As you know, we recently celebrated Valentine's Day, which is a day we set aside to take the time to show and tell others how much we love them. For many children in foster care, however, the concept of love can be very confusing, misguided, and unhealthy at best. For some, they may have never really been shown genuine, unconditional love. For others, "I love you" has been presented as empty words with no action behind them, or the words were spoken, but were then followed by abuse, neglect, or abandonment. In the home I grew up in, I would often experience physical and verbal abuse by day, but then every bedtime routine was to give my parents a hug goodnight and tell them I loved them. Even in following this nightly ritual, I questioned the practice as I most certainly did not feel loved by my family, and I wondered why I was the one expected to initiate such expressions of love and not the other way around.
Many children in foster care will pick up on such idiosyncrasies even long before judges, case workers and attorneys do. Those who are there to protect them will say, "Well, your parents came to your visit and brought you a few new toys, so they must love you." While, yes, on some level, this is true, in the back of the child's mind, they are likely wondering things like, "Well, if they loved me, then why can't they choose me over the drugs". They will wonder why, if their parents really loved them, why did they abandon them, hit them, abuse them, etc., because that is not real love; or is it?
Love is a very complicated concept. Without action, the words "I love you" remain just that - words. We all have had bad days where we might say or do something we regret or didn't mean, but, when we truly love someone, we strive to do better and not hurt the ones we love. We make it our mission of protecting our loved ones and to be there for them no matter what. For children in foster care, this has not been their story. Words of love too often also come with pain, abuse and loss. It becomes an abyss of loneliness, confusion, and rejection. As foster parents, we wonder why it is so hard for children to trust us, and to feel and know they are loved. We wonder why they strike out against the ones who are working the hardest to protect them, keep them safe, and love them. Love isn't supposed to hurt, right? In their world, though, this is precisely how love presented itself. They may have gone so long without healthy love, that they likely do not know how to respond or trust it when they finally experience it. They may fight against it for further fear of pain and rejection, and, when they are moved from home to home because of such behaviors, this further feeds into all of their misguided feelings of love, or even repeatedly tells them they are "unlovable", though this is far from the case. Every child is "lovable" and deserves to be loved.
Such unhealthy concepts of love will likely lead youth into entering unhealthy, abusive relationships, or cause them to go on to be unable to successfully bond with their own children. The cycle will continue - unbroken and unyielding.
Our children deserve better. They need someone who is willing to stand in their corner and be there for them no matter what. They need someone who isn't going to spew empty words of love, but who, with every action and reaction, will finally show them what unconditional love really is and should look like. Only by doing this will we be able to break this cycle for generations to come. Even if we can help just one child, this one child we have helped has the potential of helping multiple lives. If you want to be a part of such life altering change, then please reach out to All For Family to ask us how you can become a foster parent, mentor, or CASA Volunteer. Hundreds of foster children are waiting for someone who will open their doors, meet them where they're at, and love them no matter what. Will that person be you? One person can make a difference! Let change begin with you!