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Teaching Love to a Foster Child

How do you define love? It’s honestly not something I’ve given much thought until this moment. I never really had to, I suppose. Growing up in the church, I remember hearing “God is love” a lot. But I never had to think about it, because I’ve always had it. Because I am privileged.

How To Define Love

If you actually look up the definition, it’s “an intense feeling of deep affection”. 

It’s a feeling; an abstract concept. It’s not a physical, tangible, “let’s show it off to the neighbors” kind of thing. So how do you explain it to a child?

I’ve come to the conclusion that you can’t. Not accurately or effectively, anyway. Because love is taught through actions and by building trust with another person. A strong bond forms, that eventually turns into love.

But what if there’s no trust? 

What if the actions of others around you are erratic?

What if you’re 4 years old, and you can’t read, and you certainly cannot break down abstract concepts and you can barely color inside the lines of the heart shapes in your coloring book? 

Then what is Love to you? It’s “mommy is gonna buy me a blue transformer next week.” 

Tangible goods.

In other words, money CAN buy love. 

How Do You Teach Love?

So how do I explain that “your mommy loves you but…love is spending time with each other. Love is being kind to each other. Love is consistency. Love is keeping you safe. Love is teaching you how to function within society. Love is teaching you that there are rules. And establishing consequences when those rules are broken.”

Love is everything that you didn’t have.

So we try to teach (cram) 4 years worth of life lessons into the short time he is with us. Kindness, consistency, self-worth, laughter, truthfulness. We are trying to teach him all of these things, yet I am filled with such anger. 

Every inch of me rages. From the moment I wake up in the morning to the second I fall asleep at night, there is a dark cloud of hate that churns inside me. Every core of my being wants to fight: the system and the lawyers and the case managers and the therapists and the parents and judges and the politicians… because it’s all broken. And we are all failing. 

I want to help. I want to “be the change I want to see in the world”. I want to make a difference. 

But how do you teach a child love, when you’re so filled with hate?

Can he sense it? When he hugs me, does he feel my heart race? Am I just one more “do as I say, not as I do” example in his life? 

I hope not. Because as much as I hate this system, I love this little boy… even if I can’t define it.