A Foster Family’s Grief

We have had children moving in and out of our house for a few years. We have been hugely criticized and questioned about why we decided to accept temporary child placements. Many kind, well-meaning people believe that the grief that inevitably comes when children must leave will be too painful for our little ones to process. I have never understood this mindset.

Why should we be excused from pain?

For some reason, we have this idea that pain, suffering, and heartache are some sort of personal offense. That we don’t deserve to have anything uncomfortable in our lives. That sorrow is unfair and unreasonable. This idea is especially true of parents trying to protect children.

We, as parents, shield children on every front. We rescue them from bad grades, from conflict with friends or teachers. We excuse them from being appropriate because they are too shy, too sensitive, too little, too scared. Because they are young, we seem to think they shouldn’t have to deal with anything remotely uncomfortable.

And really, all this over-protective mentality does is raise up a generation of people unaware of how to handle normal-life conflict. And completely incapable of appropriately dealing with grief. This idea of keeping children from any pain removes their capacity to understand that pain is a part of life. They will have to deal with it at some point.

I refuse to raise children within a world of fantasy. Because it is a fantasy to believe that our family should never have to deal with any hurt. Isn’t it just a form of arrogance to assume my children are so special that they should not have to experience sadness?

I had a friend question me quite extensively about this subject. She was under the impression that our adopted children needed to be shielded because of their life experiences. I disagree. It is so easy to forget about other people’s pain when we don’t see it. It is too easy for us to get comfortable when presented with comfort. This is true for us. This is true for our kids, adopted or not.

What I have found is that I want my children to experience ALL of life. The happiness, the excitement, the wonder, along with the hurt, pain and grief. I want them to experience it now so it doesn’t surprise them later. Of course there are times I wish I could save them from what is dirty, difficult, hard, painful.

But then I remember: My job is not to save them from life. It’s to prepare them for it.

Preparation (to me) means teaching the kids not just what I want them to know, but also, what they need to know…even if it is hard.

They need to know that even though I think they are special and should never experience pain…they will. They are human, just like you, and just like me. They are not so special and wonderful that they are excused from life.

And part of life is grief. I avoid it, but it always finds me when children leave. It finds my children too. And we embrace it, for a time. It leaves us a little stronger and a little wiser and a little more sensitive to grief in others.

So, yes, we knowingly, on purpose, allow our children to live a life of joy and excitement with new children moving into our home and family. Which means we also allow them to experience the grief that inevitably follows when their temporary siblings depart. Grief is not strange or abnormal. It is life. And I will not and cannot protect them from all of it.

Christy Irons is a mother of eight. Five were adopted from foster care, two were adopted internationally.

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Christy Irons
About Christy Irons 5 Articles
I am a mom of 8. (5 through foster-adopt, 2 adopted internationally, 1 homegrown) I stay at home with our tribe. I write occasionally. I LOVE adoption. It is my favorite subject.