Love Them One Day at a Time: Letting Go of a Child or Youth

As a former foster parent, I was inundated with advice and unsolicited reminders that my time with “Johnny” was to be short-lived and definitely temporary. In my head, I was aware of this fact, and I actually wanted that to be and stay true.

After seven short months, caring for that 9-year-old began to alter the rational and logical thinking that I had held about his permanency from the beginning. I began to wonder how we might get along in two years, three years. I began to imagine him at various ages and at significant developmental milestones. Friends and family noted that my intentions and energies were shifting, as much as I tried to deny it to them (and to myself). Somewhere deep inside, I knew it was true.

Decades later, and after many significant and profoundly meaningful experiences working with children and families, I have come to understand the benefits and healthfulness of children and youth living and growing with their parents of origin. Though no caregiver can offer their child a perfect experience and no child will grow up without experiencing various hardships, children, if safe, can flourish and grow into healthy adulthood in far greater numbers with their family than if they grow into adulthood outside the homes of their primary caregivers (parents).

Read about another foster parent’s similar experience and consider how her therapist’s suggestions might inform your situation:

“She [the biological mother] is exhibiting the desire to raise this child, to change her life,” my therapist said. “We have to root for that. If we don’t root for that, we’ll be doing harm to another person. And we can’t do harm to another person to get what we want. That’s not who we are.”

“But what if it is who I am?” I asked.

“You have to take the high road, or you will perish,” my therapist said. “You need to shift your thinking. You need to start cheering for her [the mother], for this human who has suffered so much. Then, if she makes it, if she gets her child back, you will walk away clean. Will you be sad? Yes. But you won’t be sad and mean.”

I couldn’t speak.

“Think about it this way,” she added. “This child might save this mother’s life, and you don’t need your life saved.”

Source: Sentilles, S. (2021, August 30). “How’s our girl?”: On loving a foster child and letting go. The New York Times.