Living in Limbo—Longing to Belong
Thousands of “border children” will become foster children, living in limbo. They will be continually seeking a place for themselves. Whether they are infants or older, these children feel deep seated longings to belong, to be accepted and to be loved within a family that will be there for them for life.
Most foster children are intelligent and have active intuition. They know they are displaced. They have suffered a great loss—that of their family and homeland. They naturally feel an emptiness that cannot be filled by temporary living arrangements. They need a genuine sense of permanence. Every time they are moved from one foster placement to another, they lose some of their trust. They often become skeptical about their own worth. After several moves, foster children may begin to build a psychological wall to protect their own sense of self. The result may be real or imagined:
- “Why was I given away?
- Who cares about me?
- I must not trust anyone because every time I begin to get close in a new relationship I get moved.
- What is wrong with me?”
Foster children can be expected to have problems at home, in school, or in childcare because they are preoccupied with thoughts such as:
- I wish I could go home.
- I must not be worthy enough to have my own family.
- I wonder where I will go next.
- Will they take me from this place?
These children need lots of support from their foster parents and family members. Where there are several foster siblings, the challenge becomes even greater. They also need support from school personnel, professionals, and friends. They are, after all, pursuing life with the absence of permanent commitment and emotional stability. Both the foster child and the foster family are in a “swinging door” relationship—in and out of one family and on to the next.
Foster parents have the monumental task of caring for a foster child without making an attachment that has deep emotional ties. This is difficult, especially with very young children. Those who work toward adoption with a foster child are helping solve the problem of a child living in limbo. However, most foster children get moved from place to place. This is very heart wrenching for both the child and the foster family. Psychologically, these foster children often feel betrayed, stolen away, and unable to bond with parents and a family.
I have been a foster parent, myself. My husband and I had two teenage girls, each living with us one after the other and later, for a short period, a teenage boy. We put one through two years of college and the other through one year while living with us.
But, our objective was to help reunite them with their parents. We took no money for this task. This was a time consuming venture. I often stayed up until one and two in the morning talking with one about all her problems. She had been estranged from her mother who was divorced from her father. She had not seen her father for years.
After two years of college she became engaged to a young man and when it came time for the wedding, I helped her with her wedding gown and then we, together, made arrangements for her to connect with her mother. When it was time for the wedding, I had taken a job in another state and it was convenient for me to be unavailable. This opened the door for her mother to step-in, reunite and work together to make final wedding plans. She did not have a relationship with her father, so my husband gave her away; but, her mother was truly the proud mother of the bride and they have been close since then. I have not had contact with her for many years because there was no obligation from either of us.
The second foster girl, after living with us through her first year of college, married and moved to another state. This, too, was an opportunity for her to reunite with her family. The third was a high school senior boy who had been raised in an orphanage until his last year of high school. He lived with us only a few months until he entered the military and was inducted into the intelligence program. We have never been in contact since.
This was a wonderful time in my life when I learned that foster parenting is challenging but must be entered into with the intent of bridging a gap in someone’s life until a permanent arrangement is possible.
Foster parents must examine their own motives—ask themselves, “Why are we doing this? I believe it was the key to a successful foster parenting experience. I also gave workshops and seminars for foster parent organizations. What dedicated people!
The most successful foster parents are those who take no money or subsidy for their role or for the expenses they encounter. This sets the parents up for commitment without expectations. I know there are hundreds of excellent foster parents who receive funds for fostering. I simply think it compromises the intent. I’ll admit this is a personal judgment; but, I have to emphasize its importance, and I say it not to offend anyone.
Fostering very young children is especially difficult because there is a natural tendency to make a close emotional connection with the child. When the child is moved out, everyone suffers a sense of loss. Another factor that interferes with the foster parent-child relationship is knowing the child will, at some point in time, be removed and placed elsewhere.
What will be the plight of the border children?
While many foster children can succeed in school and in life, they must have a strong sense of self, hope from within, and motivation to pursue life regardless of the difficulties. This requires commitment and devotion on the part of foster parents that goes far beyond providing for immediate needs.
What are we going to do now?
These problems of what to do to help these children will last for decades. A coordinated effort will have to be led by someone who has superior organizational skills and who understands child development and how to work with people. What to do with these children will, no doubt, be one of America’s most monumental tasks. There are no easy ways to fix this. I’d be interested to hear some of your ideas.