While they're quick to say generic statements about missing us, the kids don't share their deeper emotions very easily. Perhaps it's a defense mechanism, perhaps it's the result of feeling unsafe for so many years. Whatever the reason, I've had to become adept at listening and looking for signs about how they're really feeling. A few days ago I overheard a statement that spoke volumes. As I was driving, the three older kids (two sisters that we foster, and my daughter-by-birth) sat in the back of the car talking about the move and assuring each other that they'll miss each other. A silence settled over the little group, and then the oldest spoke up and asked my daughter, "When new kids move into your house for your family to foster, will you still like me?"
It was a powerful reminder that there are a lot of emotions and fears simmering just below the surface. Change is a part of life, but the changes that children in foster care face are an entirely different set of circumstances. First, most change allows you some degree of control over the future direction of your life. You may unexpectedly lose your job, but you can control whether or not you continue looking for a new job, and what you do with your time while you're unemployed. Your house may burn down, but you can choose where you stay while you look for a new home, and you can decide whether to rebuild your old home or search for a new one. Children in foster care are told when and where they are moving, with absolutely no say in the matter.
Additionally, in the natural course of events, change occurs gradually and not everything changes all at once. Not so in foster care. While there is sometimes a short transition time consisting of visits with the future caretakers, once the move actually occurs it happens all at once. In our case, the children will lose their foster-parents, foster-siblings, foster-grandparents, beloved foster-dog, bedroom, school, teacher, classmates, and friends all in the same day. They're even losing a lot of the toys they've come to love. Any toys that belong to the kids as well as some of their special favorite toys and books will move with them, but I still have to keep some toys in our house for my kids and any children we foster in the future. As I mentioned last time, we do hope to have continued contact with the kids, but that's cold comfort in the face of so many life-altering changes.
So I think it's safe to say that the kids have mixed feelings about moving. They're excited about the next chapter in their lives, but they're sad to be leaving the life they've come to know and the people (and dog) they've come to love. And they're fearful about things I can only imagine, as hinted at in that simple little question "Will you still like me?"