The hunger of parentless children is palpable, as a visitor to a Haitian orphanage captured so eloquently in her blog. Unfortunately, we do not have to travel to watch children who live without families beg to be held—both physically and emotionally. Children in our foster care system, who have been separated from parents who are unable to care for them may not live in orphanages, but they may live with many different families—none their own, over many years in foster care.
Some fortunate children find “forever families” through adoption, but many never have the certainty of knowing that, at the end of the day, they will return to the same home they left in the morning and that they will do this day after day and year after year. This kind of uncertainty depletes children’s resources, leaving them emotionally impoverished. Even when in the care of loving foster parents, the abiding knowledge that they could be moved at any moment, leaves them longing for unbroken connections.
Photo courtesy of Szadok.
Like the Haitian orphans who declared their visitors to be “my mommy,” “my daddy,” foster children, in an effort to assuage the gnawing hunger for family, often quickly attach themselves to people they barely know. Paradoxically, these premature attachments leave children even more vulnerable to loss. They fall in love quickly and repeatedly, only to be left again and again by people who are confused and overwhelmed by the intensity of feelings they have aroused in children who hardly know them.
Children simply must have stable relationships with adults who love them in order to thrive. Granted, some children will leave orphanages or foster care, having learned to care for themselves well enough to lead successful and satisfying lives, but they will never entirely leave behind an emotionally impoverished childhood, in the same way that children who have grown up without adequate financial resources will understand poverty with their entire beings—not just as an economic, social, or political concept.
Tomorrow many of us will gather to enjoy food and the companionship of friends and family. It is a time to give thanks that we can satisfy, not only our physical hunger, but the deeper hunger for connections to those we love and care for and who love us in return.
*These are the words of a contributor to Mamapedia describing her visit to an orphanage in Haiti.
By Toni Heineman