This is me, a year after being taken from my mother’s home, 1981.
Respected psychologist Abraham Maslow says that as human beings we all have basic needs that must be met in order to maintain a psychological homeostasis. Feeling like we contribute to something, having a sense of belonging to something; these are all on the continuum of our human desire to be participants in the world. Some people find this connection through work, volunteering, church, friends or family members.
Last week, as I was watching “Home for the Holidays,” the Dave Thomas Foundation or Adoption’s annual special, I realized that it is this basic need which is vacant at a young age from every foster child’s life. These lack of connections during the most formative years of brain development, impede on the human ability to learn coping, trusting or intimacy skills. Further implications from this shuffling around, or the feeling of being thrown away, is the impact of child abuse, poverty and homelessness. Physically and emotionally it takes its toll.
Synapses in the brain that fire off connections to help humans deal with stressors are irretrievably broken in many foster children since most have suffered abuse. Sexual abuse especially during formative years creates a distorted self image, a distorted idea of intimacy. Child abuse and physical neglect imparts a severe fight or flight response in children, a type of PTSD which later can control intimate relationships.
Broken relationships between siblings can leave foster children feeling especially isolated. I remember a foster sister telling me when I first came to her home at age 5 I cried a lot for the brother I was found with in my mothers home. We were split apart; he was reunited with my mother and I stayed in foster care. Vacancies are abundant in foster children’s lives. Some are never repaired.
This holiday, if you are fortunate enough to have foster children in your care, make a commitment to start to understand the impact of early trauma and neglect. The best gift you can give is the gift of listening, understanding and commitment. Even if that foster child will only have a temporary stay in your home, see him or her through adulthood. Be a permanent member of that child’s life. It is the best Christmas gift you can give to a child.
There is nothing worse than being a child on Christmas and not belonging to anything or feeling discarded. Invite them to stay, at least in your heart.
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