While I don’t intend on overhauling this space into a foster parenting blog, this is a new journey we’ve started and I thought I would write down a few things I’ve learned in the first two months of our first placement.
If you’re planning to become a foster parent, it is such a wonderful thing to do. The best gift you, as a foster parent, can give kids in foster care is a safe and loving home and people with whom they can build attachments.
Josh and I have often felt stretched to our limit, but the entire time, we know without a doubt that this is what we should be doing with our home and our time right now.
I am so grateful for our training from our agency
Some parts of parenting come naturally. Others don’t. Some aspects are intuitive. Others aren’t.
Our agency prepared us so well for the parts of parenting that we’ve had no experience in (and we’ve been parents for 7 years now). Like understanding why a child is screaming at the top of their lungs when they drop a single blueberry on the floor—and what to do (thank goodness). They opened our eyes to what it’s like to come from a place of trauma and why trusting adults doesn’t come easily to children in foster care.
They taught us how to redirect behavior or how to give consequences when needed. Because you simply can’t always do things the same way you always had with children who’ve had healthy connections their whole life.
It’s for sure made us better foster parents but it’s made us better parents as well and I’m so grateful for all the books and training we were required to go through before getting licensed.
You’re never going to be able to fully anticipate what it’s going to be like
In some ways, it’s easier than we expected.
Josh and I were totally expecting to have rough nights with any placement we received. But—to our surprise—the boys have slept through the night every single night and it has been such a blessing to have that time to decompress and not be so needed by everyone like during the day.
In many ways, it’s harder than we expected.
We’re so grateful for the fact that we “still have our evenings.” But don’t get me wrong, it’s been a hard road. The boys have both suffered trauma and there are many behaviors we need to navigate as a result. We’re still working through some issues with hitting, defiance, harsh words, etc. It’s gotten way better than the first week or so, but it’s not gone by any means.
We’re also working through unexpected diagnoses. When children first come into care, case workers often know very little about their medical history. So over the phone, you might be told, “They’re healthy, no behavioral issues that we know of.” And then in the next few weeks, you may come to find that they have autism, sensory processing disorder, or even ODD. You just never really can prepare for all the surprises that may come up.
As hard as it is in the beginning, it does get easier.
It really does get easier over time. We’ve established a pretty strict routine that the boys have thrived in. They know when to expect every meal and snack. They know when we leave the house every day. They know our bedtime routine. It might sound like we’re giving them less control with a strict routine, but it actually helped them feel more in control when they know exactly what to expect and when. And that has done wonders for them!
We’ve also worked very hard on setting expectations and safe boundaries around the house. Things like, “Hitting is never ok. But if you are angry, you can come to me and say, ‘I’m mad!’ and we can talk about it together and I’ll help you.” Or, that closet is not for kids, let’s just stay away from there. Things like that. And we keep almost all of these same boundaries consistent with our bio kids as well.
It’s harder than I thought it would be on bio kids
Safe to say I underestimated the amount of direct attention two toddlers in foster care would need from me and my capacity to spread my attention around to both our two bio kids and two foster kids. But! There are solutions.
First, I’ll say that David and Evy have been champs. They’ve been grace-filled and compassionate. And then there are other times when they’ve just had enough or when they really need that individual time with us again. So, we try to do our best to make eye contact and help them or do what they’re interested in during the day. We’ve also started letting them stay up an hour later than the boys. It makes sense since it’s the summer time and they’re older anyway. But really, it’s a great time for us to focus solely on them and fill up their cups a little before they go to bed.
Get used to talking through everything
Foster care is hard on everyone it’s hard on foster parents, children in foster care, and bio kids. On a daily and almost hourly basis, you will have the opportunity to slow down, either yourself or the kids, and talk through behaviors and emotions.
Now, if you become burned out, this becomes a lot more difficult. Saying “cut it out!” is a lot faster and easier than getting on a child’s level and saying, “I hear you crying for an ice pop and I know you want one, but you already had one today and dinner will be the next food that we eat.” explaining why you make certain decisions or rules will help your child in foster care feel respected and more in control of their environment.
You’ll also need to explain a lot to your bio kids if you have them. Explaining why they need to share their toys more than usual, and why asking certain questions about foster children’s bio family may be inappropriate or bring up sad memories. Or why children in foster care show some trauma-caused behaviors and how to react to them.
Lastly, (hopefully) you’ll get really good at processing the day with your spouse at the end of the day. Talking through what went well, what you wish you had done better, asking questions. It’s a great way to decompress, sync up, and get on the same page. To me, it’s essential to know how Josh is feeling and it’s essential that he know how I’m feeling on a daily basis. That way we can know how to better support each other the next day.