“It was a hot and humid day in July of 2019. My husband and I had been licensed foster parents for all of 2 weeks when I got the call. There were two little boys — brothers — who needed a home. They had been living with another foster family for a week, but those parents didn’t feel they could care for the boys properly. Without hesitation, I said ‘yes.’
Like any other day, I finished my workday, drove home, and let the dog out. Unlike other days, I then scurried around the house, tidied up from the day before, and strategically put out toys to make the place look a little more welcoming to two toddlers. My husband then arrived home, and the waiting began. We sat on the couch — for what felt like hours — and kept anxiously looking out the front window. Our dog kept crying as he could tell we were nervous about something. Finally, a car pulled up, and we sat down to pretend as if we hadn’t been anxiously awaiting their arrival. A few moments later, our foster sons, who I refer to as K and C, were carried through our front door. In that moment, our greatest adventure began.
Our family’s journey with K and C was the most wholesome and heartbreaking adventure of our entire lives. The weeks were long and confusing, but the months flew by. One week we would be told the boys would be staying with us forever. The next week, we would be discussing their transition back to their parents. At one point, we were told a family member wanted K and C. However, the boy’s grandma assured us there was no family for them to live with. Every day the story changed, and every week we had multiple social workers in and out of our house, yet none of them ever had any answers. I spent a lot of nights crying due to the confusion, and I often wondered how I would ever get through the situation. Deep down, I knew the entire situation would be easier if I remained unattached. Nonetheless, I couldn’t help myself from getting ‘too attached’ to the two little boys in front of me.
At the time of their arrival, K was 14 months old and C was 3 years old. While they were too young to understand their situation, they quickly learned my husband and I were playing the roles of ‘mom’ and ‘dad.’ After a few weeks, they started calling us ‘Mama Ali’ and ‘Daddy Michael.’ Day in and day out, we kissed their boo-boos, cuddled them to sleep, and read them stories. While the ever-changing narrative was heartbreaking and the constant conversations with social workers were exhausting, I continued to love these children as if they were my own. Although they weren’t my own, and I was painfully aware of this.
As time passed, my husband and I began to build a relationship with K and C’s biological parents. Believe it or not, their parents — who had been painted to us as villains — were great people. We quickly formed a friendship with K and C’s parents, as we could tell they just wanted what was best for their boys. However, caring for K and C’s parents made this messy and complicated situation even more chaotic.
Once I recognized K and C had loving parents, I couldn’t help but wish for the boys to return home to them. My heart would break when I would think about the moments their parents were missing. Every holiday, birthday, and milestone we celebrated with K and C was an important moment their parents missed. I began to really root for them to regain custody of K and C. However, they had a list of tasks they needed to complete before they could get the boys back. I began celebrating their victories with them, and I would feel their pain when they experienced shortcomings. I attended their court hearings as a support person, and I sent them updates on the boys as often as I could. I truly became emotionally invested in their journey. While I felt I was doing the right thing, some of the social workers didn’t approve of this relationship — they simply couldn’t understand it.
One social worker in particular disapproved. She would warn the boy’s parents I was trying to steal K and C from them. She told them I didn’t actually want them to succeed, and I was looking for them to fail. She genuinely believed I loved the boys, so I couldn’t possibly want them to go home to their parents.
While she was way off base, I do see where she was coming from. I really did want K and C’s parents to regain custody. However, I also dreaded the thought of K and C leaving us. Every night I would lay in bed and worry about living my life without the boys. I couldn’t imagine myself living in a world that didn’t revolve around those two kids. While I had walked into foster care overtly aware I was only a transitionary role in the children’s lives, I quickly learned it is only natural to dream of forever with the people you love. And occasionally, I would dream of the boys staying in our home forever. Nevertheless, I loved K and C enough to recognize they belonged with their parents.
So, I continued to care for the boys while getting to know their parents. For 257 days, K and C lived with us. During this time, we did our best to fill their lives with so much happiness and fun. We tried to shield them from the crazy system they were living within. However, there were moments we slipped up.
