Mama S here. As a Foster Parent Champion I am often reaching out and chatting with people who are interested in becoming foster parents as well as catching up with current foster parents. The biggest topic of conversation that existing foster parents bring up/chat about and what I bring up with prospective foster parents is that the general public has no idea what it is like to be a foster parent. They can’t. But they all think they do.
I was chatting with a foster parent a few weeks ago and they were struggling. Badly. Things at home were hard, they and their spouse were struggling together and the kids in the home were struggling too. They were having to make the decision if keeping all the kids that they have in the home is a good idea. This is not an unusual conversation. I have had this chat dozens of times with different foster parents all over the country. The conversation of whether you are the right fit for a child and if the child is the right fit for you. The reality is, no one that is living outside the home is able to make that decision, and should really have much input. Of course everyone on the outside has things to say:
“You signed up for this”
“I connected with that child”
“They are my cousin/uncle/niece/nephew/grandson/son”
“I would feel horrible giving up a child”
“Didn’t you know what you were getting into”
Those are my favorite quotes that prove that people have no sense of what the heck is going on and no understanding of how horribly it feels to hear these words. If you are a person and you have thought these words, STOP. Close your mouth and mmmhmmm. I promise you that the person you are talking to feels badly enough and they don’t need your comments making them feel worse.
Now that I’m off my high horse we can continue. As I said, I connect with so many families that are going through any number of situations:
- Loss of placement
- Putting in notice on placement
- Challenging behaviors resulting in:
- Damage to home
- Damage to reputation
- Loss of daycare/schooling
- Feeling like a failure
- Working with kiddos with attachment issues that result in the kiddo not bonding with the adult
- The adult not feeling bonded to the kiddo
- Possibly of losing jobs due to missing work
- Families not accepting the foster kiddos as part of the family
- People that are nosy and want all the details and get frustrated when the FP does not share the details
- People that call the foster child “damaged”, “broken”, etc
- People that ask “where did you get this one from”
- People that talk about the fact that you are “saving” the child
- People that ask if you are “keeping” the child
These are just a few of the multitude of situations that foster parents find themselves in at one point or another. Most of these situations people talk about/bring up in front of the foster child which just compounds the problem.
I don’t bring this up to dissuade people from becoming foster parents, I bring them up to call attention to all the additional struggles FP have in addition to parenting a child that had a rough start to their life and to make my point of the post, which is this, foster parents need connections with people that “get it”. People that have been in the situation before (or something really close to it) and can sit there and empathize with the situation.
So where does that leave us? Well, let’s go back to that person I was talking about earlier. They were having a panic because so many well-meaning people in their lives were talking to them about how they should just “give it a little more time”, “they signed up for this”, etc. and they were at the point where they needed to seek professional help for their whole family due to the stress. I connected with them and we had a few moments where I:
- Validated their feelings- It is OK that they are feeling this stressed out and upset over what is happening. That means that they are committed to their family and wants to do what is best for everyone.
- We chatted about a month/6 months/a year/5 years down the line. Was there hope in a change? Was there something stressful that is happening now that is causing problems but could get better with time?
- Listened to them while they talked through everything they were thinking about the situation without judgment or interjecting my personal thoughts. This is the hardest. Sitting there listening to a person talk through what they are thinking. More often than that they will come to their own conclusion without any input from me at all. That is the ideal situation. Again, I’m not living with them, I don’t know all the facts.
- Supported their decision for what they will do next and offered to reach out in a week to see how they are doing (and put it on my calendar so I don’t forget). This one is toughest when I completely disagree with their decision. Sometimes they come up with a decision that I’m not sure they have fully thought out. In those situations I may prompt with a few more questions to get them thinking about more angles, but ultimately whatever they do is their decision and I support it.
This is what people need in these stressful times, or ANY stressful time in anyone’s lives. Someone to sit there and listen without judgment and love for the other person. I challenge you do give it a try. It works for any situation and you may not be successful right off the gate, heck, I know I’m only successful when I put considerable effort into my side of the conversation. Please comment and let me know if you tried and it and how it worked out for you. People need to know that they are not alone and this is one of the best ways you can support your foster parent friends. Letting them know that you haven’t dropped off the face of the earth when they take a placement and that you are a safe person to talk to when they struggle.
Until next time,