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Thinking about becoming a Foster Parent?
This post is Part 2 of a 6-part series on the emotions a Foster Parent will experience during their fostering journey. My husband and I were foster parents for 9 years, and while we are not experts by any means, our experience did run the gamut of interesting situations, and of course emotions. So I’m sharing from our experience.
I have to say, this particular post on negative emotions feels pretty dark to me, and took DAYS to write. There are a lot of emotions that fall into the ‘negative’ category, and we’ve experienced them all.
But when you lump them all together into one blog post, well…just remember as you’re reading, that this is ONE of SIX posts in the series. Please don’t read just this one. If you’re thinking about becoming a foster parent, don’t let this list deter you. Yes, dinner includes yucky overcooked vegetables sometimes, but it isn’t ALL yucky overcooked vegetables – there are also lovely mashed potatoes, a delicious roll, and even Mom’s Hamburger Surprise 😀
Frustration & Impatience
When my husband and I finished our part of the process for applying to be foster parents, we found ourselves frustrated at how long it took to get the final OK. We’d jumped through all the hoops, we’d prepared as best we could given that we couldn’t know how many or what age of kids we would get. We’d were as READY as we could be. What was taking so long? Why were they taking their sweet time signing that one last paper, when there were kids who needed us?
I even went so far as to write to the governor’s office to ask exactly that. After all, we had empty beds night after night, and there were kids out there RIGHT NOW needing a place to live, and a family to take care of them! I don’t know if my email made any difference, but we did get licensed shortly after that, and began our journey. (I will say also, that I believe God knew exactly which child he intended we start our journey with, and we just didn’t realize we were waiting for him to be born 🙂 )
I can tell you, though, that was not the last time we we felt frustrated and impatient at the slowness of the system. In fact, I can realistically say those two emotions stayed with us pretty constantly the entire 9 years we were licensed. The system is ALWAYS too slow, the wait is ALWAYS too long. Meetings are delayed and court dates are moved. Paperwork is held up, decisions take forever, and kids stay in limbo longer than is good for them.
I can’t think of a single foster family we knew who wasn’t frustrated about this, and who didn’t want to bring about change. Real damage can be done to a child’s mental health with a long wait; on the other hand, severing their birth parents’ rights forever can also cause real, lasting damage, even if it’s ultimately for the best. There are valid arguments for both sides. I’ll just say that we learned to live with it.
Another thing that brings frustration is the behaviors and developmental delays you my encounter in the children. It may be because of brain damage due to in-utero drug and alcohol exposure; or because of early trauma, neglect or abuse; or because of attachment difficulties; or because of genetic mental illness; or because of the fear and stress of living in limbo without any control over their own lives. Whatever the causes, you must know ahead of time that there will be behaviors and delays that will be frustrating, and start planning for how you’ll handle them now.
Sometimes those behaviors and difficulties are nonstop, and you don’t get much of a break. If you’re thinking about fostering, be sure to think about what is available to you to help in these tough moments. Friends, family, respite. And it does help to train yourself to think about what the child is going through at the moment, not just their outward behaviors. (Difficult sometimes, I know, but valuable.)
You will likely also spend some time feeling shocked and angry about what has happened to the child before they came to you. Typically, children are not removed until things are really bad. And hearing/seeing those really bad things, and then taking on the job of repairing that damage, can be very difficult to process. Expect it. Think ahead of time how you will deal with your feelings.
You will likely see a lot of anger from the children, too. Anger that their lives were turned upside down and they lost everything they knew; anger that they can’t see their birth families; anger at the new expectations set for them; anger that they can’t behave better (remember, brain damage from exposure or trauma); anger at the unfairness of it all; anger that stands in the place of being able to express emotions; anger that just comes and they don’t know why. Expect it. Have a plan ahead of time. Make sure the child is receiving counseling from folks who truly understand what the kids are going through.
Nervousness, Worry & Fear
You will be nervous before meeting the children. You will be nervous the first time you meet their birth parents. You will be nervous before every meeting and court hearing. You will be nervous when the caseworker comes to your house to see how the kids are doing. Foster care involves so many situations you’d never find yourself in otherwise, and some of those situations involve really big decisions about the rest of somebody’s life. You might be unsure of your place in all this, or worried about what decision will be made, or how it will affect the children.
We worry because we care about the children. Sometimes we’re afraid for the children. For their quality of care after they leave our home, for their quality of life as they grow up, for their safety. Sometimes, I’m sad to say, we become afraid OF the children. Remember the brain damage I mentioned earlier? It sometimes manifests as violent and scary behavior. Sometimes the child is truly out of control and needs bigger help than you can offer. I hope you never have to encounter these extreme kinds of issues, but please do your homework and be as prepared as you can be, just in case.
You will feel sad. Guaranteed. Sad about the circumstances that led to the children being placed in your care. Sad about the losses and heartbreak the children are experiencing. Sad about the heart wounds you can’t heal. Sad about your own loss and heartbreak when the child you thought you were adopting is suddenly sent to live with a long-lost relative they don’t know. Sad about the effect fostering will have had on your bio children (although there can be many benefits as well). Sad when you realize your foster children’s birth parents are the same kids, just grown up, and maybe nobody could or would help them.
You’ll grieve, sometimes hard. You’ll grieve when kids go home. When they go to live with relatives or to adoptive families. When they realize what they’ve lost, and start their own grieving process. When you realize with painful clarity just how much pain and suffering there is in the world. When you realize that the vast majority of it was completely preventable.
Its ok to feel sadness and grief. In fact, it’s ok to feel ALL of the emotions you will feel in your fostering journey. It means you care. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it, only that you should know what you’re getting into, as best you can, and start now preparing yourself to handle it. Because these kids need us.
There is ALWAYS a need for foster parents. ALWAYS.
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Books I recommend for Fostering & Adoption (affiliate link)