When the second night is the hardest

She was so scared.

I would be too, had I been dropped off at the home of a stranger, with nothing more than a backpack and a blanket. But, as expected, she immediately welcomed herself to our home—running in circles as she tried out every toy in the house.

As a foster parent, you quickly learn that nights are the hardest. And oddly enough, not the first night. That night actually goes well, leaving you with a false sense of smooth transitioning.

Because on that first night, everything is new and exciting. For a child, this adventure—though confusing and often unsettling—is fun. A new bed to sleep in. New friends to play with. New toys to explore and foods to eat.

By the second night, however, things shift.

That’s when the child begins to realize this isn’t just an overnight adventure. The room becomes scary, the unfamiliar noises get louder, and the sense of being alone is overwhelming. Soon enough, we begin to actually embody their fear.

This time, the “second night syndrome” was no different.

Less than 24 hours after destroying the play room and jumping around the house with my son, the giggly little girl was losing her spunk. We read her a book—careful to avoid all books that mention “mama”—and tucked her in bed. Surrounded by her own stuffed animals, wearing the shirt she arrived in… all in an attempt to make her feel at home. We wished her sweet dreams and closed the door.

That’s when the crying started.

She wanted me to lay with her, so I settled in next to her tiny frame. Every so often, just as she’d begin to drift off, she’d jolt awake and frantically reach out. “Are you still there?” she’d ask, her voice cracking.

“I’m still here,” I’d say.

We did this for an hour… laying in the dark, starting at the ceiling, listening to lullabies, and trying not to think about my growing to-do list.

“I’m still here.”

She’s not our first foster placement, so I know the nights will get easier. At the same time, I know they’ll get harder. When she no longer cries herself to sleep every night, it’s not just because she’s comfortable—it’s also because she’s giving up.

When she eagerly jumps into bed, excited for a new day and the fun that comes with it, my heart will break just a little. Because while I strive to provide a safe and happy home, I don’t want her to forget where she came from.

On that 14th night, when her strength wavers, I’ll remind her:

“I’m still here.”

On the 26th night, when she thought she was going home with her parents after an unsupervised visitation, I’ll remind her:

“I’m still here.”

The night after a court date, a skinned knee, a tantrum, a misunderstanding, or a broken promise, I’ll remind her:

“I’m still here.”

And that night—whatever number it may be—after she goes home for good. When she’s tucked into bed by her own parents, breathing the air she’s familiar with, taking in the sights she missed so much. When I’m miles away, cleaning out her temporary room, folding tiny shirts, and turning off the light, I want her to remember this night. And, should she ever need me again:

“Yes. I’m still here.”

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