For instance, I will never forget this particular day in early December. It had been snowing. K, C, and I had played outside in the snow that morning. We then got changed and drank some hot chocolate to warm up. I put K down for a nap and made lunch for C. Suddenly, a social worker knocked at the door. I had completely forgotten we had a social worker visiting that day, but thankfully, we were home so we didn’t miss it. The social worker who was visiting was the one who didn’t approve of my relationship with K and C’s parents—she didn’t believe I actually cared for them. During her visit, we needed to discuss their parents. K and C’s mom and dad had been Facetiming us on a pretty regular basis, which we were fine with. However, the calls were often late at night. I had asked the social worker if we could schedule the calls in advance, so they wouldn’t interfere with bedtime.
I didn’t think this would be an issue—since every other contact the boys had with their parents was scheduled through her. However, she took this question as an opportunity to prove I didn’t care about K and C’s parents. She began to yell at me and claimed I wasn’t supporting reunification if I wouldn’t allow the boys to Facetime with their mom and dad. I calmly explained I wanted them to Facetime their parents! However, I just wanted the calls to be scheduled, as sometimes the kids were already asleep when my phone would ring. I thought a schedule would be beneficial to everyone.
However, she interpreted my question as an unwillingness to work with the parents. Despite my attempts to explain my intentions to her, she went off. She continued to yell at me, exclaiming I was just pretending to care about the boy’s parents. She told me I was too attached to the boys, and I treat them like they are my own children (she said this as if it were a bad thing). When her yelling was done, I was in tears and asked her to leave. Unfortunately, C had watched this entire situation and was left all alone with a very upset and tear-filled Mama Ali.
Despite my attempts to make life as normal as possible for the boys, I knew C wouldn’t be forgetting that moment. He had heard everything she said, and I knew he couldn’t make sense of it. He was also very upset to see me cry. Luckily, C has the kindest heart, and he did everything he could to make me feel better. His sweet gestures actually helped, and if it weren’t for him, I am not sure how I would’ve made it through that day.
After that day, I began to re-evaluate the situation at hand. I loved K and C, and I truly cared for their parents. I felt like I was doing everything I was supposed to do — so why was I treated in this way? Was I out of line with how strongly I loved the boys? I considered ‘de-attaching’ myself from the boys. Thankfully, there were other social workers involved in the case. I informed them of the incident, and I let them know what I was thinking. I told them I was even considering quitting foster care. They assured me she was in the wrong, and I was treating the boys exactly how they should be treated. They said they admired my relationship with K and C’s parents, and they told me to keep doing what I was doing. I was hesitant to continue, but I decided K and C were worth it, and I am so glad I did.
A few months after that incident, K and C began to transition home to their parents. They began spending more time with their parents each week, and eventually, they stayed the night with them. Since all of the visits were going well, and since their mom and dad had checked every box on their list, it was time for the boys to go home. We packed up all of their stuff — which filled three SUVs — and drove them to their new home. After we drove away, their mom called me. She said, ‘Thank you so much for loving K and C as your own, and thank you for everything you have done for us. It was so nice knowing the boys were safe and loved, and it made it easier for us to do what we needed to do to get them back. Had we not known they were okay, I don’t know if we would’ve been able to do everything we needed to do.’
She then assured me we would continue to be a part of K and C’s lives, and she never wanted us to feel like we couldn’t see them. It has been a year since this day, and I can say she has made good on her promise. She sends me updates and pictures of the boys all of the time. Due to COVID, we haven’t been able to visit much. However, she is always happy to Facetime us. As the world becomes a healthier place, we have visited the boys more often, and we now consider them a part of our ‘COVID bubble.’
Looking back, I am thankful I made the heartbreaking decision to get ‘too attached,’ and I don’t regret one minute I spent treating them like my own children. The heartbreaking, confusing, and chaotic days of caring for them within the system have long passed. I no longer spend my days texting social workers, crying behind closed doors, or worrying about K and C’s future. I still have a front-row seat to their lives, and I get to love them in a more uncomplicated fashion. Because my husband and I decided to welcome their family into our own, we are still able to have these kids as a part of our lives. Every moment of hurt and doubt was beyond worth it.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Ali Gronski from Colombus, Ohio You can follow their journey on Instagram and their website. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
Read more touching stories about foster care here:
‘We’re going to miss you. Will you visit us one day?’ It was time to take them home to their parents, for good. As I drove away, the tears came flooding.’: Single foster dad shares emotional reunification journey
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