You never know how long you’ll have them. With four months of stability and a full house, our focus as houseparents was on building family relationships, making memorable experiences together, and helping kids meet their plan of care goals. I took pride in our infrequent turnover of children; we had not had a kid leave our home since June. Then, all of a sudden, three kids leave within a week of each other. The house is shocked and no good explanation can make up for the loss of a friend or daughter or son in the moment. And just like that, our talk shifts to remembering the ones who’ve left, and our brand new big house feels quite empty.
We joined Cookson Hills in June 2014 with a passion to invest in the lives of kids who desperately needed to be shown God’s love. I came prepared to share my vast knowledge about life and relationships, hoping kids would jump at the opportunity to be guided towards personal growth. But changing long-held beliefs and behaviors are not that easy. Now, my hope is that my children experience a relationship with me that they can emulate in their own lives. So when kids leave our home, I hope that the rules and routines are replaced by feelings of a loving and respectful relationship motivated by faith. And that is something that can never be taken away, no matter the distance of their next home.
When a kid leaves, I spend weeks with a battle in my mind debating the value of their experience in my home and what I could have done better. I think “What difference did I make?” or “What could I have done to make a bigger, more positive impact on their life?” or “How did I prepare them for this next phase in their life?”. I go back and forth, pushing back guilt – because it doesn’t help – while allowing sadness and even anger to stay within. I admit that with our recent losses, these feelings were directed at the decisions surrounding our kids’ departures – from parents and from the kids’ actions while at Cookson Hills. While kids are here, they have a bit of a shield from the ills they can experience “back home”. So what upsets me the most about their unexpected and early departure, is their re-entry into a world that led them here in the first place. When I’ve settled down a bit, I remind myself that God is pleased with my care of children in need (James 1:27) and I cling to His hope for a brighter future in their lives.
As a houseparent, there are so many needs to meet, and I must quickly transition to life with my current seven kids. We sit together as family and share memories of those who’ve left and ask questions about their departure that may go unanswered. Our prayers include the names of family members who have moved on from our presence. We learn to remember, but still keep moving forward. We create a new normal with new routines, and reaffirm our commitment to one another. And, we give a little more appreciation to our family relationships here at Cookson Hills, knowing this is a unique and special season in our lives together.