Last night my wife and I said goodbye to our sweet fifteen-year-old foster daughter. We had an awkward driveway goodbye, quick hugs, stiff faces, and a bunch of I love yous.
We made it two blocks before the tears started hard and fast.
My wife Ashlea and I knew these moments existed, we’re trained for it, and had heard the goodbye stories of other foster families.
The truth is that not all foster care stories end with streamers and adoption parties. And honestly, reunification is something to celebrate.
A Loving Home for Teens in Foster Care
My wife and I want to provide a safe, stable, loving home for teenagers in foster care, no strings attached. We know all of this, believe it, and embrace it as our personal mission which means there is no bias or push towards adoption.
We want to help teens.
When our fifteen-year-old foster daughter came into our home almost a year ago we made a promise to her. We told her she would always have us.
She would always have a room, a roof, and our love. We would be relentlessly forgiving and supportive. We would be kinder than necessary and love with abandon.
We had our foster teen for just under a year. Some days felt impossibly long and painful. Other days were filled with so much laughter and joy they seemed to last forever.
Forever days filled with park bench KFC dinners, lazy pajama mornings, late-night Roblox marathons, high school choir concerts, and ridiculous Snapchat selfies. For every bad day we had at least ten good ones.
But the whole thing ended so quickly, almost as quickly as it started.
And it did start quickly–like that day last May when we got a call from Hope & Home’s placement line and a wild-haired 14-year-old girl showed up on our doorstep with just the clothes on her back.
Which brings us to yesterday. Goodbye day.
We loaded up our vehicle with giant plastic bins, each one packed to the brim with stuff our teen had accumulated over the past year: books, stuffed animals, nail polish, clothes, shoes, and other random things.
My wife collected little bits of “memory treasure” over the past year and stuck them in a mason jar in preparation for this day. The three of us sat at our wooden kitchen table and spread out the cache.
We sorted through dollar theatre ticket stubs, dried flowers, bracelets, plane tickets, postcards, rocks, and other little knick knacks. When we were done reminiscing, we put her little white hamster named Snowball in the backseat of our SUV and drove together to our teen’s new home.
It was after a sort of ceremonious final day filled with Dutch Brothers, over-easy fried eggs, Spotify, frisbee, and Qdoba. We assured our foster teen over and over that we would see her again, that we were still in her corner–that we had her back.
We reminded her our promise had no expiration date.
Over the past year my wife and I worked hard to develop a relationship with our foster daughter’s biological family. In full confession Ashlea, my wife, was much better at this than me. Ashlea was full of grace, understanding, and empathy.
A few months ago our foster daughter’s extended relatives surfaced and we included them in everything. We invited them to sporting events, concerts, updated them on medical concerns, and printed out photos for them.
My wife and I realized that by fostering a teen we were fostering this bonus family, accepting all their quirks and craziness.
Each new month brought with it the ebbs and flows of permanency. We talked about adoption, APR, plan this and plan that. We learned a dictionary’s worth of foster-care acronyms, perfected our presence in court, and became master schedulers.
There was a constant jockeying for who might become our foster daughter’s forever home and, for a period of time, my wife and I let our hearts feel that it might be us. But we always rooted for our teen’s biological family.
It was messy and awkward and hard and, if I’m being honest, I didn’t think reunification with biological family would actually happen. But then it did.
So tonight, my wife and I are sitting here on the couch, in a quiet house, but we wouldn’t change a thing. When children are safely reunited with biological family it’s cause for celebration.
But we have to remind ourselves of that. And honestly, we’re sad.
Tonight won’t be filled with streamers or cake. There’s an empty bedroom upstairs that, just a day ago, was filled with life. However, we do take comfort knowing that tonight’s sadness is a result of the depth of the past year’s love.
When you start your own foster care journey people in your life will ask you why. They will wonder to themselves why anybody would sign up for this; why you would sign up for this sort of thing.
Put simply, for my wife and I, we do it because we can. Because this thing is worth it. We do it because we believe every teenager deserves love and stability, no matter their trauma or background.
We fostered our teenage daughter for just under a year and yesterday we said goodbye. Yet still, tonight, weighed down by heavy sadness and loss, the impact of boundless love on a teenager’s life was so worth the heartbreak. We kept our promise.
I had a friend tell me yesterday that he could never do this. He couldn’t care and love for a child only to say goodbye one day. He told me it would tear him and his wife up something terrible.
I told him that’s the reason he would make such a great foster parent.