Mama S here! Have you ever packed up all your belongings and moved to a different home? Did you do it alone and sever all ties to people/things/places in the process? This is what foster kiddos are doing every day and doing so leaves marks on their soul that are very hard and slow to heal.
As first time foster parents we underestimated the impact this would have on the kiddos in our care. Three years later and we are no longer a stranger to that struggle. Between all the kiddos that have lived in our home the average move has been 3. Some kiddos we were the first stop, some the 5th or 6th (and final). Imagine losing everyone and everything you know 5 times before you graduate high school. I know that I can’t even begin to imagine that struggle and pain.
What does this look like? It looks like fear to get attached, fear that at any given point they will be unceremoniously kicked out without a good bye, anxiety about misbehavior (which often leads to more misbehavior), defiance or extreme clinginess- often in the same kiddo, sleepless nights and near constant reassurances. We don’t share this to scare people, but rather to help our friends and family see more of the why behind some of the behaviors that they only see the surface of.
An example is that one of our kiddos is hyper focused on the fact that they want us to make all their medical appointments as an adult. They have brought this up in the car, at the dinner table, and everywhere in between. They always start the conversation in a light way, “hahahaha, it is going to be so funny whenever I have to call you to make an appointment when I’m older”. Then the doe eyes come and they look questioningly in our direction. The room fills with anxiety and desperation which is only alleviated when we say something along the lines of the fact that we will always be there to help with those appointments. That we can make them from our phone or on a conference call. That not only will we be there for those phone calls, but we will be there for all big and small things. We are a forever family and we will help them be successful and happy adults.
On first blush that seems like a typical insecurity of a kiddo in that they are afraid of growing up. In reality it is a sign of the fear and anxiety around our family turning them away when they turn 18. This is a real fear for teenagers that are in foster care (and other foster/adoptive kiddos as well) and we are leaning into the fact that this is just a part of our normal. It is normal for us to make comments at various point throughout the day about how excited we are to see them when they are on break from college; that we are excited to have them come home on holidays and random days for dinner and that we will be the most excited grandparents (in 15 years). Making small comments about the future and what that will look like helps settle an anxiety that others may not pick up on. Whenever we make those comments you can see relief spread across the kiddos face.
What can you do to help? Ask the foster parents in your life about the permanency plans (if they are willing/able to share) and ask what they feel would be appropriate and helpful for their kiddo. What works well in our home may not work well with your friends and family. The best thing to do if you want to be supportive of your friends and family that foster/adopt is to ask THEM what the best way to support their family is- keeping in mind that the conversation would be best to be had in private.
For our family, the best thing is to treat our kiddos as you would our biological children and talk to them about the future the same way you would if they were our biological children. This works with our family and helps our kiddos feel that they are a part of something bigger than our immediate group. That being said, if we welcome in any other children please check in as it relates to that child(ren). That is a great policy for all foster families.
If you are looking for more tips on how to support your foster/adoptive friends and Families, check out the book In On It: What Adoptive Parents Would Like You To Know About Adoption. A Guide for Relatives and Friends. (Mom’s Choice Award Winner). This book is available on Amazon for under $7.00 and is a very fast read. I sped through it and agree with about 95% of what is said in the book.
Please reach out with any thoughts or questions and, as always, thank you for coming along on our journey!