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Thinking about Becoming a Foster Parent?
This is the last in a series of blog posts about the Emotions a Foster Parent experiences during their fostering journey. My husband and I were foster parents for nine years, and I write from our experiences. (Scroll to the bottom for links to the other posts in this series.)
A Rollercoaster of Emotions
It’s a wild ride. The emotional highs and lows experienced by foster parents can be extreme and fast-changing. You will be elated, disappointed, hopeful, sad, excited, worried, indignant, fearful, frustrated, angry, and in love. All before lunch.
You have to expect the rollercoaster, and if you have a plan for handling it, you’re that much better off.
If you’re anything like me, you take pride in taking on huge projects and workloads, working yourself to a frazzle, and giving up all comforts so you can take care of others. Well. Let me tell you, that approach to this life will do you no favors.
You HAVE to take care of yourself in this journey. You have to keep something of your own identity and interests. You need an outlet that makes you happy and fills your bucket. If you give up everything that makes you YOU, and that gives back to you, you’ll wear yourself down to nothing, and have nothing to give your family. And they’re the point, right?
Plus, it’s healthy for them to NOT have you at their beck and call all the time. Learning to function in a healthy family may be one of the biggest hurdles these kids encounter; and a family isn’t fully healthy if the Mom continually sacrifices herself for everyone else (Yes, I’m talking to you, Moms. I know you do this, because I do this. I AM you.)
Sacrificing yourself is not ultimately very helpful to anybody. So take care of yourself. Eat right. Get sleep. Pray. Do things that fill your soul. Smile. Laugh. I am just now admitting that self-sacrifice is not working, and taking steps to reconcile that. A dozen years is along time to be stubborn 😉
This is a great pdf article about self-care upon learning your child has a disability (many children who spend time in foster care do end up diagnosed with various disabilities and conditions – it’s a result of the early substance exposure, traumatic experiences, neglect, heredity, etc.).
I’ll be blunt. Fostering and adopting will put a strain on your marriage. The kids will need your time and attention constantly. Babysitters who can handle their needs are in short supply. Their misbehavior (i.e., communication that something is wrong) will disrupt your day and embarrass you in front of your friends. You and your spouse will disagree on how to handle the misbehavior. Typical toddler tantrums do not in any way rival the meltdowns that traumatized kids have. In fact, one day you will realize your entire family is atypical. Or atleast doesn’t look like what you expected or hoped for.
So what can you do? You can start now, strengthening your marriage. Work on creating really strong lines of communication between you, so that when you’re in a crisis, you already have the groundwork laid to work together as a team. Figure out small ways to make each other feel loved. The more you can be on the same page, the better you will weather the storms. Get good at forgiving and starting over. And know that the hard moments WILL pass, and it’s worth hanging in there.
Your Bio Kids
Having new family members come and go will be hard on your bio kids. Dealing with difficult behaviors, medical conditions, increased family stress, will also be hard. I’m not saying it’s not ultimately worth it; just that you’ll need to be aware and keep the lines of communication open. Let your kids know it’s ok if they have conflicting feelings about being a foster family. Create opportunities to stay connected with them, spend time with each child, and make sure they still feel loved. Make sure they know they can talk to you about their feelings, and that they have opportunities to escape any chaos that might be happening.
This applies as well, (and possibly more acutely), to children who came to you as foster children. Even after their adoption is finalized, they may have an upsurge of unstable feelings and difficult behaviors when new foster children come or go. Communication and trust are key. As is understanding the fear behind the instability.
The kids might crave chaos because it feels familiar, or because their brains have been affected by drugs, alcohol, trauma, neglect or abandonment…and don’t respond appropriately to typical relationships. They will be scared, angry, sad, frustrated, hopeful, disappointed, excited, starting to fall in love…sound familiar?
Kids in foster care go through an even wilder ride emotionally than we foster parents do. Because this is their life. And they have zero control over any of it. They did not create the damage that has wrecked their lives. But they have to carry it around and try to figure out how to handle it. And settling in to a new family? Now the rollercoaster just flipped inside out, spun them around and started going sideways.
The whole situation – navigating through foster care, the breakdown of people and families that make it necessary, even the finalization of adoption (which is a step toward healing, but always comes with a tragic backstory) – is fraught with difficult emotions, twists and turns. You can’t avoid it. But you can prepare yourself to an extent, and you can surround yourself with a tribe of other people who understand (usually other foster and adoptive parents, because this is the kind of life nobody really understands unless they’re in it up to their eyeballs too).
For those of us who’ve dreamed of helping hurting kids, there’s no question it’s worth the cost, as long as it’s helping the children. But it’s important to know what the cost might be, before you begin. And it’s equally important to prepare yourself to mitigate that cost, if you can.
Sadly, there is always a need for Foster Parents. Always.
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Books I recommend for Fostering & Adoption (affiliate link)