I have officially been a foster mom for an entire year. In that year I have learned many valuable lessons that I would like to share with you here. In addition, I have included a section written by my 15-year-old foster son. He has been in homes other than mine, and has used his life experiences to make a very well written list of his thoughts on a good foster home. With all of that being said, here is what my foster son and I have to say…
My Tips for Foster Parents
- Make friends in foster care class. This is probably one of the most important points on this list. If you are going through the fostering process through DCF like I did, you will be required to take a training course. There is a very good chance that you will not finish the class with all of the people you started with. Befriend the people who stay. You will need them when you get your first placement. Vent to them, cry with them, but seriously, reach out to them. After awhile you will all settle into your new roles as parents, and you may not talk quite as much. Be sure to still check in with them occasionally. It is so helpful to compare notes and brag about the progress the kids have made.
- You are allowed to doubt yourself, but do not actually give up. The first week is really hard. My foster son was dropped off at my house on a Thursday. On Friday morning, I called the social worker and told her to come take him because I could not do it. My anxiety was off the charts. Luckily, my support system helped me realize I was a little more capable than I was giving myself credit for. It took some time but I got there, and you will too. Give yourself some credit. Chances are you are completely capable of parenting these awesome kids, it is just really emotionally challenging to have your life completely flipped upside down.
- Respect your family’s journey. When you choose to bring a new child into your life that does not necessarily mean your family is also ready to be on this journey with you. Foster care classes really do prepare you for what to expect from children who have faced trauma and you have to remember that the other people involved in your life did not sit through those classes with you. Be patient with them, teach them, and help them understand that they need to give the child a chance to adjust.
- Get to know your foster child’s biological family. Yes, some bio parents do awful things to their children, but there are foster parents who do terrible things as well. Sometimes bio-parents, for one reason or another, just cannot parent their children and this does not make them bad people. My foster son’s mother loves him deeply, but cannot currently care for him. We have a very good relationship. She even came to dinner for both Thanksgiving and Christmas with my family. Give the child’s biological parents a chance before making assumptions about them.
- Put yourself first occasionally. It is completely fine for you to take time for yourself. It is so hard having another person to care for all of the time. If you do not take time for yourself, you will burn out. Leave the child with the babysitter and go out and do something that makes you happy. Relax, regroup, and then go back to those amazing kiddos that you’re raising.
- Enjoy the ride. Foster parenting is a really fun experience. You meet people you may not otherwise have met, get to watch a child blossom, and know that you are making a difference in this world. I have watched my foster son go from a quiet and withdrawn person to a social, hockey playing, happy young adult. When I reflect on how far we have come in a year, I cannot help but smile. I think we have both been changed for the better. I cannot wait to see what year two has in store for both of us.
My Foster Son’s Tips for Foster Parents
- Understand that the child you’re imagining as yours may not be the one to show up at your doorstep, and accept that.
- Include the child in family activities (some of this may seem given in your opinion, but you’d be surprised).
- Going out sometimes is great. Trying new things and having experiences with a child is a great way to show them that you want them in your family.
- Know that shit happens. Accidents happen, in every meaning of the word, but forgiveness and communication are all that’s necessary to fix it.
- Sometimes we want to be alone. Some kids will like seclusion more than others, and understanding your child’s social boundaries as well as maintaining your own and synchronizing them can help make more impactful connections when you do talk.
- The passion to move varies depending on the kid, of course, but if you’re so lucky to have a small child, they’ve gotta move! Sports, family fun days, any chance available, encourage us to move and stay active. It’s healthy, it’s fun, and group activities form communities.
- Look to other foster parents for help when you need it. If you don’t have an answer to a question or a solution to a problem, chances are someone you know may have just that.
- Social workers and therapists are magical. They can do things you may not be able to do alone. Paperwork, transitions, and life events can be rough, but often times your social worker/therapist may know what to do.
- Expectations may be exceeded or failed. If we exceed or succeed, let us know! It feels good to know when you’ve done well. If we fail, it’s important to sit us down and talk rather than hound us or demand answers to questions we may not have. Try to remain calm and talk it out person-to-person.
- You’re the adult, you make the rules. Yes, this is important, but if you have a child old enough to have had past family issues before, it may be more complex. People who have abused their role as a caretaker can lead kids to be distrusting of authority, aka you. Lenience can and will be necessary when you have a kid who doesn’t listen well. That doesn’t mean let everything slide. What it means is don’t freak out. There’s probably a reason and instead of being very angry it’s better for both of you to approach the situation calmly and find out why they’re being rebellious or distrusting.
- We might not say “I love you.” Depending on the age of your child, they may have a bad association with these words, or someone shattered the meaning of it for them. It may lead you to think we don’t care about you, but we do. We’re very grateful, but sometimes “I love you” is a lot more than a few words to us.
- If the child wants to spend time with their birth family (assuming they’re good people) it’s okay to let them. They won’t reject you or prefer them all of a sudden. You’ll always be their family, and being accepted and raised by someone is the ultimate gift. There’s just something about knowing who gave birth to you that is important. It can give you a sense of relief to see where you came from and then compare to where you are now in the same room.
- Relax! Seriously, unless you’re adopting the literal infant incarnation of Satan, it’s not gonna be that bad. We just want to enjoy our childhoods with a family we can trust. If you can make that happen, and offer a piece of your heart to that special child, they’ll probably end up giving a lot more than just a piece of theirs in return.
- I was asked to write this to help you feel more relieved about fostering/adopting a child. I know it’s scary as hell, but it’s gonna be alright! You’re gonna be great parents and your child will love you. Roadblocks are roadblocks, and sometimes you’ll end up taking a detour. But hey, detours tend to be more scenic and end up getting us to our destination in the long run.
I hope you have found our advice helpful and/or have learned something new about fostering. If you are considering fostering, and you think you have the time to take on this grand task of parenting, then I say go for it. If you are currently fostering, kudos to you. Even if you feel at times that you are not good enough, chances are that you’re doing a great job. Fostering is not easy, but it will be worth it in the end.