Caring for a child means getting attached - A foster care story

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Timing isn’t everything.

Elizabeth Wilson and her husband considered timing to be the only barrier they had before becoming foster parents.

Not quite yet, they said. After we have our own kids; when the kids are older, they said.

But after many painful and unavoidable setbacks in “the plan,” the couple reached the point where the calling mattered more than the timing.

“It was just an undeniable thing we needed to do,” Wilson said. “Sometimes the best thing you’ll ever do is when you think it’s the worst time possible.”

“If you have something in life you want to do, you do it,” she continued. “You’re not in charge of your own timing, so you should just say yes to it.”

They took in their first child when their biological son was just two-years-old.

“We wanted to expand our family, but we were done trying to be pregnant,” Wilson said.

Adoption was something they saw happening later, but in the meantime, they saw foster parenting as too important to wait.

“It suddenly became not about us and became about what these children need,” Wilson said.

Once in the foster care program, Elizabeth said they felt surrounded and incredibly supported by like-minded people.

“There is a lot of hard things that happen,” she said. “I definitely think these families are some of the strongest families I’ve ever seen.”

Once inside the foster care system, Wilson said it became apparent just how many misconceptions there are in the general public about the process.

“I could do a Mythbusters on what fostering is… it’s not all these freaks, the whole idea of fostering for money is not the experience we’ve had, and at the same time you don’t have a financial burden,” Wilson said.

(For more on the process of foster care and many of its misconceptions, check out our Ask the Expert feature with Lindsay Williams, child welfare supervisor with the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare.)

For the Wilsons’ foster child, like most situations in Idaho, reunification with the biological family was considered the highest priority. They spent the entire process working with the family to make it happen.

“It was the hardest thing we had ever done - we supported this family as much as we could,” Wilson said. “It’s a very tricky dynamic and you have to completely lose judgment as a foster parent. You have to be selfless… your job is to be there for the child no matter what.”

Every fostering situation is different, and Wilson said she and her husband had the choice in how much they interacted with the family.

“I feel like our team always had a good relationship, and I felt ultimately respected and loved by the biological family,” she said. “They’re hurting and going through loss and pain… You just have to step outside yourself.”

The Wilsons’ story is reaching an unexpected conclusion - they are now in the process of fully adopting their foster child. Elizabeth said it comes with extreme hardship, even as they stand to keep the child they’ve taken care of these past two years.

“It’s really hard, because for someone there is always going to be hurt. Someone is always going to feel a loss,” Wilson said. “There is trauma that every foster child experiences, and to help lessen the effects of that, we’ve tried hard to be as honest and vulnerable as we can (with the child).”

Even though the Wilsons will now be permanently expanding their family, Elizabeth said being a foster parent most often means having to let go of that guardianship.

“People outside of foster care always say not to get attached, but these children, that’s all they need,” Wilson said. “They need love and attachment. I’ve struggled with this the whole time - when you love so hard and know that you might be suffering a great loss. But once we started actually letting go of those fears, it became a lot easier in the moment to be more present. To be as good of a parent as you can.”

Wilson believes when people say, ‘Don’t get attached,’ they really mean, ‘It’s going to be hard.’

“The child is what matters,” she said. “Whether or not we would have said goodbye to them, we know their life has been better off.”

Wilson said she and her husband will continue to be foster parents after the adoption process is complete.

“Even if things ended differently, we’ve never learned so much about our meaning and purpose in life than in these last two years,” Wilson said. “Just that feeling of knowing you were giving a child safety and love and security, and learning not to guard your heart.”

“My husband and I both feel like this is the beginning,” she said.

--Written by Tyler Wilson

Editor’s note: The Wilsons are not related to the author of this story.

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