Being a foster parent is not for the faint of heart. A cycle of taking in broken, wounded little hearts, often just for them to get broken and wounded again — all while remaining “unattached” for the sake of their assured departure from your care — is a nearly impossible job for most to fathom undertaking.
And all that aside, how do you even begin to explain to a 3-year-old that they have a “new daddy” or “new mommy” in a way that doesn’t completely wreck their perception of what it means to be part of a family?
But moms like Deborah Sweet of Boston, Massachusettes do it every day.
In a powerful post submitted to Love What Matters, Sweet tells of the heart-wrenching moment her foster son broke down amidst a late-night kitchen dance party to tell her what’s been burning in his 3-year-old heart.
“Last night, we were having a dance party while I made dinner. Until we weren’t,” wrote Sweet. “This is how quickly the beat and the tempo changes in our home. For over ten years, a lifetime really, we have welcomed children into our family in need of a safe place to land. Our house is loud and fun and scheduled and chaotic and perfectly imperfect. We are a foster family.”
In the beginning, the two were singing, giggling and “shaking [their] wiggles out,” like all was right with the world.
“We were lost in the sound and the rhythm and the smells and we forgot to think and we forgot to worry. His three-year-old body moved to the beat as he kept pace with his own reflection in the oven door. He was happy. He. Was. Happy.”
…Until he wasn’t. The little boy’s demeanor changed in an instant, as he was immediately overwhelmed with a wave of sadness.
“And then all of a sudden he was sad. I missed him calling my name. I was still caught up in his joy. I felt the tug on my sleeve and looked down to find him standing motionless. His mouth was moving but I couldn’t make out his words. His quiet body in the noisy room caught me off guard. I bent down to find his voice.”
“I miss my other daddy,” he lightly whispered.
While the beat of the music still blared through the kitchen, the weight of his grief was a “sudden rival.”
“I felt the oxygen thin. His little body looked vulnerable. I couldn’t imagine how exposed his heart felt.”
Her foster son had been in her care for 186 days, but it had taken him this long to muster up the courage to tell her what had been on his mind.
The questions plaguing Sweet’s mind were endless…
“How do we explain this loss to him? How do we teach him that sometimes goodbyes mean for now, but other times they mean forever? 186 days is a giant amount of time in the life of a three year old, but how much longer will it be before his body and mind and heart learn to forget the lessons that the abuse and neglect and loss have taught him?”
She explains that as parents, our gut instinct to provide, protect, and heal can often make it harder for us to swallow the pill that some wounds are beyond remedy.
“The loss of a primary caregiver is a primal wound. There is no remedy. There is no distraction. There is no bandaid or central location to kiss the booboo and move on. There is no moving on.”
So instead of “kissing the booboo,” she SAT with the pain…
“Right there on the kitchen floor. We felt it together. We let the sadness win. We let the air feel heavy. We let dinner run late. We let our guards stay down. We let our new connection to one another meet in the place the grief lives.”
After what felt like an eternity, but probably amounted to ten minutes, her foster son peeled his little head up from her lap and said, ‘This is the love song.’
“Last night, right there on the kitchen floor amidst the buzz of the dinner hour on a busy weeknight, we let the music play on…”