuman with some special skill that the “I would get too attached-ers” lack. After five years and 22 kids, my husband I have learned to embrace it: when you love these kids hard and well, when you love them as your own, heartbreak is inevitable. Saying goodbye is hard when you say it…and before you say it…and after you say it…and sometimes forever. It’s a unique kind of loss, the kind where the person you lost keeps on living–just without you. I carry deep and daily grief with me. I cry. I mull over happy-memories-made-sad by missing characters. I live with a stomach that doesn’t quite know where it belongs, sometimes sitting in my throat and sometimes dropping to the ground.
My children–two who are mine through biology and two who are mine through adoption–grieve as well. They, too, are part of the attachment dynamic, and they, too, cry and remember sadly and deal with a flip-flopping stomach. They talk often about their “brothers” and “sisters” who they’ll never see again. But they also understand–as much as their tender ages allow them–that what we gave each child was “worth it.” And they continue to vote, each time, to welcome a new child and get too attached all over again. You could see it as a cycle of repeated loss. We choose to see it as a cycle of repeated love. We get to do this again for another child.
And the children who leave our home? They deal with the inevitable loss of losing family yet again. This whole thing is–at its core–broken. But, along with their loss, they carry with them the gift of attachment. They take with them the love we poured into them and the picture we’ve given them of what family is and can be. In our getting “too attached,” they get to learn what attachment is.
But maybe, after all I’ve said here, I’m changing my tune. Maybe I don’t get “too” attached, after all. Because, really, I don’t think there is such a thing. I don’t believe you can give too much of your heart, love too much, provide too much care. In matters of the heart, there can be sacrifice and loss and pain, but there’s never too much. I’ve decided to stop worrying about my heart. I’ve chosen not to hold and hoard, but to be gloriously, stupidly generous with it. I believe that love and attachment are the greatest gifts I can give to my foster children, so I give them freely.
I get attached.