There is a folder on my desktop called “black hole”. It contains all the posts I wrote that should never be seen or read publicly, at least for as long as I’m around. That includes close relatives too, wife included. What goes in there stay in there, never to get out.

The reason I’m mentioning this is because the blog post you are about to read was probably destined to that folder. I got stuck at the first paragraph, thinking “this is another post that will take me years to get right”, which by definition makes it “black hole” material. But I decided to write it as it comes, even though it might be misunderstood or judge unfairly, but the topic is about something that has been buzzing in my head for way too long.

My wife and I have been foster carers for a little less than a year now. We are very new at this, and our first placement has proven to be more challenging than anyone could anticipate. Our luck, I guess, but for me the hardest part of fostering is not so much having to deal with nonsense tantrums, or the constant attempts of our little girl to draw our attention in any (bad) way possible. What I find really hard is dealing with the fact that fostering is not meant to be forever.

We were adoptive parents before becoming foster carers, and as adopters we were ready for almost anything. Truth is, we weren’t, but at least at the time we thought we were. We adopted a 6 months old baby, knowing nothing about what was going to be of this child, if not for all the warnings and words of caution of several social workers. We didn’t know how difficult it could have turned out, not as clearly as we do now, but we knew we would have dealt with it, whatever that might be.

Fostering is different. You can go in every new placement with the best of intentions, but when things go south, and they inevitably do, a little part of yourself will be there reminding you that this too shall pass. The foster child you are looking after will leave after a few months, you know that from the start, and that makes being a parent so much harder. We had our rough patches as adoptive parents too, but we knew we were in for the long haul; never once did we thought “this is not a life”.

When things are hard, as a foster parent, you might find yourself saying that on a daily basis. And the truth is that you’re right, it’s not a life that anyone would choose to live. And it is not the life that you have to live either. At some point you will ask yourself what is the use of trying to salvage the relationship with a child who has done nothing but abusing and rejecting you over the last few months, when she will leave at the end, and you will be no more that a distant memory, or a face in an old faded picture.

It’d be much easier to pick up a phone and let this child be someone else’s problem. You won’t even be judged, not in the same way you would if the child was adopted. People closer to you will recognise your efforts and all the sacrifices you made, some will even realise what an amazing job you’ve done. Fostering has an eject button that–for us–adoption never had.

My wife and I threat to hit that eject button at least once a week, but so far we never even seriously talked about it, and the reason for it is because we both know that eject button is not the easy way out, or the safety net it appears to be.

Sure, you could make that call, and sure enough, once that’s done, the child will be out of your life in less than a week. But it’s not just that simple and, as it is often the case, your choice will have far-reaching consequences, mainly for the child.

For the child, it will be another broken relationship, another lesson of how important people can come and go in and out of her life, how these people are not to be trusted, and this time they’d learn it from you. We heard our girl babbling to herself, “Daddy left, then mummy left too”, and it broke our hearts. She spoke those words without showing any emotion, in a completely matter-of-fact way, but we could still feel the pain hidden in her voice, and hitting the eject button would secure our place in that list.

Then there is the damage that it will cause to her self-image, or to the chances to ever be adopted, should it come to it. Because there is nothing more alarming to an adoptive family than a child who’s been moved from foster placement to foster placement. And if you had it hard, how much easier do you think it will be for whoever comes next?

So, as a foster family, during a difficult placement, you have a choice between self-preservation and martyrdom, an whichever you choose is a bad choice. You know your life and the life of every member of your family would be much easier if your foster child was out of the picture, but you also know that your foster child awful childhood would become all the much worse for it.

Knowing that, how quick would you be at reaching for that eject button?

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